I tried Home Chef’s oven-ready meals—here's how they compare
Meal kits are getting even more convenient.
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In the two years I’ve been writing about meal kits, the home delivery landscape has changed dramatically. While many smaller brands have gone under or been forced to switch to store-only distribution, the biggest players like HelloFresh and Home Chef have evolved to stay unique amid a crowded scene and meet shifting consumer needs.
One of the most popular (and perhaps unexpected) evolutions has been toward oven-ready, no-cook meals. Although most meal kits pride themselves on teaching newbies how to work around a kitchen, brands like Freshly have realized that some people simply don't want to cook—at least not every day. And with COVID-19 severely hampering the restaurant business, at-home takeout should be more popular than ever.
As part of this shift earlier this year, Home Chef introduced their Oven Ready meals—two options per weekly menu that come with their own pan and require zero prep work to prepare. Just place the ingredients in the pan (or your own), pop in the oven, and dinner is ready.
While Home Chef is the best meal kit we’ve tested, I was skeptical—could fresh-not-frozen tray dinners really compete against standard meal kits? I ordered a weekly box with two Oven Ready meals to find out.
What are Home Chef’s Oven Ready meals?
Unlike most Home Chef meals that come with raw ingredients packaged into one bag to be prepared and turned into dinner with a step-by-step recipe card, the brand’s Oven Ready meals are even more straightforward.
The ingredients for these meals are already pre-portioned and prepped, and they come with a disposable oven tray for quick cooking. They still come with recipe cards, but the steps are never more difficult than “put sauce over chicken” or “put tray in pan.” The prep time is typically between 25 and 35 minutes, but can be up to 50 minutes.
These meals are meant to save you the time and hassle of making dinner from scratch each night. They’re not frozen, but you can also freeze the protein for a later date to fit the meal into your weekly schedule. I think they fall somewhere between meals from Freshly, which are already assembled and ready to be microwaved, and those from standard meal kits.
Each Oven Ready meal serves two people and costs about $13—Home Chef meals start at $6.99 per serving. Options include Goat Cheese-Crusted Chicken with Green Beans and Almonds and Creamy Basil Pesto Chicken with Tuscan Herb and Tomato Orzo. Most seem to be built around one protein in a pan sauce, with a vegetable side or a grain base.
Here’s how Home Chef’s Oven Ready meals actually taste
Back in February, pre-quarantine, I tested a box of Home Chef meals that included two Oven Ready options—Mushroom Smothered Pork Chops with Roasted Green Beans and Crispy Onions and Fajita Chicken with Mexican Rice and Crispy Jalapeños. As Home Chef only offers two Oven Ready meals per weekly menu, these were my only options—but they sounded good to me, so I ordered and waited for my delivery.
These meals came packaged much like their standard counterparts, with all the ingredients organized into meal-specific plastic bags. The main difference was the little disposable tray that came with each meal for baking, which meant not dirtying any dishes of my own. The portions also looked a bit small—could dinner for two really fit into those trays? I got to cooking to find out.
Mushroom Smothered Pork Chops with Roasted Green Beans and Crispy Onions
I was most excited about having this meal, which looked decadent in a French way and reminded me of the kind of nice pan-sauce dinners I’d learned to make at home.
Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed—while an all-in-one oven meal can’t quite compete with a sous-vide pork chop and a fresh pan sauce, this meal was still flavorful, filling, and visually appetizing. The green beans and crispy onions gave brightness and texture to an otherwise brown plate, and the pork chops were well-cooked (I did have to bake them an additional 5 minutes longer than the suggested time to meet a safe internal temperature, bringing my total prep time to 35 minutes).
The mushroom sauce was tasty, albeit a bit oily, and there was plenty of it. Throughout the process of getting the ingredients into the pan, I only dirtied one small bowl, one spoon, and a pair of kitchen shears. The meal was also gluten free, which was surprising considering how rich the food seemed.
My only complaints? There was a lot of plastic packaging involved, stirring the meal in the tiny pan was a bit of a hassle, and the portion sizes were on the small side. For an average consumer, it’s probably enough food—but my partner and I are both over 6 feet tall, so our typical dinner would have another side or include additional protein.
Fajita Chicken with Mexican Rice and Crispy Jalapeños
I was less excited about this deconstructed fajita dinner—I’m skeptical of chicken breasts that haven’t been pounded thin, sliced up or fried, and the image on the recipe card was rather beige.
Unfortunately, my instincts were right—while this dinner was edible, it’s not something I would ever want to order again. Like with the pork chops, I had to add another five minutes onto the cook time to make sure the thick chicken breast was cooked through, resulting in dry chicken and overly-crispy rice.
With sour cream and crispy jalapeños being the only accoutrements to the main chicken and rice, the plate was very brown and visually unappetizing. Obviously, fajitas and other Mexican fare that involve tortillas can’t just be baked in the oven with no prep work, but this deconstructed version just didn’t work for me.
Are Home Chef’s Oven Ready Meals worth it?
Whether you’re already a Home Chef subscriber or you’re interested in starting your meal kit journey, the brand’s Oven Ready meals can be a convenient add-on to your usual dinner routine—but choose wisely. While some meals, like the smothered pork chops, are simple and delicious, others fail to meet the expectations set by typical Home Chef meals.
Making a one-pan meal delicious can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Home Chef is on the right path toward incorporating these easy solutions into their weekly menus—and they’re still the best meal kit we’ve tested.
If you’re looking for more ready-to-eat meal options, check out our review of five major services delivering pre-made meals to your doorstep.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.