Here Are the Best Apples for Baking and Eating, Ranked
Red Delicious need not apply.
Like denim jackets and air, apples are everywhere in autumn (and also year-round, but you get it). You can almost smell the “generic apple promotion” of National Apple Month (it’s September, naturally!) in the increasingly chilly wind. It only makes sense to rank them—all of them.
If only there weren’t 7,500 varieties of apples in the world! Even though many have provocative names like Ashmead’s Kernel, Westfield Seek-No-Further, Delikates, Stayman, Criterion, and the twin lovers of industry, Enterprise and Wealthy, it would be nigh-impossible to try every apple out there. So I limited my taste test to a selection from the U.S. Apple Association’s list of the popular varieties in America, which collectively account for 90% of domestic sales, plus a handful of other regionally abundant apple varieties that would have been weird not to include.
To conduct this ranking, I secured a conference room—remember offices?—under the guise of a calendar event named “Important Meeting” and assessed piles of apples by taste, texture, and sheer apple-ness of each variety until I’d meal-replaced myself to pectin shivers.
Without further ado, it is an honor and a privilege to present my perfect ranking of 18 popular apples in North America:
18. Red Delicious
“A Fucking Atrocity”
Most apple varieties are the product of happenstance and inbreeding, but no cultivar has been quite as petulant as the Red Delicious. As the story goes, some idiot discovered a mutant tree in his orchard, chopped it down, did so again the following year when it sprouted, and, when it grew back yet again the year after, is quoted as having said, “If thee must grow, thee may,” and in the process revealed himself to be the hokiest pushover in all of history, as well as the fucking moron responsible for the proliferation of the grossest apple of all time. If I could rank this apple even lower, I would. Fuck this apple.
17. Golden Delicious
“Neither Particularly Golden, Nor Delicious”
A clearly ill-informed naming convention! Trickery and lies. Botanical gaslighting if I ever saw it.
“Beep Boop Bop Boop”
I have read no less than 18 of essentially the same news article about Ashton Kutcher, known Method actor, “going fruitarian” after reading Mucusless Diet Healing System. “The fruitarian diet can lead to, like, some severe issues,” he said, recounting his insulin throttling to dangerously low levels while preparing for the role of Apple Computer Man Steve Jobs in the 2013 biopic Jobs. Why am I talking about Jobs? Because while researching these apples—which disintegrate in your mouth when raw—I learned that Jef Raskin, the actual guy who conceived of the first Macintosh computer and its name, got snubbed in the movie version of events! But at least this apple’s cider flavor makes them prime for baking. Moving on.
You want apple sauce? This is your guy.
Being the genetic offspring of a Red Delicious and McIntosh, the Empire—often encountered as the chunks stained by strawberry juice in catered fruit salads—was doomed from inception. I’m not mad; I’m disappointed.
If you’re a sicko Red Delicious apologist, do yourself a favor and at least eat Jazz apples instead. They’re packed full of the same bad flavor and weird aftertaste, but have a texture that doesn’t make you want to vomit! The Jazz Apple Board’s attempt at ~spicy branding~ does it no favors.
I felt nothing when I ate this apple. There’s not much more to say about Gala apples except that everyone will probably eat one at some point in their life without even realizing what they’ve done.
12. Seneca Crisp
“I Kinda Messed This One Up”
Get this: Did you know that cold-pressed juice purveyor Red Jacket sells a signature apple? It’s this one! I’ll be honest with you, though I 100% tried this apple, I foolishly did not write down my thoughts on its flavor, etc., but I think it was pretty good. The fact that I mostly forget what this apple tastes like but still ranks higher than the others below it is an indictment of how much those other apples suck.
“Points for Cuteness”
Really, it’s so cute and pink! Any excitement by a shallow assessment of its looks is shattered when the waxy skin gives way to tender flesh. It’s so soft. Disgusting.
“Clearly Genetically Modified”
A gibbous aberrant globoid with a dreaded trademarked exclamation point, but its placid, maybe even aloof, sweetness is worthy of a reaction of non-disgust.
9. Cripps Pink
“Textbook ‘It’s Fine’”
Also known as the Pink Lady, it’s, like, completely tolerable. Would willingly purchase with my own money if left with few or no options. It’s only good for the first three bites or so, but those three are very apple-y-tasting, with a 6-out-of-10 crunch!
But can she bake? Oh, she can bake, baby.
A lovely yellow-dominant brindled skin and elegant stature. But let’s put it this way: Jonagolds are the equivalent of people so overwhelmingly bubbly and positive that you have to sub in your battery-powered personality just to stay afloat in conversation. It’s nice at first—energies mingling! Yay!! Smile till your face hurts!!! It’s pleasant yet unsustainable. Everything in moderation, you know?
Holds up in the oven. Good for baking and munching alike.
It’s true that the stack of opal apples in the grocery store caught my eye with its sun-yellow largesse, though I was skeptical that it could be anything but terrible based on its clear hybridization with the dreaded Golden Delicious. (Its fusion mate is the Topaz, and comes with a “never brown” promise.) Luckily, I was not entirely disappointed! Though its skin was far too waxy to be an ideal snacking apple, the sheer mass of its sweet crunchy flesh almost had me forgetting my toothy battle to bite into the assertive hide. Worth a try!
“Favored to Win”
To be completely transparent about The Process, Honeycrisps were my preconceived frontrunners. This was theirs to lose! They’re stupidly expensive, but who cares? Their invention is responsible for saving Minnesota’s economy, a story told to me in college that is almost certainly conflated, if not entirely false. Their moral fiber alone is worth the $4.39 a pound at time of consumption. It brings great shame upon my ego to report that I have held false opinions about Honeycrisp apples for years.
Sweet, tart, a strong flesh. This does nicely for baking.
5. Granny Smith
Granny Smith apples rule because: 1) they’re practically never mealy, 2) their longevity is, like, insane (up to a year in certain conditions!), 3) raw or baked, they’re still delicious, 4) they’re one of three apples that are pretty much always available, 5) apparently, they’re the healthiest apple, and 6) “Granny” Smith was a real Australian lady named Maria Ann who dumped a bunch of crabapple cores out of her kitchen window and into her backyard, which grew into a tree that accidentally spawned her namesake apple. A very good apple indeed.
Equal parts baking and eating approval rating.
“Really Good With a Dark Secret”
大好きだね! These Japanese apples developed by Tohoku Research Station in the 1930s are mild and completely reasonable, a treat on their own and the perfect accompaniment to Greek yogurt. For as lovely as Fuji apples are, they come with a dark secret, much like the knowledge that K-pop icons BTS’s absolute banger “Best of Me” was produced by The Chainsmokers: This apple exists because the Virginia Ralls Genet was crossbred with, yes, the Red Delicious. For this reason, I must insist that Fuji apples be secured via trusted sources to avoid great disappointment with its hideous past.
“Son of New York”
Like fellow Son of New York Billy Joel’s last-ever record of new music, River of Dreams: a surprising and underrated delight. The Cortland does not sustain a career on songs written 30-plus years ago, however. It seesaws between sweet and tart, but leans pretty hard into the tart. Perfect for the mature palate of an apple enjoyer.
Great as a pie filling. Won’t brown too quickly when exposed to air as you’re prepping dessert components.
“Do Not Overlook!!!”
A fruit of curious and whimsical traits! It’s an apple-picking season staple; the perfect size for smaller-than-average hands (e.g., mine) to grasp when gnawing. The blushing ruby color is struck with gashes of chartreuse. Slicing into one reveals a milky white interior that’s dense and crisp and juicy, and which finds the washy center between acerbic and ambrosial. Its small window of availability, just two or three months in early fall, is downright coquettish. Plus, it’s named after the guy who Frankensteined this varietal into existence in the early 20th century. Downside: unclear if it’s pronounced "ma-cown" or "ma-coon."
It just is.
Juicy but not mushy, you can bake with abandon. Or just transcend during snack time. That works, too.
Editor’s note: As a person from Washington state, I must add: Washington apples slap. Oregon’s too. Join us. Also, the Cosmic Crisp is pricy, yes, but it is worth the hype. It has the crunch of a Honey Crisp with more tart and tang, which makes it a great snacking apple. They’re comically, not cosmically, large. So munch with caution.