How to Choose the Best Apples for Apple Pie

When it comes to baking, not all apples are created equally. There are thousands of apple varieties out there, and each apple has a different flavor profile. Some are sweet, others are tart. Their textures vary from crisp to mealy and everything in between. All of these apples are great dipped in peanut butter for snacking, but you really want to discriminate when it comes to choosing the best apples for baking. So how can you distinguish between the types of apples?

You're looking for an apple that will keep its form (because no one wants a slimy, untextured piece of apple pie). It's also important to consider flavor - perhaps the tartness of Granny Smith is exactly what you want, but maybe you wanted a sweeter treat? Blending apples is pretty common when it comes to baked goods, too, so you can get the best of both worlds using the popular apples in season.

Either way, it's important to know the characteristics of the best baking apples out there, from natural sweetness to a crisp flesh so we broke it down to give you the lowdown on our nine favorite apples for baking.

1. Jonagold

These apples are tart, crispy, and hold up exceptionally well in the oven with a firm texture. They make an excellent pie apple and in fact, there are some hardcore fans who argue this is the best pie apple, but they're also perfect for this recipe for braised apples and ice cream. You'll find them exceptionally juicy with a fabulous texture.

Do beware: This tart apple doesn't store well. Look for them early in the season to take advantage of their best flavor and skip late grocery store runs.

2. Honeycrisp

This is my absolute favorite red apple to enjoy raw, and it makes a great baking apple, too! They make my absolute favorite Apple Dumplings, so don't forget to check out this recipe when you're planning your apple desserts!

Honeycrisp apples are the sweetest around and the high price tag reflects their popularity. While not a part of the heirloom varieties, the sweet flavor in the white flesh develops into an extremely complex one with juicy crispness and light tartness when using for baked apples. Talk about a great apple.

3. Gala

Gala apples are, like Jonagolds, descendants of the Golden Delicious apple. They have this beautiful mellow sweetness to them, allowing you to get away with using a bit less sugar than with other varieties.

They hold their form well when baking, but they're not the crispest apple so something magical happens when they're baked. Of all the varieties of apples out there, these melt in your mouth the best! This makes them super ideal for this recipe for Apple Crisp.

4. Pink Lady (Cripps Pink)

Pink lady apples have the perfect balance between sweetness and tartness. I love the way they cook up in this recipe for apple cake.

Cakes and breads really accentuate the apple's fleshy texture, which holds its shape well while it cooks but also breaks down a little bit. Eating pink lady apples raw is tasty, too, but the heat really brings out the apple's honied, vanilla flavors.

5. Braeburn

Braeburn apples are super crisp and firm, making them the ideal choice for apple pies and my go-to choice for this apple pie recipe. They have a balanced sweet-tart flavor, so they can be used in a wide variety of recipes.

That's good, too, because they're the most common apple to find later in the season. They store well so you'll find them from fall all the way through late spring which is pretty much year-round for apples.

6. Granny Smith

Granny Smith apples are one of the most popular baking apples because of their super-tart flavor. They're immediately recognizable because of their bright green skin. Another great benefit of using this apple is their high acidity, which helps the flesh hold together as they bake, providing a firmer texture than most varieties.

We love how that tart flavor shines through in this recipe for gluten-free apple fritters. You can use their tart taste to add a nice counterbalance when blended with very sweet apples (like Honeycrisp) or feature their tartness on its own.

7. Golden Delicious

I don't love Golden Delicious as an eating apple because they have this super mealy texture and a middle-of-the-road sweetness that just doesn't stand out. When using as a cooking apple or for baked goods, though, their sweet, mellow flavor comes out in the best way, especially when mixed with brown sugar or in apple butter and applesauce.

They really do taste like a classic apple pie, which is definitely what I crave during apple season! Since they break down and lose their shape more than other apple varieties, they're a perfect choice for this apple custard recipe. They're unrelated to the Red Delicious variety (most closely related to McIntosh apples), despite sharing an apple surname.

8. Cortland

If you crave a tart apple pie, Cortlands will be your best bet. It's a McIntosh style variety, but is mainly produced in New York State so you'll find this readily available in farmers' markets in that area. It's best when immediately picked as the sweetness begins fading as soon as it leaves the tree, but these apples provide a great base for pork dishes. For baking an apple pie, Cortland and Honeycrisp apples play well together.

9. Mutsu (Crispin)

The honey apple flavor of the Golden Delicious you love is prominent in Mutsu apples, as known in their native Japan. While we call them Crispins stateside, one thing is for certain everywhere: it's a huge apple! When you're short on budget but still want to host a feast, grab a few Crispins and you'll have extra homemade apple pies.

Our Favorite Apple Cookbook

If you're feeling recipe-stumped but passionate about apples, check out The Apple Lover's Cookbook that includes not only delicious recipes, but history tidbits that make for great trivia and reading.

The Best Apple Corer Around 

Spend more time with your family and less time coring apples for your baking projects. Yes, you pride yourself on those homemade apple recipes and you don't need to sacrifice that work ethic! You've found the perfect apple, now let's find the perfect corer. This OXO apple corer is an American kitchen staple for everything from fresh apple cider to canning your own apple pie filling.

Which of your favorite apple varieties did we miss? What apple makes the best apple pie? Let us know in the comments what you're planning to do with apples this holiday season and check out our favorite apple recipes! 

Editor's Note: Products featured on Wide Open Eats are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

This article was originally published on October 11, 2019.