4 Online Culinary Schools with Free Trial Classes
Learn from Culinary Experts in Your Own Kitchen
Online culinary classes are the perfect way for anyone to learn basic to advanced cooking techniques taught by experts throughout the culinary world.
Whether you've had previous culinary training or none whatsoever, online culinary schools cater to the beginner cook, the advanced chef and anyone in between.
Recently, while watching the hit Bravo television series, Top Chef, I checked out the Top Chef University website. Within moments of arriving, I was amazed at the breadth and volume of culinary courses offered in an attractive video format, all at a very reasonable price.
I quickly discovered that in addition to Top Chef University, other online culinary schools exist, also complete with video instruction.
Free Culinary Class Trials
Fortunately for me, a novice in the kitchen, all the culinary schools that piqued my curiosity offered a free trial.
Free culinary classes taught by expert chefs was an offer I gladly accepted. Creating a basic vinaigrette and building it up with flavors, learning the secrets to properly sauteed mushrooms, and baking the perfect apple pie armed with professionally tested tips, is just a small sample of some of the skills I learned.
While most of the online culinary classes are non-accredited, many people claim that they learn as much, if not more, by taking these courses online as compared to a traditional classroom setting. Each of the four culinary schools that I "attended" (Top Chef, Rouxbe, Epicurious, and America's Test Kitchen) are individually reviewed below; they have these benefits in common.
Benefits of Taking Culinary Classes Online
- Go at your own pace, on your own schedule
- Work at the appropriate level
- Select the courses of greatest interest, or take them all
- Watch the video lessons and tutorials as many times as needed
- Learn basic to advanced techniques and how to use tools
- Learn a repertoire of new recipes
- Bring the computer or printed recipes into kitchen to follow along
- Pay very little in comparison to traditional culinary schools
Features of Top Chef University
- over 200 culinary lessons
- printable recipes
- certificate upon completion
- free 24 hour trial
- membership: $24.95/month or $199.95/year
Stocks, Soups, Sauces & Salad
Cooking Tech- niques One
Cooking Techniques Two
Vegetables, Eggs & Dairy
Pork & Poultry
Beef, Lamb & Beyond
From the Ocean
Pastas & Grains
Entertain- ing & Advanced
Top Chef University Review
Set aside a day for cooking and enjoy Top Chef University's free 24-hour trial membership. Signing up is as simple as entering an email address and creating a password.
You'll quickly see that Top Chef University is a wonderful way to improve culinary skills. Take a quick tour and notice the twelve courses offered, each containing numerous lessons related to the topic, over two-hundred in all.
Beginner lessons and tips, such as knife skills and basic pantry stocking, are informative, but can be easily skipped if so desired. For anyone signing up for a longer term membership, taking the courses in order is recommended and upon completion a Top Chef certificate is earned.
The user interface is very intuitive, and recipes and ingredient lists can be readily printed. Progress is charted as lessons and courses are finished, making it simple to pick back up where you left off. Of course you can always repeat a lesson or watch the video tutorials as many times as you desire.
Perhaps what makes Top Chef University a standout online culinary school, is the high quality video tutorials with former Top Chef contestants as instructors. The "feel" is fun and friendly, a bit like watching a more complete t.v. show cooking segment. Additionally, the expertise of the chefs is evident as their professional tips are woven into their lessons. Their in-front-of-the-camera ease and "television personalities" make it very pleasant to watch and follow along. You'll truly feel like you have a Top Chef standing by your side as you prepare each recipe. (Be sure and watch the sample of a Top Chef lesson below.)
After experiencing the free 24-hour trial, a membership can be purchased for a month or more for only $24.95 per month. For the cook wanting to up their culinary techniques and recipes, the month-long membership may be sufficient. For students perhaps interested in completing all the courses, a year-long membership is available.
Sample of Top Chef Lesson
Top Chef: Stocks, Soups, Sauces, & Salads Online Course
Top Chef University Pros & Cons
Pros: Very intuitive online course set-up; easy to watch videos packed with good tips, techniques and culinary knowledge; affordable
Cons: Maybe not advanced enough or in-depth enough for chefs looking to advance their skills
Features of Rouxbe Online Cooking School
rouxbe.com (pronounced roo-bee)
- course paths for recreational or professional cooks
- course units include lessons, activities, videos & quizzes
- over 80 lessons & thousands of recipes
- instructor feedback
- student forum
- free sample course available
- purchase by course: about $49-$99 per course
What Others are Saying About Rouxbe
~ Hands-down, Rouxbe is the best online solution for cooks of every level to learn independently.
Kathleen Flinn, Graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and best-selling author of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School and The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry.
~ Rouxbe is truly the best online cooking school we've seen.
Joe Weidert, Editor-in-Chief, Delight Magazine
Rouxbe Online Cooking School Review
Rouxbe Online Cooking School is a full-package learning experience, going way beyond the expected video recipe instruction with tips and techniques. Thorough, best describes their online classes, quite similar in fact to a professional cooking school curriculum.
Courses include multiple units, and each unit contains a list of tasks, conveniently checked-off upon completion.
For example, the free Rouxbe course that I took, Wheat and Gluten, included the following units:
- Unit 1: Course Orientation
- Unit 2: Learn about Wheat & Gluten
- Unit 3: Learn about Pasta
Unit 2 was comprised of the following tasks:
- read goals and objectives
- video lesson
- label diagrams (i.e. label the parts of wheat)
- store observation activity
- health considerations
- two video recipes
- unit assessment quiz
Navigating Rouxbe courses and units is straightforward, and students will appreciate the feedback from their real-life instructors. (Be sure and watch the sample Rouxbe video lesson below.)
Courses are designed for all levels of culinary expertise, and what sets Rouxbe apart is that they offer Cook Courses for the recreational chef, and Professional Cook Courses for cooks who want to work in the industry.
Sample of Rouxbe Lesson
Rouxbe: Wheat and Gluten Course
Rouxbe Online Cooking School Pros & Cons
Pros: Separate course paths for recreational and industry cooks; in-depth courses with a variety of learning activities and lessons; courses broken down into 15-20 minute long classes, real-life instructor feedback, online help and student forums
Cons: Overall, perhaps too time-consuming for the recreational cook
Features of Epicurious
- CIA instructors
- discussion forum
- free online beginner course
- courses with multiple lessons about $49
- courses never expire
What Makes Epcurious Different from Other Cooking Schools
~Together with the chefs of the CIA [Culinary Institute of America], we designed a curriculum that emphasizes an immersive, holistic approach to cooking.
Tanya Steel, Editor-in-Chief, Epicurious.com
Epicurious Cooking School Review
From an Emmy-award winning series, Around the World in 80 Dishes, to a continual helping of some of the Web's best recipes and food-related writing, Epicurious.com has teamed up with the prestigious Culinary Institute of America to create the Epicurious Online Cooking School.
With the goal of providing deep knowledge, not your average short how-to videos, with top-notch instructors at the helm, the focus of the coursework is on mastering cuisines from around the world. In addition to learning by practicing recipes, courses include information such as:
- advanced styles of cooking
- culinary history
- cultural background of each recipe
With the first class offered for free, you can experience the Epicurious Online Cooking School firsthand. For example, I selected, the class Overview & Salsas, the first in a series of eight classes offered within the Globe Trotting: Mexican Classics course taught by chef Sergio Remolina .
Complete courses cost around $49 and are well worth the money. The video instruction for the first class was over forty-eight minutes and the course contains an additional seven classes.
Clearly the instructors are top-notch, but the lengthy video lessons are a little unwieldy for students trying to locate a particular recipe-instruction within a video. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles offered, but simplicity in the form of videos and printed recipes may not be such a bad thing.
While a beginner cook can certainly learn a lot from any course, this school seems somewhat geared towards cooks who have already mastered the basics.
Epicurious Teams Up with CIA Chefs
Epicurious: Globetrotting - Mexican Classics Course
Epicurious/CIA Online Cooking School Pros & Cons
Pros: Culinary Institute of America instructors; video presentation; discussion board; course never expires
Cons: Videos are too long making it tedious to re-locate recipe instructions; links take user away from cooking school website
Features of America's Test Kitchen
- over 100 culinary lessons
- printable recipes with step-by-step photos
- free 14 day trial
- membership: $19.95/month without instructor access or $39.95/month with instructor-led classes and feedback
What is America's Test Kitchen?
America's Test Kitchen Cooking School Review
The television series, America's Test Kitchen, is filmed in the real-life test kitchen for Cook's Illustrated magazine near Boston. Employing a couple dozen cooks and product testers, America's Test Kitchen develops recipes, perhaps testing them as many as seventy times, until a fool-proof recipe is achieved.
Recipes and kitchen tips, resulting from years of testing and tasting, are the mainstay of the television series and are also available via America's Test Kitchen online cooking school.
A 14-day free trial to their cooking school should not be missed. Culinary lessons, often instructed by test cook Bridgette Lancaster, are extremely informative and packed with the reasons why a certain technique should be used - the science behind a recipe.
America's Test Kitchen offers technique lessons, recipe lessons, in-depth lessons, as well as cooking basics. The school provides all the online tools necessary to help their students get the most out of each lesson. For example, each lesson includes:
- an overview
- what you'll need for the recipe
- what can go wrong
I particularly found that by reading the "what can go wrong" section before attempting a recipe, potential pitfalls were easier to avoid.
Recipes include step-by-step photos which can be printed and brought into the kitchen as a reference or the video instruction can be used. Cleverly, the video lessons include numbered buttons to click so you can easily locate a certain section in the video.
There are two levels of membership: $19.95 per month or $39.95 per month. The latter membership includes instructor access, a feature that seems very well worth the money. Be sure and watch the video below to see a sample class and definitely take advantage of the more-than-generous 14-day free trial!
Sample Lesson from America's Test Kitchen
America's Test Kitchen: Foolproof Apple Pies Lesson
America's Test Kitchen Online Cooking School Pros & Cons
Pros: Tried and true recipes delivered by actual test cooks; easy to use website format with a nice section on what to avoid with each recipe; recipes printed with step by step photos; instructor access with higher membership; affordable membership rates
Cons: Lessons more geared towards the recreational cook; not many advanced lessons
Comparison of Online Culinary Schools
Top Chef University
Top Chef television show contestants
24-hour free trial
$24.95/month or $199.95 per year
Professionals, each with ten+ years of experience
Online videos, Activities, Tasks
Free sample course
Series of classes by level: $49.95-$99.95
Culinary Institute of America chefs
Free beginner course
Purchase by course: ~ $49
America's Test Kitchen
ATK test cooks
Step by step photos and online videos
14-day free trial
$19.95/month or $39.95/month (includes instructor access)
Thinking About Taking an Online Culinary Class?
Which online culinary schools interests you the most?
All four of the reviewed online culinary schools are excellent options.
While Top Chef University meets my personal cooking goals, others may find that Rouxbe's instruction beyond the recipes better suits their needs.
While you can never go wrong being a student of a Culinary Institute of America chef, you may find that the recipe-focused lessons taught by America's Test Kitchen test cooks may provide the exact cooking tips needed.