For the first Chairman's Challenge, Alton Brown jump-starts the proceedings by serving up an array of wild ingredients, and the chefs must use their expert techniques to make a top-tier dish right out of the gate. Alton determines the most and least successful dishes, and the bottom-rated chef is thrown into the deep end for a Secret Ingredient Showdown against a competitor chosen by the winner. Dishes are presented to judges Donatella Arpaia and Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, and one competitor is sent home.
The six remaining chefs are greeted by Alton Brown, and he goes hog-wild with his second Chairman's Challenge. Each competitor must showcase and transform the offerings into an Iron Chef-worthy dish, after drawing numbers to see who picks their ingredient first. Alton judges the dishes, and sends the lowest-ranking chef to a tropical Secret Ingredient Showdown against the winner's choice. Judges Anne Burrell and Iron Chef Jose Garces eliminate one competitor, and five move closer to the Gauntlet.
An Iron Chef must be adaptable, so the Chairman's Challenge offers up a combination of ingredients that will be bittersweet for one chef. All items are first-come, first-served and cannot be shared, so the competitors race to the altar to grab their most desired elements. Alton Brown sends the bottom chef to a sea creature-themed Secret Ingredient Challenge, along with the top competitor's choice. Iron Chef Marc Forgione and Giada De Laurentiis judge the dishes and send one chef packing.
Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary is an important tenet for Iron Chefs, and the Chairman's Challenge assigns each competitor a classic one-two flavor combo. Alton Brown's tasting determines the top and bottom chefs, with the least successful joining the winner's chef of choice in round two. A deceptively simple Secret Ingredient that may ruffle feathers is revealed, then the two chefs make their most sophisticated culinary interpretation of the item. Judges Ali Bouzari and Iron Chef Cat Cora determine who stays and who goes.
Embracing the idea of less is more, Alton Brown puts the creativity of the remaining chefs to the test by having them pare down their ingredients. In a Chairman's Challenge twist, one competitor will be eliminated on the spot after the tasting. The least successful dish sends one chef out of the kitchen, and only the final two Iron Chef hopefuls are left standing. The Secret Ingredient Showdown reveals an altar that takes the chefs back to where it all began, and judges Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and Ching-He Huang determine which elite competitor moves forward to the finale to run the gauntlet and potentially join the ranks of Iron Chef.
The last chef standing has the Iron Chef title in sight, but he or she must first run the three-round gauntlet against legendary Iron Chefs Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto and Michael Symon and finish with more points than the Iron Chefs combined. The finalist is given the opportunity to strategically choose which Iron Chef competes in each rapid-paced round based on the Secret Ingredients. In the end, judges Anya Fernald and Ludo Lefebvre decide if the finalist makes culinary history and becomes an Iron Chef or leaves in defeat.