Cooking Simulator uses a physics engine and cooking mechanics to allow the player to cook over 80 recipes by using over 140 ingredients. The game's main two modes are Career Mode and Sandbox Mode. In Career Mode the player takes the role of a chef working in a restaurant and has to prepare and cook orders according to customers' requests. Doing a good job earns the player experience points and fame as well as the ability to prepare and cook more complex recipes. In Sandbox Mode, the player is placed in a kitchen that is already fully equipped and gives them unlimited time and no instructions to follow. The game also has an online competition mode where multiple players can compete to cook the same recipe.
The game also has had several DLC packs released. Pizza! puts the player in the kitchen of a pizzeria and allows them to specifically cook pizza. Cakes & Cookies puts the player into a bakery kitchen to focus on baking recipes like cookies, cakes, and breads. Cooking with Food Network puts the player into a large kitchen that is actually a TV studio, has recipes created by actual Food Network chefs, and includes a Contest Mode where the player can cook alongside them. Shelter takes place in a post-apocalyptical future and features recipes based on new and unknown ingredients, along with a new Career Mode that has the player working to contact a long-lost family. One of the DLC features is a Chaos Tool, which allows the player to mess with food and items in a dangerous way.
Cooking Simulator provides examples of the following tropes:
- After the End: Shelter takes place in a post-apocalyptical future.
- Artistic License Physics: The game actually uses its own proprietary physics engine instead of using realistic physics. Round objects that would normally stop rolling due to friction can keep going and even holding a large and flat object like a cutting board with one hand will still hold it perfectly straight and objects will not roll or fall from it. In addition, plates break far more easily than they would in real life.
- Big Red Button: The dough mixer and cooking processor in Pizza! have one on the side that drains the bowl. The game instructs not to press it unless you have made a mistake mixing or have dropped something in the bowl by accident.
- Bullet Time: In SUPERHOT Mode, time slows down any time the player is not moving.
- Cool, but Inefficient: The Chaos Tool. It can shrink or grow things, clone objects, change gravity, and even shoot firecrackers, but it won't actually help you prepare or cook anything.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: The game allows you to make any kind of recipe in Sandbox Mode and allows you to really experiment.
- Easy-Mode Mockery: There is a microwave in the kitchen which can be used to cook or even finish a meal but doing this in Career Mode will dock points with the customer claiming the food looked and tasted like it was cooked in a microwave. The game lampshades this in the Cooking School Mode by saying a few times that no self-respecting restaurant kitchen would ever have a microwave in it and tells the player to pretend it's not even there.
- Food Porn: The game allows you to make whatever appetizing and good-looking food you want, or in the opposite, making something that looks not-so appealing...
- Game Gourmet: Game Gourmet: The Game! since it's literally a cooking game, you can make a dish as appetizing or as disgusting as you please, especially in Sandbox Mode.
- Gravity Master: The Gravity Gun in the Chaos Tool, which can reverse the effect of gravity on any object that it shoots.
- Holiday Mode: The Winter Holidays update decorates the kitchen for Christmas and has a new series of holiday meal recipes to make for a group of people, such as a whole turkey.
- Lampshade Hanging:
- In Cooking School mode during the kitchen tour course the game shows that there is a microwave in the kitchen but tells the player to just stay away from it before wondering what it's even doing in the kitchen of a restaurant.
- The game advertises the ability to "go crazy and just throw knives around the kitchen". There is even a dartboard in the corner of the kitchen to hit with your knives.
- Lethal Chef: There is nothing to stop you from making food that would be a danger to eat, such as mixing dish soap into the food or combining ingredients that would (literally) explode.
- Microwave Misuse: You can microwave any item that will fit in the microwave, and often times it can lead to explosive results.
- No Fair Cheating: You get far lower points from customers if you simply cook food in the microwave, with the customer remarking that it tasted like it was cooked in a microwave.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The Italian song Tarentella Napoletana is the title screen music for Pizza!.
- Pyromaniac: There is nothing to stop you from setting the kitchen on fire. In fact, you can do it easily with a few of your cooking tools such as the torch. With little to no effort, the entire kitchen can wind up ablaze, but it does have a fire protection system that will activate much like a real restaurant kitchen.
- Sandbox Mode: Sandbox Mode allows the players to cook whatever they want in an already fully-equipped kitchen.
- Shout-Out: To Superhot in SUPERHOT Mode which modifies the appearance of products, utensils and kitchen and introduces a new mechanic that slows down the time when the player's not moving.
- Shrink Ray: The Scale Gun in the Chaos Tool which is both a shrink ray but also a grow ray!
- Stuff Blowing Up: The torch and the propane tanks in the original game can explode much as they would in real life if heated in the oven, on the stove, in the microwave, or even in the gas cooker. The Chaos Tool adds a firecracker launcher. With the right mix of ingredients, a recipe can also blow up.
- Twinmaker: The Chaos Tool's cloning tool subverts this. All it does is make an exact copy of an object and shoot that copy somewhere into the kitchen.
- Wide-Open Sandbox: Sandbox Mode throws the player into a fully equipped kitchen and allows them to cook anything they desire with no instructions.