You can use any apple to make an apple pie. Full stop. However, some are better than others when it comes to flavor and texture. And instead of choosing just one type of apple, a combination of at least two or three is a smart way to get more complex flavors and textures into your pie.
There are thousands of varieties of apples across the globe — so which are best when it comes time to slice or dice them into a pie filling?
For starters, you don’t want an apple that’s soft or mealy, because it might break down too much and turn into something resembling the texture of baby food. (For example: McIntosh apples are great for eating out of hand, but they don’t hold up well when it comes to baking.) And then there are others that are either lacking in the flavor department completely or simply one-dimensional. (Red Delicious, we’re looking at you.)
Thankfully, there are plenty of other options. Below are 10 we recommend you seek out the next time you’re ready to bake an apple pie.
Braeburn. This apple is a descendant of Granny Smith, but slightly sweeter. Some say it tastes almost like a pear when cooked.
Cortland. Some might shun Cortlands for baking because they can get a little soft compared to others, but in pies, they hold their shape decently and can be a great textural addition when used with firmer apples.
Crispin (Mutsu). Introduced in 1949, Crispins are a cross between Golden Delicious and Indo cultivars. They have a nice tartness that works well to balance the sweetness of desserts.
Golden Delicious. If you had to pick just one apple, this is the variety many would recommend. My colleague Becky Krystal likes it for its accessibility and reliability, and J. Kenji López-Alt found it had the best flavor when used as the sole cultivar in an extensive apple pie test for Serious Eats.
Granny Smith. Firm and very tart, this variety is the go-to for many when it comes to pie because it keeps its shape extremely well. But it isn’t exactly known for its flavor, so Granny Smiths are best used in conjunction with sweeter and/or more flavorful apples.
Honeycrisp. These apples can be a little pricey at times because they’re more difficult to grow and have a lower yield, but as Krystal said, “The flavor can be hard to beat.”
Jonagold or Jonathan. Crunchy and sweet-tart, Jonagolds are a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples. They’re one of pastry chef Paola Velez’s favorite apples to use in pie along with Granny Smith and Honeycrisp.
Northern Spy. Not always the easiest to find, but when you do, these beauties will have you wanting to grab a bushel or two. My colleague Daniela Galarza says this is one of her favorites.
Pink Lady. This super crisp apple certainly is sturdy enough to hold its shape when baked. It’s a nice mix of sweet and tart and boasts a vibrant pink skin (hence the name).
Winesap. This heirloom cultivar is said to have been around for centuries. “Winesap apples are highly aromatic with a balanced sweet-tart taste and get their name due to their distinctive spicy wine-like flavor,” per the store Specialty Produce in San Diego.
Now, the only question that remains is: Who’s getting the vanilla ice cream to scoop on top?