Each episode presents a culinary battle between two chefs in "Kitchen Stadium". A contestant, usually a famous chef from Japan or elsewhere, is pitted against one of the show's four "Iron Chefs". Each of the Iron Chefs is an expert in a different cuisine, either Japanese, Chinese, French, or Italian. Almost all battles require the opponents to cook a multicourse meal in which a special theme ingredient plays a starring role. The chefs have one hour to complete their dishes. At the end of the hour, a panel of celebrities tastes and rates the dishes and crowns a victor. The winner is said to be the chef who best expresses the unique qualities of the theme ingredient.
Originally, the panel consisted of three judges. Later, the panel expanded to four. Since ties were now possible, each judge scored each chef's dishes on a 20-point scale. If the judges were deadlocked 2-2, the first tiebreaker was total points. If the point total was also level, the chefs would immediately begin an overtime period, with a new theme ingredient and only 30 minutes to complete their dishes. The overtime aired as a separate episode. On one occasion, the judges deadlocked 2-2 and on points after the overtime; the host Kaga Takeshi then declared both the Iron Chef and his challenger as winners.
Many theme ingredients reflect the Japanese nature of the show, for example, River Eel, Tofu, udon, and others. Ingredients more familiar in the west, like green peppers, summer corn, or peaches are commonly spotlighted as well.
These are the Iron Chefs who have appeared on the show (some have retired and have been replaced by successor iron chefs):
The stage setting for the show, "Kitchen Stadium," the high-quality (and sometimes very expensive) ingredients used in the cooking battles, and Kaga's extravagant costumes required the show to have a budget far higher than that of most other cooking shows. Aired as a prime-time TV show, the series lasted for six years, with the final episode broadcast in September of 1999. For the show's grand finale, the Iron Chefs faced against off against each other, and the final winner was dubbed the "King of Iron Chefs." The ultimate victor in this contest was Iron Chef French, Hiroyuki Sakai. A special reunion episode of the show was produced and broadcast in 2001.
The UPN network in the US presented two one hour episodes of Iron Chef USA hosted by William Shatner around Christmas of 2001. The show was not a success. This may be because the show focused little on cooking--a major part of the Japanese program. The show had a small audience section in bleachers. The audience yelled relentlessly during the show (sounding much like a sports audience), Shatner walked around the kitchen sampling the more expensive items, the chefs refused to say what they were doing, and the cameras rarely showed the food preparation.