Countdown to Thanksgiving- The Best Apple Varieties for Pie – A Taste Test

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The best apple varieties for pie

I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited about a post!

The biggest pie holiday of the year is just around the corner. You must have apple pie for Thanksgiving right? It’s gotta be some sort of misdemeanor if you don’t. (Skipping pumpkin pie, of course, is a felony.)

Many people don’t even think about what apples to throw in their pies. Some people, like me, scour the internet and cookbooks to find out the best varieties of apples for pie.

Last week my neighbor Emily made the discover of a life time. She found a grocery store with 19 varieties of apples. 19!

I drove right to that store and bought 3 of each kind, some of which I was quite familiar with and some I hadn’t heard of before. (The cashier pretty much hated me.) Every surface in my kitchen was covered in apples. Honestly, they were beautiful. So many striations, speckles and subtle differences in colors.

I invited a couple friends over for a taste test. I wanted to know for myself the best apple varieties for pie and see if what I had read, turned out to be true.  (We also tried them raw and I’ll give you the details on the raw taste test in another post.)

I’ll share the apple pie results in 3.2.1. GO!


I wanted to try each apple variety on its own. So, I made little individual crustless pies (making all those little crusts would have sent me to the looney bin. Besides I was only interested in the texture and taste of the apples. I didn’t want the crust to influence the results.)

I found a standard, classic, run-of-the-mill apple pie recipe from Betty Crocker. I cut up one cup of apples slices from each variety. Then I tossed the apple slices with the correct portion of the other ingredients in the recipe. (I did this pretty scientifically by multiplying the original recipe. Then weighing the combined dry ingredients and dividing by the number of tiny pies I was making. I also weighed my 1 cup of apples to make sure they were all about the same.) I didn’t use any additional flavoring like lemon juice or vanilla, so that the real flavor wouldn’t be masked.

I put the apples into ramekins (and it turned out every other little bowl I own.) I carefully labeled each pie with the variety from whence it came and covered it with foil. I baked all the pies for 30 minutes at 350. I let them cool for a while before we tried them.

This is  sample of what they looked like when they were cooked.

Apple Pie Tests Apple Pie Tests

I gave each taste tester a pencil and paper labeled with the different varieties. We tasted each one and wrote down what we thought.



Ambrosia Apple

A new variety to me. It has a big name to live up to. You know, food of the Gods and all.  The coloring was unique and really pretty.


“Subtly sweet, but the texture was nearly like a raw apple. The juice was quite runny.”

“Tasted like raw apples. Very crunchy and not very sweet.”

Verdict: No



Braeburn Apple

A classic apple. I don’t know, however, that I had ever tried one. It is one that is recommended for baking. Let’s see what we thought. The white spots on an apple are called lenticels. They are where the apple exchanges gases. More lenticels usually means a sweeter apple.


“Nice flavor, but the texture was slightly mealy.”

“Good and sweet, but squishy.”

Verdict: OK



Cameo Apple

I’ve seen Cameo apples every so often in the store, but I don’t think I had tried one.


“Sweet, but not bold. Juice was runny and the texture was pretty firm.”

“A good mix of sweet and tart. Texture was crunchy.”

“Flavor was okay. Texture was watery and crunchy at the same time.”

Verdict: OK



Cortland Apple

One of the prettiest apples! When you cut into the apple the flesh is white. This is the perfect apple for Snow White.


“Very good apple flavor. LOVED the taste, the apples completely fell apart. But not mealy.”

“Sweet and delicate.”

Verdict: Good, but be careful not to overcook



Empire Apple

I hadn’t heard of this one before. It was one of the prettiest apples. And it turns out it was one of my favorites both raw and cooked.


“Sweet, with a nice bit of tartness. Liked the flavor. Very classic apple pie taste. The juices were somewhat runny, but not watery.”

“Tangy flavor.”

“Good, classic flavor. Soft and juicy.”

Verdict: YES



Fuji Apple

Usually one of my favorite apples. I don’t know if I just got a bad batch or if trying all the other flavors opened my eyes to what I was really missing. This disappointed us left and right.


“Absolutely no apple flavor. Could only taste the sugar/cinnamon.  Firm, in a bad way.”

“No Flavor. Tough.”

“Watery, not flavorful.”

Verdict: Absolutely NO



Gala Apple\

Every store has gala apples. They are one of the 5 most common apples in grocery stores.


“Bland. Very runny juice, and firm texture.”

“Bland. Crunchy.”

“Not a ton of flavor. Medium firm texture.”

Verdict: No


Golden Delicious

Golden Delicious Apple

A classic apple. They are a bit tricky because they bruise easily and should be refrigerated.


“Nice sweetness, good thickness of the juice. Texture was very soft, but it was pleasantly  creamy.”

“Subtly sweet, very soft.”

“Bright and sweet. Creamy texture.”

Verdict: Yes


Granny Smith

Granny Smith

I learned that granny smith apples, when very ripe. develop a little blush on them. Granny Smiths are possibly the most common apple used in pie. But it wasn’t our favorite.

“Runny juices, tart, but kind of muted. Has some texture, but not really crunchy.”

“Not too much flavor to it. A bit of crunch”

“Bland and firm.”

Verdict: OK




The first time I tried a honeycrisp, I thought I was in heaven. They are pricey though!

“Clean taste. Medium thickness to juices, quite firm.”

“A little sour and tart with a crunchy texture”

“A little dry. Just okay. Firm Texture”

Verdict: Mixed results. Not the best, but not the worst




A cross between the Braeburn and Gala apples. It is a trademarked apple. Meaning that you have to be licensed to grow it.


“The apple stayed very intact. Firm, but not tough. Good flavor. Sweet with a little spiciness.”

“Nice flavor. Interesting texture. Still almost raw, but still kinda crispy and not firm the some of the others.”

Verdict: If you want a pie with some texture, Yes. If you don’t want to chew your apples, then no.




The jonagold is the love child of the golden delicious and the jonathan apples.


“Sweet, but not overly. Very runny juice. Nice texture.”

“Pretty good. Firm”

“Sweet and good. Crunchy.

Verdict: Yes, but maybe needs  a little extra thickener



Jonathan Apple

Jonathans are a common apple. Most people have  heard of and seen these around.

“Sweet and nicely soft. Medium runny juices.”

“Good balance of mushy and creamy. A little runny on the juice”

“Sweet, good. Soft and creamy.

Verdict: YES!




Does it seem like every old spy movie used the secret code, “the mcintosh apple is ripe,” or is that just me? Another apple that is often recommended for baking.


“Sweet. Good thickness of juice, quite soft, but not silky”

“Soft texture. Some sweet and tangy.”

“Mushy and tangy”

Verdict: OK



Pinata Apple

I’d never heard of this one. Sure sounds festive!


“Tart and runny. Firm texture.”

“Pretty mild flavor. A bit mealy.”

“Not good.”

Verdict: Not so much


Pink Lady

Pink Lady Apple

I’d never tried a Pink Lady. A woman I met in the grocery store told me these were her absolute favorite. I had to fight her to get my three apples.

“Good juice thickness, sweet, but not overly. Still some resistance, good texture.”

“Sweet and apple-y. Apples a little crispy.”

“Okay taste, apples stayed intact”

Verdict: Pretty Good


Red Delicious

Red Delicious Apple

I’m actually starting to think that this apple should be called the Red Un-Delicious. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a god one. They lack a lot of flavor, their texture and their skin is not good. Ugg.

“No flavor, little juice, but runny. Firm texture.”

“Yucky. Firm.”

“Not good. Earthy. Crunchy”

Verdict: NO!



Rome Apple

A pretty little squat apple. When you cut it open the flesh has streaks of red in it. Pretty cool looking apple. This is another apple that belongs in Snow White. This is recommended exclusively for baking.

“Yummy taste, but mushy.”

“Mild flavor, soft and breakable.”

” Runny juice, lacks flavor. Mushy and a little mealy.”

Verdict: Okay, but not great.



Sweetango Apple

Another trademarked apple and the most expensive apple I’ve met yet.  One of its parents is the Honeycrisp. How can you go wrong with that?

“Sweet with runny juice, bright flavor. Firmish”

“Bright flavor, firm texture.”

“A little tart flavor and crisp.”

Verdict: Okay


And The Winners Are…

The Golden Delicious. The Empire. The Jonathan. The Cortland. The Jazz. The Pink Lady.


Each of our favorites had something different to offer. And I discovered that different people like different things (crazy, right?)

The Golden Delicious was silky and creamy, but soft. It had great flavor. Don’t overcook this one to make sure it keeps some of its shape

The Empire had a class apple pie flavor. The softness was just about right. Not mush, but not tough either.

The Jonathan had a nice texture, fairly soft. May need a little extra thickener.

The Cortland was very, very soft. But the flavor was great! Don’t overcook this one.

The Jazz if you are looking for something with a little more texture. Completely held its shape, but didn’t turn tough like some of the others.

The Pink Lady also held its shape. Had a great apple flavor. The texture was a little tougher than the Jazz.

When determining the overall winners there are a couple things to consider. Do you want a pie with apples that hold their shape and have a little resistance to their bite? Or do you want a pie that the apples melt in your mouth? Do you want your pie to cut easily? Or don’t you mind if when you cut the apples sort of squirt out the sides of the crust?

Why not combine a couple different varieties? It will create some contrast in taste and texture.


Apple Results



Good luck with you pie making endeavors! Want a tip on making crust? Check out this post on pie crusts. Need a pie crust recipe? Try this one.

I’d love to hear which apples you end up using and how it turns out! Be sure to share this post with all your pie-lovin’ friends and family.

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  1. Jenny says

    This is a post to bookmark for sure! It’s really too bad that there is a rather limited selection of apples in most grocery stores. I can find Jazz only seasonally, and I don’t think I’ve ever come across an Empire apple. Too bad–they sound like a good one to try.

    I can’t believe there was a time that I ever ate Red Delicious apples voluntarily. They are awful. My kids claim to like them, but I suspect they are saying that to be rebellious. “We LIKE red delicious apples, mom. Take THAT!” Let’s hope that that is the limit of their rebelliousness. :)

    I can’t wait to hear about the raw apple taste test.

  2. Debbie Calvert says

    Loved this! Pink Lady are my favorite eating apple. Your thoughts of the Red Delicious are EXACTLY the same as mine. Will never again buy those horrid things. Tried Rome last year and the pie was pretty much an applesauce pie. Will be adding this post to my favorite section.

  3. Melanie Randall says

    I am an apple snob. This post is exactly for me! Too bad I wasn’t a taste-tester though; I’m sure I would have had a lot to say :)

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