After a pilot hosted by Ainsley Harriott on 14 April 2001, the show was launched on 26 January 2002 and was originally broadcast as a BBC production for the Open University under an educational remit. It was hosted by Gregg Wallace, then a relatively unknown presenter. He was joined by a celebrity chef each week in a pre-recorded format and with a low budget, utilised archived content from the likes of Keith Floyd and Rick Stein to fill the show. After the first series, a second series went out live.
After the success of the first two series, the programme was relaunched with established celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson as the host, initially guest hosting from May before taking over on 13 September. The format was tweaked, moving away from the educational remit and simple meals to more aspirational food with an increase in chefs, a number of whom had Michelin stars, and celebrity guests. The BBC archive was retained for the revamped format, with Worrall Thompson and the guest chefs preparing dishes, with the clips used to allow clean-up and "resetting" of the studio kitchen.
During the summer of 2004, the programme temporarily moved to BBC One and aired as Saturday Brunch, live from Worrall Thompson's home. Subsequently, in January 2006, the show moved from BBC Two to BBC One on a three-month trial that became permanent, a decision which drew controversy after the moving of children's programming from its regular slot on the channel for the first time since the 1970s.
After Worrall Thompson left the network to present Saturday Cooks! in June 2006, James Martin took over as host from 24 June. During Martin's tenure, the audience increased from 1.2 million to around 2.5 million, peaking at 2.7 million on 9 January 2010.
On 8 September 2012, the first episode was broadcast from a new studio set, which saw a new design and the addition of mains gas and running water.
On 23 February 2016, Martin announced that he would be leaving the show to concentrate on other commitments, and "to have a lie in" on a Saturday. His last show was on 26 March.
Each week, a drinks' expert pairs various drinks to go with the studio dishes.
As part of the tender for the production of the programme released in October 2016, it was confirmed that the show and Best Bites will remain on air until March 2020, airing 52 episodes and 50 episodes per year respectively. It also confirmed the show will remain live and continue to feature guest chefs and archive content, but may see changes to the presenters.
Each show typically includes a host chef and two guest chefs, each cooking in the studio. They are joined by a celebrity guest, usually on to promote a forthcoming or current project.
Each guest chefs dish is paired with a drink chosen by an expert.
In between each studio dish, excerpts are shown from the BBC Archives. The footage has most commonly come from Rick Stein and Keith Floyd, but have also featured James Martin, The Hairy Bikers, and Tom Kerridge, among many others.
Before the introduction of the Heaven and Hell feature, the programme previously featured Worrall Thompson and guest chefs pitching a dish to be cooked, which the public voted on and a running total of wins were recorded by using fridge magnets.
Each week, the guest chefs are challenged to cook a three-egg omelette, as quickly as possible.
The current record holder is Theo Randall with a time of 14.76 seconds, set on 2 May 2015. The achievement was recognised by Guinness World Records and Randall is officially the world's fastest omelette maker.
Each show concludes with the host and guest chefs cooking the celebrity guest a dish containing their favourite or least-favourite ingredient/s.
Which dish is cooked depends on an online vote for viewers at home to choose heaven or hell. Formally, only the viewers who phoned in to the show were able to vote, along with the guest chefs.
The selection is also drinks' matched.
Among those to have faced "Heaven or Hell" include:
The programme attracts many highly acclaimed chefs, award-winning, and popular chefs. These have included:
In June 2006, it was revealed that host Antony Worrall Thompson was to defect to ITV to host a similar cooking show in the same slot, Saturday Cooks!, though later rescheduled to noon. In addition to his defecting, the new show was to be made by the Saturday Kitchen producer, Prospect Pictures. In light of the changes, the programme was revamped with new host James Martin and new producer Cactus TV.
At the same time, a new "Heaven or Hell" feature was introduced, which saw the celebrity guest provide their heaven and hell ingredients for two recipes, with the public phoning in to vote for the choice to be cooked at the end of the show. A sister show to the new Worrall Thompson show, Sunday Feast, had a similar feature at its launch, a week before the new feature was introduced as part of the revamp to the programme. The idea was, however, first announced three weeks before the launch of the revamped programme.
In February 2007, the programme was accused of misleading viewers to phone in to an apparently live segment, which was found to have been pre-recorded a week earlier.
In July 2016, Matt Tebbutt hosted an episode of Saturday Kitchen.
Tebbutt was discussing food commandments with food critic and writer Jay Rayner, when Tebbutt said "I'd like people in restaurants to leave their dietary requirement at home. Unless, it's obviously life-threatening—that would be wrong! There are so many dietary requirements these days."
Another said: "I wish intolerant views were left at home, so disappointing."
Other tweets read: "I love, love Saturday Kitchen, but not everyone with a dietary requirement is trying to make life difficult for restaurants" and "thanks for making those of us with dietary requirements feel even worse about eating out."
In January 2017, viewers took to social media to express their displeasure at Michel Roux, Jrs selection as host for an episode of Saturday Kitchen.
A Guardian investigation published in November 2016, alleged that Roux had not paid some staff the minimum wage. The article also alleged that service charges added to bills had been used for restaurant revenues.
Some viewers stated that they could not watch while Roux hosted.
Roux has hosted several times since.
The programme has produced a number of spin off series, including Spring Kitchen, Christmas Kitchen and Saturday Kitchen: Best Bites, a compilation programme currently airing on Sunday mornings on BBC Two, as well as the "Saturday Kitchen Cookbook with James Martin", published by BBC Books in July 2007.
Christmas Kitchen is a weekday, daytime spin-off of Saturday Kitchen.
Series 2 (2014):
James Martin returned for another 10-episode run of Christmas Kitchen in December 2014. Over the 10 episodes, he was joined by several respected chefs, including Jason Atherton, Galton Blackiston, Monica Galetti, Ching-He Huang, Nathan Outlaw, Glynn Purnell, and Bryn Williams.
As well as appearances from Sabrina Ghayour, Theo Randall, and Vivek Singh, Tebbutt and Oliver were also joined by previous Great British Bake Off contestants, including former winners Candice Brown, Edd Kimber, Frances Quinn, and Jo Wheatley.
Spring Kitchen was a weekday, daytime spin-off of Saturday Kitchen presented by Tom Kerridge. The series aired for 14 episodes in April 2014.
For each show, Kerridge was joined by different chefs, including Lisa Allen, Jason Atherton, Michael Caines, Daniel Clifford, Gennaro Contaldo, Angela Hartnett, Ching-He Huang, Tom Kitchin, Glynn Purnell, Theo Randall, and Bryn Williams.
Kerridge was also joined by a diverse cross-section of celebrity guests, including Amanda Abbington, Chris Addison, Amanda Byram, Nicki Chapman, Jenny Eclair, Chris Hollins, Alex Jones, Jo Joyner, Nick Knowles, Dominic Littlewood, Craig Revel Horwood, Gaby Roslin, Danny Wallace, and Paul Young.