How to Choose the Best Apples for Baking and Cooking

With so many varieties of apples to choose from — over 2,500 in the United States alone — no wonder it’s challenging to know which apple to use for what kind of recipe. Let’s compare some of the most popular commercially available apples to help you sort out which ones to use to get the best results in the recipe you want to make, whether you’re baking a pie or cooking applesauce.

 How to Choose the Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Apple Pie by Grandma Ople

Apple Pie by Grandma Ople | Photo by Joy Dambek Smith

Try this recipe: Apple Pie by Grandma Ople

Comparing Apples to Apples

Braeburn

Braeburns have a sweet-tart flavor, with a texture that remains firm when it’s baked. An all-purpose apple, it works well in pies and tarts where you don’t want the filling to be overly juicy.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Braeburn Apples

Photo by Meredith

Cortland

Cortlands are juicy and slightly tart, with bright red skin and snowy white flesh. They are a terrific baking apple: Use in pies, cobblers, and crisps. When sliced, Cortlands are a excellent for salads and cheese plates, as the flesh doesn’t brown and discolor quickly.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Cortland Apple

Photo by Meredith

Empire

Empires are a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious apples. Firm-textured and sweet-tart, the Empire is a fine all-purpose apple good for juice, sauce, pies, baking, salads, eating fresh, and drying.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Empire Apple

Photo by Meredith

Fuji

Firm, crisp, and juicy, Fuji apples are among the most popular apples for eating fresh, but they’re also great for baking, as they hold their shape when they cook.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Fuji Apples

Photo by Meredith

Gala

A crisp, sweet apple with a mild flavor, Galas have yellow-orange skin with red striping. They’re best for salads, eating out-of-hand, applesauce, and pressing into cider.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Gala Apple

Photo by Meredith

Golden Delicious

The Golden Delicious is sweet, with a rich, mellow flavor. It is one of the best all-around cooking apples, as it maintains its shape after baking.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Golden Delicious Apples

Photo by Meredith

Granny Smith

One of the most popular tart apples, Granny Smiths are crisp and quite sour. They’re a good all-purpose cooking apple, and their flavor is enhanced when paired with sweeter, spicier apples in pies and crisps.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Granny Smith Apples

Photo by Meredith

Gravenstein

Gravensteins come in red or yellow varieties, with a sweet-tart flavor and firm texture. They’re excellent for eating fresh as well as baking, cooking down into applesauce, and pressing into cider. They have a very short season and don’t keep well, so snap them up when you see them at a farmers market or farm stand.

 Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Gravenstein Apples

Photo by Meredith

Honeycrisp

Developed in Minnesota and introduced fairly recently, Honeycrisps are fantastic eating apples. As the name indicates, they are crisp and juicy, with a honey-sweet and tart flavor. Honeycrisps are also good for baking and applesauce.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Honeycrisp Apple

Photo by Meredith

Ida Red

A very old variety, Ida Reds have a tangy flavor and a flesh that is sometimes tinted a rosy pink. It makes beautiful applesauce: cook the apples with the skins on and strain the sauce to get the best pink color. Ida Reds keep their shape during baking and are also excellent in salads and for freezing.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Ida Red apples

Photo by Meredith

Jonagold

A blend of Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples, Jonagolds have a tangy-sweet flavor. With a yellow-green base and a blush stripe, is excellent both for eating fresh and for cooking.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Jonagold Apples

Photo by Meredith

Jonathan

Jonathans are quite tart, with a rich, slightly spicy apple flavor. They hold their shape well when baked. They are also good in salads and for applesauce.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Jonathan Apples

Photo by Meredith

Macoun

Sweet and aromatic, Macouns are excellent for snacking, in salads and for sauce. With bright red skin and juicy white flesh, they make an attractive apple on a cheese plate.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Macoun Apple

Photo by Meredith

McIntosh

A classic bright red apple with green undertones, juicy, crisp McIntoshes tend to break down when cooked. They are delicious eaten out of hand or in sauce, and are best paired with Golden Delicious or other apples in pies and other baked goods.

 Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | McIntosh Apple

Photo by Meredith

Mutsu (Crispin)

This large, yellow-green fruit is very juicy and super crisp. It has a sweet, refreshing flavor and is great for fresh eating, salads, freezing, sauce, and baking.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Mutsu (Crispin) Apple

Photo by Meredith

Northern Spy

This late-season apple has a crisp, white, juicy flesh with a sweet-tart flavor. A great storage apple, it’s also perfect for baking and juicing.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Northern Spy Apple

Photo by Meredith

Winesap

The Winesap is very firm and aromatic, with a spicy bite. A sweet-flavored apple, Winesaps are good in sauces and for baking.

Best Apples for Baking and Cooking | Winesap Apples

via Creative Commons

About Them Apples

Even though some apples are better suited for certain kinds of recipes than others, you don’t have to limit yourself to using just one kind of apple when you’re cooking or baking. Many cooks like to use a mixture of apples to get more complex flavors and textures.

If you’re buying apples during autumn’s apple season at farmers’ markets and specialty grocers, you have a better chance of finding regional and heirloom varieties. Be sure to ask the grower how they work in recipes.

How to Store Apples

Though they’re at their best when they’re freshly picked in autumn, apples that ship and store well are available year-round. When you get them home, store in a dry, cool place. They’ll keep best if the individual apples don’t touch: It’s true, one bad apple spoils the bunch! If you store them in the fridge, keep them away from lettuce and other delicate produce, as the ethylene gas naturally produced by apples causes fruits and vegetables to ripen and/or spoil faster.

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