The meal kit market is hot right now, but with dozens of similar companies offering fresh ingredients and inventive recipes delivered right to your door, it can be hard for any one service to stand out. That is, of course, unless you have an American homemaking icon on your team.
That was the thinking behind Martha & Marley Spoon, the 2016 partnership between German meal kit company Marley Spoon and lifestyle mogul Martha Stewart. The Martha name might not hold the same weight it did at the height of her media empire pre-insider trading, but this rebrand for the US market has brought a new type of expertise to meal kits that might be attractive to skeptical home chefs.
Expertise aside, I still had a lot of questions. Are the recipes actually as good as the ones Martha puts in her cookbooks? How does her service compare to other meal kits on the market? Could it transform me, an unfamous regular person who cooks, into a dinner hostess for the ages?
We at Reviewed don’t like to take anything for granted, so I tried Martha & Marley Spoon’s subscription service for a week to get some answers. Here’s what I found:
- All the ingredients, from produce to protein, are fresh and high-quality
- Each meal card has simple and straightforward directions that make cooking easy, even for people less experienced in the kitchen
- The kit has some of the least wasteful packaging on the market—most of it is biodegradable, and the rest is recyclable
- Unique and flavorful side dishes are a highlight of many meals
- The portions are small and might leave some hungry
- It’s bad for people with dietary restrictions—every recipe revolves around an animal protein or heavy carbs
- The recipes are just okay—flavors fall short on many of the main dishes
Martha & Marley Spoon costs $8.20 to $12.00 per serving, depending on your plan. Ignoring the $30 discount that Martha & Marley Spoon gives for your first box, my plan’s pricing worked out to $10.25 per serving, which is competitive with other meal kits but still more than I would likely spend on a single meal’s worth of groceries for myself.
A straightforward selection process
Like that of many of its competitors, the Martha & Marley Spoon website is uncluttered and easy to navigate, with the added bonus of a smiling Martha Stewart on its homepage seemingly inviting you into her kitchen for drinks and gossip about the neighbors.
When you register, you can choose the size and frequency of your meals, ranging from twice a week for two people to four times a week for a family of four. I tend to cook most weeknights but won’t say no to leftovers or takeout because I am lazy, so I opted for three nights a week for two people. My boyfriend also wanted in (and was letting me use his much nicer kitchen), which meant no leftovers but plenty of teachable moments about not being so controlling when I cook.
Once you’ve registered and chosen a delivery date for your first box, you can edit which meals you’ll be receiving by choosing from a rotating menu of 10 dishes per week. You can plan boxes and view menus well into the future, skipping certain weeks that you’ll be busy or out of town.
Balanced meals—but still heavy on meat and carbs
Because they’re all based on the recipes of the quintessentially American Martha Stewart, Marley Spoon dishes lean more heavily on meat than those of some other meal kits, and their vegetarian options, including miso-tahini udon noodle salad and pan-roasted zucchini pasta, are pretty carb-heavy. I actually own one of Martha’s cookbooks titled “Martha Stewart’s Vegetables,” so she definitely knows what she’s doing there, but vegetables are consistently treated as a side dish and not the main course in Marley Spoon meals.
I selected that I will eat “anything” and was fairly content with the recipes they auto-generated for me, but decided to play around and settled on a coconut shrimp masala, chipotle steak with potato salad, and garlicky chicken with summery sides.
Biodegradable packaging—but a lot of it
The massive Marley Spoon box arrived on my boyfriend’s doorstep during the afternoon of the Tuesday I had selected. Unfortunately, the delivery person neglected to call me or ring the doorbell, so the package sat outside for two hours before anyone knew it was there.
Hyper aware of the fact that having raw fish and poultry sit outside in the middle of July might be, you know, dangerous, I was relieved to find that much of the box’s weight came from two huge ice packs within, surrounding an insulated bag with all my food. I was subsequently annoyed that I now had to deal with two heavy ice packs or throw them away like someone who doesn’t care about the environment, but they came in handy a few days later when I needed to keep beers cold in a soft cooler at my Fourth of July party. Thanks, Martha!
The ingredients were sorted out into paper bags with yellow sticker labels, and subsequently into smaller packets made from other biodegradable materials and recycled plastics. Waste has always been a huge concern of mine when it comes to meal kits, and it’s something on the minds of many home cooks trying to be as eco-friendly as possible, so it was refreshing to see Marley Spoon actively using biodegradable materials in their packaging. They even have a portion of their website where they explain the best way to recycle or discard each of their materials.
Those huge ice packs might have been helpful for one week, but receiving two every week for months on end would generate enough to build an igloo. You know, in case real igloos can’t exist anymore because of climate change.
The box also contained three pretty meal cards (also printed on durable paper), each with recipes just six steps long and accompanying photos. Every meal description ends with the cheery command “Cook, relax, and enjoy!” We’ll see about that.
Meal 1: An underwhelming shrimp masala
Because we suspected that shrimp had the shortest shelf-life of all the products in our box, we chose to begin our meal journey with coconut shrimp masala with basmati pilaf and cucumber salad. I had eaten plenty of masala-spiced dishes in my life but had never tried to cook Indian myself, so I was nervously optimistic.
The step-by-step directions were easy enough to follow, requiring basic skills like chopping, sauteing, and boiling. My boyfriend informed me that the garam masala spice mix “wasn’t authentic,” but it seemed fine to me. The total meal took about 40 minutes to make, 10 minutes over the listed prep time, and came together looking altogether decent.
When we actually dug in to eat, I was underwhelmed. Everything about the meal was fine—the rice was cooked correctly, the shrimp done without being rubbery, the cucumber salad was a refreshing counterpart to the spice—but it was missing the intoxicating spiciness and sauciness of Indian food prepared by people who know what they’re doing (sorry, Martha).
There was also an unappealing graininess in the texture of the shrimp, and I could barely barely taste the coconut that was in the name. I found myself craving Thai coconut rice and a thick, spicy masala sauce or curry in place of what I had in front of me.
My boyfriend enjoyed the meal more than I did—in all fairness, I was also predisposed to not love it, as I lost some of my appetite after standing over a hot stove on a hot day, and shrimp has never been my favorite. I wasn’t feeling at all like a fabulous hostess relaxing on my patio. All in all, the meal wasn’t a total loss, but it wasn’t a win in my book.
Meal 2: Chipotle steak with a kick (and a killer side)
Despite my disappointment with our first Marley Spoon meal, I was ready to love again and immediately jumped into the recipe I was most excited about—chipotle spiced steak with potato salad and charred snap peas. Anything that requires preparing a special kind of butter is already a meal after my own heart (in more ways than one).
All the preparation, from boiling the potatoes to chopping the scallions and snap peas, went off without a hitch. The snap peas cooked fine, although I had to use a regular skillet in place of a cast iron, but the steaks were another story. A minute or two into their pan-sear, they started to give off smoke that was infused with the chipotle spice blend we had rubbed all over them, which lead to both of us choking and coughing wildly. I love spicy food, but I really don’t love having pepper sprayed into my lungs!
We opened all the windows and kept the steaks on the skillet for as long as we could manage, but eventually had to pull them off and let them sit in order to save ourselves. As a result, they were a bit undercooked.
After all was said and done, the chipotle spice was pretty damn good, and the scallion butter on the steaks was an elegant, tasty touch, but the real star of the meal was the fresh “potato salad.” If you’re like me and don’t enjoy the creamy white potato salad you usually find at family barbecues, this side will blow your mind—it combines rough cut red potatoes and charred snap peas with a mustardy, sharp vinaigrette. Relaxing? No. Delicious? Yes.
I would absolutely make this meal again, provided I’m working in a kitchen with a proper cast-iron and an extractor fan over my stovetop. While many home chefs have both these tools at the ready, it would be smart of Marley Spoon to provide a warning for the less well-equipped cooks out there.
Meal 3: Plain chicken saved by pickled dilly beans
For our third and final Marley Spoon meal of the week, we made garlicky chicken with dilly beans and corn on the cob. Everything about the meal looked pretty plain from the image, save for the mysterious sauce that was drizzled on the chicken and corn, but I was still excited to give it a try.
I didn’t know what “pickled dilly beans” were until I read the directions and realized they actually wanted you to pickle a bunch of string beans in dill, vinegar, shallots and sugar. I was skeptical, but the results were quite delicious, even though I didn’t let them pickle long enough because I was so hungry at that point in the night.
The chicken was nothing to write home about, slightly dry as a result of pan-cooking and the thinness of the breasts we received. Confusingly, the directions on the physical meal card say to cook the chicken in a pan, whereas the online meal card says to bake it in the oven. I tend to think baked chicken is a lot less dry than its pan-seared counterpart, so I think that would have been the way to go. It appears Marley Spoon hasn’t properly edited their directions on both mediums.
The corn on the cob was, well, corn on the cob. Fresh enough, and the sour cream sauce was a nice addition, although it left me craving cheesy Mexican street corn.
The final take
My few nights of trying to cook like homemaking goddess Martha Stewart had its ups and downs. While the recipes themselves were pretty hit-or-miss with me, certain aspects of Martha & Marley Spoon’s meals were always consistent—high-quality ingredients, small portions, and simple, easy to follow directions that required little kitchen expertise. And where their main dishes faltered, their sides often shined.
Personally, I wasn’t impressed enough with each of these meals to consider continuing on with my Martha & Marley Spoon subscription (and I'm more of an Ina Garten fan myself). Home chefs looking to broaden their culinary horizons with experimentation and bold flavors should look elsewhere, but couples or families with more money than time to spare—who are just trying to get meals on the table at home—will enjoy Martha & Marley Spoon’s commitment to quality ingredients and simplicity. With a few tweaks and more time in the test kitchen, the service could go from being fine to great.
I don’t feel transformed, but I do have a delicious potato salad recipe under my belt. And honestly? That might just be enough...for now.