In the Quickfire Challenge, each chef is asked to cook a dish with certain requirements (for example, using specific ingredients or to inspire a certain taste) or participate in a culinary-related challenge (for example, a mise en place relay or a taste test). They are usually given an hour or less to complete these tasks. A guest judge selects one or more chefs as the best in the challenge. Early in the season the winning chef(s) are granted immunity from the following Elimination Challenge.
As the number of contestants dwindle no one receives immunity and instead the winner gets another "reward" (such as being team captain for a team challenge). To emphasis the culture and environment of the sixth season's setting, the show introduced "high-stakes" Quickfires, which would occasionally replace a regular Quickfire. These differed by having an extravagant additional prize at stake for the winner (usually a large cash prize). Alternatively the stakes of the challenge could also involve the person at the very bottom being sent home even before the elimination challenge. High-stakes Quickfires would continue onward in further seasons.
In the Elimination Challenge, the chefs have to prepare one or more dishes to meet the challenge requirements. Many of these are individual challenges and may require several courses, although some instances require teams to complete the challenge. Teams may be selected by the remaining contestants among themselves, but more often are selected by the random process of "drawing knives" from a butcher's block, with the team identification revealed on the blade of the knife. The chefs may have from a few hours to a few days to complete this challenge. Ingredients for Elimination Challenges are generally limited to what is present in the "Top Chef" pantry and what the chefs purchase at a food store, with a possibly limited budget. However, certain challenges may provide specific ingredients or limit the type or number of ingredients that can be used, while others require non-traditional methods of obtaining ingredients (such as asking people door-to-door). After shopping, the contestants will cook for four judges, usually including at least one guest judge. In most cases, the contestants cook for the four judges and a group of guests or customers (for example, the cowboys in Colorado). The judges and the guests sample the food and rate the individuals or teams.