We all have opinions on the best apples, but these are the correct opinions. My qualifications: I have eaten a lot of apples. I’ve been lucky enough to taste antique varieties of apples and experimental research varieties of apples. If you would like to know the best grocery store apples, I can tell you about them. If you want the truly best apples, these are harder to find, but I can tell you which ones to look for.
The Best Grocery Store Apples
1. The expensive ones in the fancy bag. These are “club apples” with trademarked names where the growers have to maintain membership in a sort of club to be able to grow them. One of the club’s requirements is that they be really good about quality control, so they tend to be good varieties that show up at the store in excellent condition. I’ve never been disappointed by one of these. SweeTango are one such brand.
2. Honeycrisp. Sorry, honeycrisp. You’re tasty but you’re way too big, so you can’t have the number one spot. You don’t fit in anybody’s apple slicers, and the club apples are usually just a little bit crisper, a little bit juicier, a little bit sweeter.
3. Pink Lady. Third place is tough to fill; if the Pink Ladies are past their prime, they could easily be surpassed by one of the runners-up below.
Honorable mentions: Empire, Fuji, Gala, Jazz
The Best Pie Apples
1. Granny Smith. This apple has a combination of qualities that make it unsuited for casual snacking: it’s too tart, too dry, too unbalanced. Our food and beverage editor Claire Lower likes these with salt; I believe this is a good apple that requires a partnership to shine. It’s good with cheese, too. And it’s especially good in pies, where its tartness gets balanced by sugar, and its dryness means it’s easy to make a good-textured pie that will never get soupy.
2. Golden delicious. This is a very distant second, but Claire notes that it’s performed well in pie baking tests. Get ‘em fresh, though, because a sad, out-of-season golden delicious is no fun.
Honorable mentions: any tart apple you like, including Jonagold, MacIntosh, or the snacking apples listed elsewhere. Mutsu, also known as Crispin, has a similar flavour as Golden Delicious and would probably do well.
The Best Lesser-Known Apples
These aren’t likely to show up in your local supermarket, but keep an eye out at farmer’s markets and any place you find weird specialty produce.
1. Roxbury Russet. This is a small green apple with rough (“russeted”) brown patches. It looks ugly. It tastes amazing, tart and juicy.
2. Arkansas Black. Another kind of ugly one: these are deep red and darken to nearly black in storage. In other words, they look like apples that have gone bad and mealy. But take a bite and whoa they are crisp and juicy and perfect, even after being in storage for weeks or months.
3. Cox’s Orange Pippin. This is a weird apple but I think everybody should try it once. It has a fruity flavour that tastes almost exactly like orange Pez candy. I can’t explain it; this apple variety dates to 1830, so the flavour is entirely natural, unlike the (shudder) Grapple.
Honorable Mentions: Ashmead’s Kernel, Zabergau Reinette, Liberty, Northern Spy, Winesap
The Worst Apple
Just a note to acknowledge that we all hate Red Delicious, the apple that is good at looking like an apple but no good at tasting like one.
However, to get that wet cardboard flavour, we need to achieve a few things. First, it should be one of the thick-skinned, dark red offspring that are popular now, not the original Delicious apple that was more stripey and, records imply, actually delicious.
It should also have been picked before it was fully mature, and kept in controlled-atmosphere storage for months. Set it out in a convenience store fruit basket, and it will earn its spot as dead last on our list. Do not attempt to pick a Red Delicious fresh from a tree, or any nonsense like that. It would totally screw up our ranking.