50 of the Best Food Trucks in the U.S.

Gourdoughs
Gourdoughs

Some of the best restaurants around the country are on wheels. Whether you're craving fish tacos, wood-fired pizza, or ice cream and doughnuts, these roving eateries prove you don’t need a fancy kitchen to serve up mouth-watering cuisine.

1. URBAN SUGAR

Location: Portland, Maine

Miss Rosie the Urban Sugar truck was so popular roaming Portland’s streets serving bite-sized, gourmet doughnuts (and wintering at the nearby Sugarloaf Mountain) that owner Kevin Sandes was able to open a permanent storefront at the skiing base lodge. But Rosie continues to make the summer rounds downtown and at weddings, doling out mini concoctions like the sweet Ol’ Blue Eyes (a lavender pastry cream with lemons curds and Nilla wafer crumbs) or savory Figgy (with fig jam, toasted walnuts, goat cheese, and green onions).

2. THE FRENCH QUARTER

Location: Hoboken, New Jersey

Why travel to Mardi Gras when Mardi Gras can come to you? Cajun-style fried shrimp, jambalaya, and other New Orleans treats are available to Jersey residents year-round. Just look for the bright purple and yellow truck.

3. SEOUL TACO

Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Food from Seoul Taco
Seoul Taco

Not only does this Korean-Mexican fusion truck serve rave-worthy tacos, quesadillas, and burritos around St. Louis (and at a handful of regional storefronts, based on the cheap-eats’ street popularity), but when owner David Choi launched his second truck in the Lou last summer, he decided to use it as an opportunity to help underserved areas. All Monday proceeds are donated to St. Louis’s Metro Market, a non-profit mobile farmers’ market that aims to provide healthy, local foods to the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

4. ROXY'S GRILLED CHEESE

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Roxy's has been serving comfort food on four wheels since 2011. The menu is stuffed with grilled cheese sandwiches that showcase the owners' Boston pride, like the Green Muenster, their muenster, bacon, and guacamole sandwich named for the iconic left field wall at Fenway Park.

5. RICKY'S FISH TACOS

Location: Los Angeles, California

In a city filled with diverse cuisines, a fish taco is one the dish that’s 100 percent Los Angeles. And in true L.A. fashion, the city’s best is served out of a food truck. The fish at Ricky’s is fried to golden brown perfection and served under a refreshing layer of chopped cabbage and pico de gallo. A taco is only complete after a trip to the condiment station, where patrons can dress their meal with white sauce and salsa to their liking.

6. MOO

Location: New Hope, Pennsylvania

Moo Food truck
Moo

A burger from MOO is a bite of rural Pennsylvania between two buns. The ingredients that go into the All-American menu, like the grass-fed beef for the burgers, the potatoes for the fries, and the ice cream for the milkshakes, are sourced from farmers and purveyors in the community. Keep an eye out for their seasonal shake flavors like apple pie.

7. CONEY SHACK

Location: Brooklyn, New York

The next time you're going on a beach trip to Coney Island, take a quick detour to Coney Shack, an unassuming taco truck situated amongst government buildings and a police station. The Asian fusion menu offers up loaded tacos, uniquely topped hot dogs, and grilled cheese. Try their Holy Phuc and you'll find yourself saying the name of the meal over and over.

8. I DON'T GIVE A FORK

Location: Newark, Delaware

You can find this punny food truck scooting around the campus of the University of Delaware and the greater Newark area. I Don't Give a Fork serves all the greasy college classics (including a likely hangover cure, their scrapple-and-fried-egg topped breakfast burger) and features a couple of more unusual entrees, like the Mac & Cheesesteak.

9. HOLY CACAO

Location: Austin, Texas

Holy Cacao was founded in 2009 as a hot chocolate trailer, and soon expanded to include all manner of sweet treats: There’s frozen hot chocolate and ice cream floats, drinking chocolate and cake balls. To make the cake balls, cakes are baked and then crumbled, combined with frosting and hand-rolled into balls, which are speared with lollipop sticks, dipped in gourmet chocolate, and finished with toppings. What’s left over from the crumbled cakes is blended with chocolate or vanilla ice cream to create truly divine cake shakes.

10. COOLHAUS

Location: Various

ice cream sandwiches from coolhaus
Coolhaus

Coolhaus has been serving up ice cream sandwiches since 2009, when the founders hit the road in a former postal van to sell frozen treats at Coachella. The sammies come with a side of puns, with architecture-inspired names like the "I.M. Pei-Nut Butter" and the "Mies Vanilla Rohe." Ten Coolhaus trucks are now roaming the streets of L.A., New York, and Dallas, and they’ve added pints and dipped bars to their menu.

11. CUPCAKES FOR COURAGE

Location: Chicago and Elmhurst, Illinois

What could be better than enjoying a sweet treat and doing good at the same time? Cupcakes for Courage was founded by sisters Kathryn Chandler and Laura Pekarik after Kathryn was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's T-cell lymphoma in 2010. They donate a portion of their proceeds to a variety of worthy causes, including the American Cancer Society and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And the fact that their Cupcake Wars-winning baked goods are amazing is just, well, the icing on the cake. Fan favorites include Pink Velvet and Maple Bacon.

12. S'MORE LOVE BAKERY

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

If you get nostalgic for a good ol' fashioned s'more—a toasted marshmallow and a melty square of chocolate sandwiched between two honey graham crackers—S’more Love in Nashville can scratch that itch. But they also have some gourmet options that may end up replacing the traditional version as your favorite. The Elvis is packed with excess, just like its namesake: homemade vanilla marshmallows, sweet heart-shaped honey grahams, chocolate ganache, honey-roasted peanut butter, and, of course, some banana.

13. MAC MART

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The basis of every dish coming out of this Philadelphia food truck, founded in 2013, is a non-baked seven-cheese mac topped with a panko and crumbled potato chip crunch; the customer takes it to the next level with the mix-ins. Make your own or choose from a vast array of Mac Mart-designed dishes, from the The Wit' Mac (topped "wit" Philly steak and caramelized onions and finished with a ketchup drizzle) to the Rittenhouse (topped with garlicky spinach and artichoke dip).

14. GOURDOUGH'S

Location: Austin, Texas

Gourdoughs trailer
Gourdoughs

Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts lives up to its name: Each of its huge, delicious doughnuts—served out of a 1977 Airstream trailer on South First—could easily be a meal. Standouts include the Fat Elvis, a peanut butter glazed doughnut topped with grilled bananas, bacon, and honey; the Razzle Dazzle, a raspberry-filled, fudge topped doughnut; and the Flying Pig, a maple syrup glazed doughnut topped with a lot of bacon. (There’s also a brick and mortar Gourdough’s with a full menu, including doughnut sandwiches and burgers, on South Lamar.) Each doughnut is made to order and served hot for maximum yum.

15. PHO NOMENAL DUMPLINGS

Location: Raleigh, North Carolina

If you want boring food served by boring people, find another truck. Sophia Woo and Sunny Lin’s out-of-this-world food and go-get-em attitudes have driven Pho Nomenal Dumplings straight to the top, earning them first place in the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race in 2015. The Raleigh-based truck is the place to go for stuff-your-face Asian favorites like pork and chive dumplings, beef pho, and Taiwanese spaghetti.

16. PRETTY ODD WEINERS

Location: Tahoe, California

Before the food truck craze took America by storm, hot dogs were the country’s standard street food. This Lake Tahoe truck serves reimagined versions of the classic dish. Quarter-pound dogs are paired with toppings like mac and cheese, avocado, and French fries. And a section of the menu is dedicated to exotic sausages that sate customers’ tastes for boar, bison, and elk meat.

17. THE SOUPER WAGON

Location: Crystal Bay, Nevada

Organic soup's on at The Souper Wagon, with everything from pork pozole, spicy thai coconut, and chicken soup with matzo balls on the menu. There's even an dairy- and gluten-free chicken pot pie option, as well as a variety of vegetarian and vegan soups.

18. THE TOT CART

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

tots at the tot cart
The Tot Cart

The words gourmet and tater tots might not seem to go together, but The Tot Cart proves that they totally do. The food truck, which has been operating since 2013, was named Best Food Truck in Philly in 2015; it’s famous for its Drunk Cheese tots, which are topped in homemade beer cheese. Also getting high marks are the G-Parm—tots tossed in garlic parmesan cheese—and its Totchos, which are topped with ground beef, drunk cheese, avocado cream, and salsa. Their best seller is the Buffalo Chicken Tots, which are topped with slow-cooked buffalo chicken and drizzled with blue cheese. We’re hungry just thinking about it!

19. THE WAFFLE WAGON

Location: Loxahatchee, Florida

We're pretty sure the reason the Loxahatchee, Florida-based Waffle Wagon is so-named is because you’ll waffle between which creation to choose. You can go sweet or savory, but it’s the Wu Tang Waffle that seems to get the most love on Facebook—that would be a fluffy Liege waffle topped with chicken tenders drenched in sweet teriyaki sauce and a side of soy ginger Asian slaw.

20. O'CHEEZE

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

In 2014, husband-and-wife team Haley and Tony Fritz decided to take their "unhealthy love for grilled cheese" to a professional level. At O'Cheeze, a big yellow food truck that roams the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, you can get a wide variety of melty, gooey goodness, from the Not-So-Classic (Irish cheddar, havarti, and cheddar) to The Big Stink (Gorgonzola, blue cheese, and havarti with honey and pears). O'Cheeze adds specials to the menu on the regular, so keep your eyes peeled for concoctions like the spaghetti sandwich.

21. PIGWICH

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

There are only five sandwiches at Pigwich in Kansas City, plus a daily special, but they do those five sandwiches really, really well. You can choose from a double cheeseburger, banh mi, cheesesteak, falafel, or the pigwich—smoked pork with coleslaw and BBQ sauce. The Pigwich truck is stationary, by the way, and it's attached to the Local Pig, a beloved Kansas City butcher—so you know the food is fresh.

22. CREPE LOVE

Location: Washington, D.C.

Crepe Love food truck
Crepe Love

This portable gourmet crepe dispensary puts a lot of new twists on the classic breakfast, lunch, and dinner treat. Their Dr. Seuss has eggs, black forest ham, and cheddar cheese; you can also try the Curious George, full of honey, almonds, and banana. Got guests and an event? The truck can be booked so it's all yours.

23. LITTLE BLUE DONUT CO.

Location: Orlando, Florida

There’s nothing like a fresh, hot, melt-in-your-mouth doughnut. Little Blue Donut Co. of Orlando knows that, which is why they make all of theirs fresh to order. They have 13 flavors to choose from, including cinnamon roll and key lime, but customers can also choose their own toppings for a custom creations as well.

24. NOSH

Location: Seattle, Washington

Americans can get a plate of fish and chips worthy of an overcast London day at Nosh, but the truly curious might want to look elsewhere on the menu: the Seattle mobile eatery offers fried rabbit dipped in buttermilk. Elmer Fudd would approve.

25. EL OLOMEGA

Location: Brooklyn, New York

The ballfields in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn have become a foodie destination thanks to the bevy of food trucks that dish out delicious ethnic cuisine (tacos, empanadas, arepas, and more) each weekend. One of the most popular is the El Olomega food truck, which serves piping hot pupusas. For the uninitiated, a pupusa is a traditional Salvadorian street food consisting of a corn flour tortilla stuffed with fillings like cheese, pork, chorizo, plantains, or spinach. Pile on the pickled onions, jalapeños, cabbage, and sour cream for an irresistible lunch.

26. STREETZA

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

There's street vendor pizza, and then there's Streetza, which doles out organic toppings and daily slice specials, from Alfredo pizza to bratwurst simmered in local beer. They even manage to have a crab legs pizza, complete with a crab leg pinwheel in the middle of pie.

27. OKAMOTO KITCHEN

Location: Los Angeles, California

Okamoto Kitchen food truck
Okamoto Kitchen

This Japanese cuisine truck takes its cues from the passion owner Gerald Abraham has for video games: Okamoto ranks customers on a posted leaderboard, with social media mentions and orders helping to garner points good toward free food. But their variety of bowls (like the miso salmon with rice and salad bowl) and sandwiches (like the Nom Bomb, a sweet-and-sour teriyaki chicken sandwich) are enough to make you come back, even without the friendly competition.

28. ST. CLAIR WOOD-FIRED PIZZA

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

St. Clair Pizza serves up hot, wood-fired pies from an actual oven inside an old bus. Along with standards like pepperoni and margherita pizzas, they've also got specials loaded with kimchi, pears, dates, and other under-used toppings. Just a tip: They cater weddings.

29. KING OF FALAFEL & SHAWARMA

Location: New York City

Freddy Zeideia declared himself the King of Falafel back in 2002, when he set up shop on a street corner in Queens, and he has been proving himself worthy of the title for the past 15 years. In a city filled to the brim with falafel and shawarma carts, Zeideia’s stands out, snagging the 2010 Vendy Awards’ grand prize for New York City food trucks. Don’t worry: If you can’t decide between falafel and shawarma, you can have both—the "shawafel" is a pita filled with strips of meat and falafel. Waits can be long, but you might snag a few free falafel samples while you’re in line.

30. OFF THE REZ

Location: Seattle, Washington

food from off the rez food truck
Off The Rez

It’s rare to find a Native American food truck, so Seattleites usually jump at the chance to try Off the Rez's Indian tacos (in both meat-lover and vegetarian options) and sweet, crispy frybread (a little like a circular churro, drizzled with berry toppings, lemon curd, Nutella, and/or the flavors of your choice).

31. NANA G'S CHICKEN AND WAFFLES

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Nana Grimes's grandson took her family-favorite recipe—a classic Southern dish that infused smoked bacon in the waffle and used Nana's top-secret fried chicken recipe—and turned it into a ATL street-fare favorite. For dessert, try the Fried Oreos.

32. SNOWDAY

Location: New York City

Snowday is more than a food truck, it’s a social justice initiative that is operated by men and women who have spent time in prison, most notably on Riker's Island. It acts as a training grounds to teach former inmates skills—like money management and small business skills—that will help them re-enter the job market. With a farm-to-truck approach (most of the ingredients are local) and an emphasis on raising awareness about criminal system injustice, you can feel great about every bite of that oozy, perfectly crispy maple grilled cheese, which has been called one of the best in the city by several local mags. This summer, they’re changing their name to Drive Change, with big plans to open a food truck commissary/garage in spring 2018.

33. THE GRILLED CHEESE GRILL

Location: Portland, Oregon

The motto of this food truck—which has three Portland locations—is "come by for a taste of your childhood," although treats like "The Cheesus" (a hamburger with the bun replaced by two grilled cheese sandwiches) seem strictly adult. As a bonus, one of the locations is a converted school bus; another is a double-decker bus.

34. HEY PB&J

Location: Denver, Colorado


Hey PB&J

The PB&J sandwich of your youth gets a gourmet upgrade from trained chef Matt McDonald, the owner of this Denver-based food truck. Launched in 2011, Hey PB&J serves unique mashups like the "Boss Hog," a sandwich packed with pecan-peanut butter, pulled pork, whiskey-peach jam, homemade bacon jam, and crushed potato chips, or "The King" which features peanut butter, applewood smoked bacon, sliced bananas, and clover honey.

35. ARLO'S

Location: Austin, Texas

Vegan meets comfort food in this truck that's connected to a nice patio area for dining in while you're outside. Try the seitan burgers or tacos with a side of sweet potato fries.

36. CHARLESTON CARIBBEAN CREOLE

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

The savory entrees from Charleston Caribbean Creole are true to the eatery’s name—the menu features a blend of traditional dishes from both cuisines, thanks in part to Chef Frisco Thumbtzen's Creole and Cajun heritage. The standout: Locals go crazy for the "Slap Your Momma Gumbo Creole," an appetizing combo of celery, bell peppers, onions, fresh herbs, and chicken, beef, and beef sausage.

37. THE GREEN BOWL

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

The Green bowl food truck
The Green Bowl

In 2014, The Green Bowl won the Baltimore Sun’s "Best Food Truck" award—probably because omnivores, vegetarians, and eco-warriors alike can find foods on their menu to please their palates. The food truck specializes in Asian and Latin-inspired cuisine (mofongo, bibimbap, spring rolls), and some dishes, like fried green plantains, are paired with Old Bay sauce for a touch of mid-Atlantic flavor. All of these items are served in compostable bowls, and with compostable bags and utensils.

38. PIEROGI WAGON

Location: Chicago, Illinois

From kielbasa (a type of smoked sausage) to paczki (a doughnut-like pastry), Chicago residents have enjoyed the Polish-American community’s delicious culinary legacy since the mid-19th century. Today, locals can buy filled dumplings called pierogis from the Pierogi Wagon, in flavors like braised beef, cheddar and potato, and sauerkraut and mushroom.

39. FEELIN' CRABBY

Location: Washington, D.C.

In Washington, D.C., politicians and plebeians alike love seafood—especially when it’s topped with a generous pinch of Old Bay. That’s where Feelin’ Crabby comes in: The punny food truck serves lobster and crab-based sandwiches, salads, and sliders, including the giant "Crabwich" sandwich, which contains 5 ounces of jumbo lump crab meat and 2 ounces of lobster claw and knuckle meat.

40. TATANKA TRUCK

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Native American chef Sean Sherman cooks the cuisine of his people, the Oglala Sioux. In 2014, Sherman opened a Twin Cities-based catering business called the Sioux Chef, and in 2015 he co-launched the Tatanka Truck food truck, which dishes out healthy indigenous foods like bison wild rice bowls and organic, sumac-seasoned popcorn. A Sioux Chef-branded restaurant is currently in the works, too.

41. 5411 EMPANADAS

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Empanadas from 5411 Empanada Truck
5411 Empanadas

Founded in 2011, 5411 Empanadas was one of the earliest members of the modern food truck movement in Chicago, where restrictions on mobile food vendors are some of the most onerous in the country. The truck became so popular that the company has since expanded to Miami and Houston and opened multiple storefronts in Chicago. From the simple chorizo to a bacon, dates, and goat cheese, there are plenty of fillings to choose from, including dessert options like banana and Nutella. Make sure to grab a few napkins, because things are going to get messy.

42. PEPE

Location: Washington, D.C. region

Chef José Andrés makes the best croquetas outside of Spain, and everybody knows it. His always-packed, D.C.-area tapas restaurants used to be the only place to get them, but no more. If you want something other than several servings of crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside croquettes, Pepe also offers a Serrano ham, manchego, and olive oil sandwich and a kick-butt gazpacho.

43. TASTE OF ETHIOPIA

Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin

Tesfaye Joyce lived in an Ethiopian orphanage for most of his life before getting adopted and moving to Wisconsin. Now he’s paying it forward, along with his siblings and adoptive father, with this Taste of Ethiopia food truck that will make your heart as happy as your stomach: This not-for-profit eatery uses all of its funds to help kids back in Ethiopia.

44. TAMALE SPACESHIP

Location: Chicago, Illinois

If you’ve ever visited the Windy City and dreamed of being served tamales by sci-fi-loving luchadores (masked Mexican wrestlers), dream no more. The tamales here are packed with everything from flank steak to duck confit. Spandex not required.

45. THE FRY GUY

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

The Fry Guy Food Truck
The Fry Guy

You want fries with that? Frequently parked at festivals around the city, The Fry Guy is known for firing up some of the best in A-town. The Belgiun-style fries come topped with flavor combos like "coriander smoked salmon, crème fraîche, red onion, and capers" and "thai peanut sauce, curry mayo, white onion, peanut crumbles, and green onion."

46. THE SQUARE SCULLERY

Location: Akron, Ohio

You could settle for a warmed-over gyro, or you could make your week with a gorgeous, lovingly prepared mini-feast from the Square Scullery. Chefs Matt and Heather serve up what they call "indie comfort food," fresh, hip twists on classic fine food. Need great catering? They'll even bring Big Ole' Betty (that's the truck) to weddings, festivals, and corporate events. Don't miss the crispy rice ball with kimchi, cucumber melon slaw, and serrano vinaigrette, or the citrus braised pork over goat cheese and red pepper polenta cake with red slaw and sambal aioli.

47. JOGASAKI SUSHI BURRITO

Location: Los Angeles, California

For those with a hankering for Mexican-Japanese fusion, allow us to introduce you to the original sushi burrito: Raw fish or crab rolled into a special rice-based burrito. Don’t forget to order some spicy tuna nachos!

48. MUSTACHE PRETZELS

Location: Scottsdale, Arizona

Mustache Pretzels
The Sentimental Mama

As advertised, this Scottsdale-based food truck hand rolls soft pretzels…to resemble handlebar mustaches. (Like many great businesses, it started as a joke in college.) Flavors range from a doughy original to salted caramel topped with nuts.

49. WHERE YA AT MATT

Location: Seattle, Washington

Diners craving Creole food in the Pacific Northwest can find it at Where Ya at Matt in Seattle. Run by a New Orleans native, the truck’s comforting dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and muffulettas are the perfect antidote to a rainy Washington day. And, of course, you can't stop at a NOLA-inspired food truck without grabbing some beignets.

50. FAVA POT

Location: Arlington and Fairfax, Virginia

In addition to thoughtfully sourced and lovingly prepared food—like the Middle Eastern truck's perfectly herbed falafel, yogurt-marinated Cornish game hen, and lavash chips—Fava Pot’s founders pride themselves on good works, donating a portion of their proceeds to help orphans in Egypt.

Written by Erika Berlin, Stacy Conradt, April Daley, Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Kate Horowitz, Bess Lovejoy, Erin McCarthy, Rebecca O'Connell, Lucas Reilly, Jake Rossen, and Abbey Stone.

See Which Ingredients Cooks From Around the World Love Most

iStock
iStock

Food is incredibly regionally specific, and cuisines have been refined over millennia based on what ingredients have been available and what local cooks have come up with. Even though global trade has made the same spices and other flavor staples available virtually anywhere in the world, Mexican food still tastes radically different from Chinese food, and Italian food from Irish food. We know this intuitively—few of us pick up a bottle of soy sauce thinking we’ll use it in a traditional Italian pasta dish—but it’s still fascinating to see a breakdown of just which ingredients certain cuisines have cornered the market on, as you can in these charts.

Nathan Yau of FlowingData visualized the most-used ingredients in 20 different cuisines, using data on ingredients from Yummly to figure out what distinct flavors and ingredients country-specific cuisines gravitate towards.

Across the world, salt is king. It’s the most-used ingredient in 75 percent of the cuisines Yau looked at, and the only cuisine in which it doesn’t appear in the top five most-used ingredients is Korean food—but, like in other Asian cuisines, Korean recipes use soy sauce more than any other ingredient, and that in itself is very salty.

Because so many cuisines rely heavily on the same ingredients, like soy sauce and salt, Yau also calculated the ingredients most specific to each cuisine: the ones disproportionately used in one country’s traditional cuisine. This is where you start to get a picture of the kind of ingredients we associate heavily with particular regionally specific dishes. Mexican food relies on tortillas; Greek food, feta cheese; Korean, kimchi; Thai, lemongrass; Russian, beets; and Cajun, andouille sausage. Some ingredients may come as a bit of a surprise, though. Southern cooking in the U.S. uses vanilla extract more than other cuisines do, and the French love shallots. Cajun cooks are big fans of celery ribs, and somehow, though numerous cuisines use onions heavily, Brazilian cooks use them slightly more than anyone else.

The data relies on Yummly recipes, so the results are limited to what the recipe recommendation site has available. It's possible that home cooks working in each cuisine do something slightly different that might move the data in another direction. But, since Yummly currently has more than 2 million recipes available, it seems like a relatively large snapshot of cooking options.

Explore the interactive graphic and learn more at FlowingData.

15 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of The Great British Baking Show

Netflix
Netflix

by Sarah Dobbs

If you’re an American fan of The Great British Bake Off you probably know it better as The Great British Baking Show (though its most devoted fans simply call it GBBO, which saves a lot of time). While its ninth season just kicked off on England’s Channel 4, American audiences are only now just getting caught up on season eight via Netflix. And with new hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig taking over for Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, plus Prue Leith taking over for Mary Berry as host, the latest incarnation of the show looks a lot different.

A bona fide global sensation, the baking competition has the power to cause otherwise rational human beings to immediately run to their nearest supermarket in search of obscure ingredients like psyllium or Amarula cream liqueur. It’s a charming, retro, warming hug of a TV show. But how much do you know about what goes on behind the scenes? Without destroying any of your illusions, here are some secrets about how the producers whip up one of the world's most beloved cooking shows.

1. THE REASON WHY IT HAS TWO DIFFERENT NAMES IS SIMPLE.

A scene from The Great British Bake Off
Netflix

If you’ve ever wondered why the series is called The Great British Bake Off in England and The Great British Baking Show in America, the answer is simple: Pillsbury. The Pillsbury Bake Off, which kicked off in 1949, is probably America’s most famous baking contest. And the company didn’t want there to be any confusion among viewers, hence The Great British Baking Show.

2. THE OVENS ALL HAVE TO BE TESTED EVERY DAY.

It’s difficult enough to make a cake that Paul Hollywood won’t declare either under- or over-baked without having to worry about whether your oven is working properly. So for every day of filming, every oven has to be tested. And because this is a baking show, they’re tested with cakes. Yes, every day every oven has a Victoria sponge cake cooked in it, to make sure everything’s working exactly as it should be.

3. EVERY TIME SOMEONE OPENS AN OVEN DOOR, THERE'S A CAMERA WATCHING THEM.

To make sure they catch all the drama, GBBO producers insist that every time a bake is put into or taken out of an oven, the moment must be caught on camera. So whenever a baker wants to put their goodies into an oven, or check if they’re ready to come out, they need to grab someone to make sure the moment gets captured on film. (Which must be a hassle for the first couple of weeks, when there are more than 10 bakers all trying their best to produce a perfect bake at once.)

4. THE CONTESTANTS HAVE TO WEAR THE SAME CLOTHES ALL WEEKEND.

It’s a minor thing, but have you ever noticed that the bakers wear the same clothes for an entire episode, even though it’s shot over two days? For continuity purposes, the contestants are asked to wear the same outfits for the entire weekend. If you’re the kind of baker who ends up with flour all over your shirt whenever you bake up a loaf of bread, the second day of filming could be a bit of a nightmare.

"Luckily they change the aprons so we don't look like a Jackson Pollock painting by the end of it," 2013 champion Frances Quinn told Cosmopolitan. "I think layers [is the answer], but even then you still have to wear what you had on, on top. Difficult."

5. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T HAVE A LOT OF DOWNTIME.

Having any time to spare is not something that season seven contestant Jane Beedle remembers happening regularly for the contestants. "Maybe once or twice, and when they did we would just sit and have a cup of tea and chat with the people around us,” she told the Mirror. "They don't like it if you have nothing to do, so they try and make the challenges as difficult as possible to keep you busy."

6. THE TEMPERATURE IN THE TENT CAN MAKE OR BREAK A BAKE.

Sue Perkins, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, and Frances Quinn in 'The Great British Bake Off'
BBC

Forget setting the oven to the correct temperature—the temperature inside the tent is just as important to a bake. "It's completely alien to your own kitchen at home,” Quinn told Cosmopolitan. “The temperature fluctuates—you'd be making a meringue and it would start raining, or we'd try and make pastry and it would be 27 degrees outside. The technical challenges and lack of time and lack of fridge and work space are the enemy on that show."

7. THE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE CREATED BY TOM HOVEY, AFTER THE EPISODE HAS FILMED.

You know those fun illustrations of the confections that pop up when each baker explains what they’re going to make that day? Those are all drawn by illustrator Tom Hovey. He was working as a video editor on the first season of GBBO when the producers realized they needed an extra visual element—so he offered his illustration skills. And while we see the illustrations on screen before the bakers attempt to make them a reality, Hovey told the BBC he draws them “a pack of photos of the finished bakes from the set after each episode has been filmed … I sketch out all the bakes quickly in pencil to get the details, form and shape I am after. I then work these up by hand drawing them all in ink, then they’re scanned and colored digitally, and then I add the titles and ingredient arrows. It's a fairly well streamlined process now.”

Even if a bake goes horribly wrong, Hovey said his “illustrations are a representation of what the bakers hope to create. Even if the bakers don't produce what they’ve intended to I have a degree of artistic license to make them look good.”

8. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T INTERACT WITH THE JUDGES VERY MUCH.

“They very much tried to keep it unbiased,” Quinn said about how the bakers don’t spend much time interacting with the judges. “We saw a lot more of Mel and Sue. Mary and Paul would purely come in to do what we called the royal tour—where they'd come in and find out what you were making, and then they'd come back in for judging. You're not in the same hotel having sleepovers! You form more of a relationship after the show when you see them at things like BBC Good Food or whatever—but they need to keep their distance [on the show]. They're there as judges."

9. MAKING SURE THAT THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE IS ACTUALLY POSSIBLE IS ONE PERSON'S JOB.

Sandi Toksvig in 'The Great British Bake Off'
Netflix

Another vital behind-the-scenes role is that of the food researcher. It’s down to them to make sure that the elaborate concoction the judges have decided the bakers have to whip up is actually possible, given the ingredients, instructions, and time the bakers will be allowed.

The tent presents its own challenges, too, because it could be hot or cold, depending on the weather, and it tends to have quite a wobbly floor, which can make delicate decorating work trickier than it might otherwise seem. “The tent is just mocked up, so the floor is really bumpy and bouncy because you’d got so many camera guys running around,” Quinn told the Irish Examiner.

10. THE SHOW GOT INTO SOME TROUBLE FOR ITS PARTNERSHIP WITH SMEG.

Part of GBBO’s homey charm has to do with the setup of the tent where the bakers do their cooking, and few appliances spell “retro” as well as a colorful Smeg refrigerator. A viewer fed up with what they described as “blatant product promotion” wrote to the Radio Times to complain, and an investigation was launched into the series’ agreement with Smeg. As BBC guidelines state that a series may "not accept free or reduced cost products" in return for "on-air or online credits, links or off-air marketing,” the broadcaster ended up having to write the company a check for all the times their product got some screen time.

11. THERE ARE NEVER ANY LEFTOVERS.

The judges only take a mouthful of every bake, which seems to leave an awful lot of leftover pastries, cakes, and ridiculously complicated bread sculptures. But don’t worry—none of it goes to waste. “The crew eats all the leftovers," Beedle told The Mirror. "We get some brought to us in the green room so we can taste each other's bakes, but it's only slithers."

12. HUNDREDS OF SEASON FIVE VIEWERS WROTE IN TO COMPLAIN ABOUT “SABOTAGE.”

Midway through season five, contestant Iain Watters had a bit of an issue with his Baked Alaska. Realizing that his ice cream had not yet set, he threw the entire dish into the trash rather than serve the judges a subpar dessert and was sent home as a result. Footage from the episode made is seem as if fellow contestant Diana Beard had removed his ice cream from the freezer. Beard left the show at just about the same time due to health issues, but some viewers (811, to be exact) smelled sabotage—and wrote in to the show’s producers to complain. Media watchdog group Ofcom looked into the matter, but said that they had assessed viewers’ complaints and “they do not raise issues warranting further investigation under Ofcom’s rules.”

Paul Hollywood took to Twitter to clear up what became known as “bingate,” tweeting: “Ice cream being left out of fridge last night for 40 seconds did not destroy Iain’s chances in the bake off, what did was his decision BIN.”

13. MARY BERRY WATCHED BREAKING BAD BACKSTAGE.

Although it looks pretty nonstop on screen, there’s quite a bit of downtime during the show’s filming days. Especially for the show’s judges and hosts. Former judge Mary Berry had one unique way of passing the time: binge-watching Breaking Bad. “It’s shocking,” Berry told The Telegraph. “Then you get into it and you think: ‘Have I seen episode four or five?’ You get hooked. It’s better than motor racing, which [my husband] Paul watches—though I’d prefer Downton Abbey.” She’d apparently rope former hosts Mel and Sue into watching it with her on occasion. What better way to relax during a long day of baking than by watching Walter White, umm, baking?

14. THE APPLICATION FORM IS NO JOKE.

Fancy your chances in the Bake Off tent? If you’ve been inspired by the show and reckon you could nab a couple of Star Baker titles, brace yourself: The application form is a whopping eight pages long, and it’s full of probing questions. As well as giving details of your hobbies, lifestyle, and level of experience with various types of baked goods, it also asks applicants to describe their baking style, and answer a couple of existential-sounding questions.

"It's a long application form. I think it's designed to put some people off, essentially," fourth season contestant Beca Lyne-Pirkis said. "It asks you about everything you have done, good and bad. It's designed to get information about your character, stories, mishaps and successes."

Still fancy applying? Though submissions are not open at the moment, you can keep your eyes open for when the next batch of contestants are being accepted here.

15. THE AUDITION PROCESS IS EVEN MORE GRUELING.

If you happen to make it through the application process, the audition process is even more difficult. “Every person who makes it into the marquee has passed a rigorous series of tests,” GBBO creator and executive producer Anna Beattie told The Telegraph. In addition to the application form, The Telegraph reported that there is “a 45-minute telephone call with a researcher, bringing two bakes to an audition in London, a screen test and an interview with a producer. If they get through that, there is a second audition baking two recipes … in front of the cameras, and an interview with the show psychologist to make sure they can cope with being filmed for up to 16 hours a day.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER