The 11 Best Apples for Apple Pies (& Tarts & Galettes)

We'll tell you which apple reigns supreme when it comes to America's favorite pie.

May 20, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

So you want to make apple pie. But which apples are the pie-friendliest? Here, Rowan Jacobsen—a James Beard Award-winner and the author of Apples of Uncommon Character—breaks down the best varieties. Better pies, right this way.

Lucky us. We are in the Second Golden Age of the Apple, with more great new varieties appearing in markets than we’ve seen in decades. But lost amid the snap-crackle-pop of the produce aisle is a sad little secret: Not all apples are cut out for baking. 

For that, we have to hearken back to the First Golden Age of the Apple, the 1700s and 1800s, when more than 7,000 varieties graced American farms, many of them selected specifically for their pie prowess. Although these varieties are hard to find in supermarkets, they are increasingly common at farmers markets, farmstands, and pick-your-own orchards. Combine them with some tricks our ancestors knew well (use several varieties for maximum interest; mix sweet and tart, firm and goopy; and work some leaf lard into the crust), and prepare for pie perfection.

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Here are 11 of the best apples for apple pie. 

Escpopus Spitzenberg / Bramley's Seedling

1. Esopus Spitzenberg
“Who would put into a pie any apple but Spitzenberg, that had that?” wrote the famed minister Henry Ward Beecher in 1862. A century and a half later, the question stands. Widely considered the most flavorful apple America has ever produced, the pride of New York’s Hudson Valley pushes both sweetness and tartness to an extreme, and infuses your pie with notes of lychee and roses.

2. Bramley’s Seedling
Too often Americans make their pies with nothing but overly hard apples, which slide away from each other as soon as your fork strikes. The Brits have long understood that you need some glue to hold the thing together, and for more than 200 years their go-to glue has been Bramley’s Seedling. The huge, green, very tart apples look like unripe grapefruits in the tree, but when cooked they melt into a thick pulp that works wonders when combined with a firmer apple. (Honorable Mention: McIntosh or Cortland.)

Gravenstein / Belle de Boskoop

3. Gravenstein
Love it or leave it. Some people think this treasure of Sonoma County (where you can still find the Gravenstein Apple Fair every August) is too soft for pie, but others believe its unmistakable berry-apple fragrance is the very harbinger of fall. Pick them early for pie.

More: Here are the tools you'll need to bake the perfect apple pie.

4. Belle de Boskoop
This tart and snappy Dutch belle is plump and rustic, with a hint of acidity that mellows in the oven. It will win you over in pies, crisps, and strudel, where the firmness is divine and the zippy edge keeps things lively. (Honorable Mention: Any starchy russet, such as Golden Russet, Roxbury Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel, or Zabergau Reinette.)

Northern Spy / Pink Lady

5. Northern Spy
Your grandmother may well have insisted on Northern Spy for her pies. And she was right. This early-1800s star is one of the few apples that can stand alone in pies. Bright and lively, firm yet tender-skinned, it’s experiencing a well-deserved resurgence as a new generation of bakers discovers that no other apple can match its bag of tricks.

6. Pink Lady
Not all modern apples fall flat in pies. Pink Lady is super-crisp when eaten fresh and nearly as crisp in pies, where its rosy hue and sweet-tart balance work wonders. No peeling, please. 

7. Granny Smith
Green-skinned Granny Smith apples are juicy and firm, with a puckery-tart taste. Because they're available year-round, they're a reliable back-pocket baking apple for the contemporary home cook. (Worth noting: They make a fantastic apple cake, too.) 

8. Golden Delicious
Golden Delicious apples have a sunny, nearly-neon color and a balanced flavor, wonderful for baking. Note: They do tend to soften more than sturdier varieties, like a Pink Lady or Granny Smith, but this makes them great for mixing and matching with other apples. 

9. Honeycrisp
This 20th-century apple variety is super sweet and super crisp (hence the name). Food52's Baking Consultant at Large Erin McDowell loves using Honeycrisp apples in her Cider Caramel Apple Pie because they "hold up very well in baking, resulting in a filling that's tender but still has a little bite."

10. Jonagold
Another 20th-century apple variety. This one is a mix of Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples, with a sweet-tart flavor and buttery-yellow flesh. It stands up well when baked—and not just in pie, either. Food52 co-founder Merrill Stubbs loves using Jonagolds for homemade Apple Chips.  

11. Braeburn
Braeburn apples look like a sunset, with orange-yellow tie-dye skin. Their intense citrusy-spicy flavor makes them perfect for pairing with other apple varieties or using in big-personality recipes—like Brown Butter & Chedder Apple Pie, or this stunner from Alice Medrich where apples are steeped in a cardamom-lime syrup. 

Now, let's get baking. Here are three stellar pie recipes to get started: 

Cider Caramel Apple Pie

While most apple pies use white or brown sugar, this one goes one step further: Start with a quart of apple cider and cook it down into a syrupy caramel sauce. 

Sausage & Apple Pie

Not all apple pies have to be sweet. This savory recipe, with pork sausage and a cheddar cheese crust, is perfect for dinner. 

Epic Single Crust Apple Pie

Half the crust, twice the fun. If lattice-work worries you, then look no further. This open-faced pie lets the apples get roasty, toasty, and concentrated in flavor.  

Additional ideas from the editors:

Brown Butter & Cheddar Apple Pie

While you’d expect ingredients like brown butter and cheddar to pull focus from the apples, in this pie they only work to enhance. Both bring a nuttiness that complements the apples' sweetness, and without the distraction of the typical cinnamon-nutmeg-ginger spicing, the apples are able to shine.

Apple Pie Tart

Can’t decide between a pie and a tart? Call this dessert Hannah Montana, because it brings the best of both worlds. All jokes aside, this tart features a buttery cinnamon-tinged crust full of a gooey, brandy-spiked apple pie filling and is absolutely delicious.

Mixed Apple Pie With Hazelnut Crumb Crust & Maple Cream

In this recipe you’re encouraged to mix and match with apple varieties, so run wild with your newfound fruit knowledge. Toasted hazelnuts, oats, and cinnamon make the crust more akin to a spiced oatmeal cookie than a butter-crust (sign us up!). Paired with tender baked apples and maple-kissed whipped cream, this pie is all we need to round out an evening.

Open-Faced Deep Dish Apple Pie

This deep-dish apple pie is as American as, well, you know the saying. We love this recipe because it’s got all our favorite apple pie elements in one: a walnut and warm spice-based crumble topping and a buttery, flaky crust. It’s also dialed back in terms of sweetness, which lets the apple flavors and nutty undertones really come through.

Easy Apple Galette

If baking is not your area of expertise but you still find yourself craving apple pie, galettes should be your go-to. They’re freeform, single-crust, and the goal is "rustic," which we all know really just means it doesn’t have to look pretty. This recipe is as simple as it gets, and as easy as pie—nay, galette!

For more apple facts, apple recipes, and great writing, pick up a copy of Rowan's book, Apples of Uncommon Character. This article was originally published in 2014; we updated it in May 2021 with even more varieties for even more pies. All photos within article by Clare Barboza.

What apples do you swear by for pie? Tell us all about them in the comments! 

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Rowan Jacobsen

Written by: Rowan Jacobsen


TheFoodWonder July 11, 2020
I found that Pink Lady, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are for me the best to be combined for sweets and cakes, particularly Granny Smith as this tangy flavour that balances sugars, eggs and butter usually. I find that other ones tend to "dissolve" during the process of cooking and is not possible to really taste a rounded full apple flavour when eating the cake. I always combine them with a shot of rhum and little of cinnamon in any cake that i make with them and it is really an incredible flavour that i have experimented during my years of cooking. With that said i love the content in food52 mostly for the structure of the website and content quality/variation. I am a professional chef with 15+ years of experience and i have just opened my blog at
I would love anyone to come visit and leave a comment with feedback, i would really appreciate that!
Susanj May 13, 2020
It was interesting to see what apple was preferred for baking. Haralson has always been the apple of choice. It has always given great results. Juicy and tart, is what I love.
Vanessa W. October 28, 2019
My favorite has always been Rome and Winsap when their in season will have to try some of the new names if their in my area
Heather P. October 28, 2019
I know that there are an unbelievable number of varietals, but after living all around the country, my personal favorite is the Goldrush. They have one of the best balanced flavor profiles I have found. They are enchanting when eaten right off of the tree. They are meaty when they are cooked, making a lovely chunky sauce, a perfect pie, and they sauté beautifully, not losing texture or flavor. There is a slight spiciness to their juice, and if I could have afforded it, I imagine it would make bright, deep, heady cider. I am always glad to see articles on different apples. It gives me somewhat of a guide as to what to try in different areas of the country. Living in the South, now, I miss the full bodied, meaty apples I have enjoyed picking elsewhere. Thank you.
S October 28, 2019
Great article! I'm surprised no one mentioned using Smokehouse in their combos. I am lucky that I can get them at my local co-op in Philly.
Garahy J. October 28, 2019
Does anyone know where i can buy Bramley’s? We live in Maryland and our source in PA no longer sell them.
Caitlin T. August 6, 2019
My mother always swore on wealthy's for the best pie. I haven't seen any where I live (PNW) but usually use a combination of apples.
Catherine K. October 9, 2015
For years, I have only used PIPPIN apples (French).
These gems are not only the perfect medium firmness for pies, but the juice and taste goes beyond just being A+ if that is possible.
A recent trip to New York and many phone calls later revealed one orchard that still raised Pippins; available late December.
The apples mentioned above are really old world apples and the best of apples....I hope Pippins return.
Pippins are no longer a farmers favorite; however, I have never found another apple replacement
Jerry F. April 30, 2016
Hello Catherine, I have read yours and similar comments about "Pippins". A pippin is a tree that originated from discarded apple seeds (pips) and so whose exact parentage cannot be easily determined. Of the hundreds of thousands of pippins that have grown, only a small number have been deemed worthy of propagation and so cultivated. In my orchard I am growing Allington Pippin, Cox Orange Pippin, Fall Pippin, Golden Pippin, Green Newton Pippin, Herrings Pippin, Kerry Pippin, King of Pippins, Lambrook Pippin, Newton Pippin, Oxheart Pippin, Parks Pippin, Pine Golden Pippin, Ribston Pippin, Scarlet Pippin, St Edmund’s Pippin, Stone Pippin, Strawberry Pippin, Sturmer Pippin and Tallow Pippin. If you had another name or some more information, maybe we could figure out just which pippin you so appreciate. I would like to know. Because we very much enjoy our pies. Sincerely, Jerry Fottral Plum Creek Farm, Swisher, IA [email protected]
Smaug August 6, 2019
The green Newton Pippin is the only one I've ever seen commercially available and is considered by many pie people- myself included- to be the best pie apple, so it's most likely that.
Judy October 7, 2015
Jonathons. And If I can't find those here in California I use Pink Ladies.
Sharon F. October 19, 2014
I love the Pink Lady variety, though I have yet to try and bake a homemade apple pie! Some of these other varieties sound really delicious, I must try and find a couple of them and give them a taste-test!
john October 19, 2014
I have grown up in NH and am fortunate to have an orchard that has many unique varities in the next worn. But when my Dad planted a vineyard in Belmont, NH there were 3-4 abandoned apple trees at the bottom of the slope. While tending his grapes he would also fertilize, spray, and recover these trees which produce my "new" favorite across the board. Spigold, a Northern Spy Golden Delicious cross. Only last year I found a nursury that carried it so someone else must have discovered it, as well. Like its parentage it is an October product, but a beautiful, large fruit.
rob October 18, 2014

The very best pie apple, by far, is the Newton Pippin, second best would be the Cox's Orange Pippin. Both are EXCELLENT. The Newton is generally available towards the end of September, through October and early November in most areas of the US at specialty fruit stores, but almost never in the major supermarkets.

I've been in the pie/baking business for, OMG, I just realized it is 39 years, now. I must be getting old. One should always use three apples in a pie, one firm/tart, one medium soft/sweet-tart, and a third would generally be another firm/tart. This will give texture, tartness to offset sugar, and a 'roundness' to the flavor/texture profile of the end product.
Susan October 18, 2014
I love this advice, Rob! And will take it as I make my Thanksgiving pies this year!
Ann H. January 18, 2015
Pippins are the very best for pies. I have not found an apple that can match them for flavor or texture.
Mark O. October 18, 2014
Grimes Golden - Developed in 1805 in WV and can still be found in VA/MD/WV and is available from a few nurseries. Golden Delicious was developed from Grimes Golden. Without a doubt the best cooking apple I have ever found, both in texture and in taste.
Margaret October 18, 2014
Have used only Northern Spy for years now - best ever.
Dawn October 18, 2014
What if I live remote (which I do) and have a choice of Granny Smith, Red Delicious and Gala in our one grocery store. That's it. Those are my choices. What do I use for an apple pie?
Author Comment
Rowan J. October 19, 2014
I'd mix Granny Smith with Gala, 2-1. Bon App!
Mbowers42 October 15, 2020
Granny Smith
MK S. October 7, 2014
There was a time (latter half of the 1970's) when I always managed to get a box or so of Gravensteins from friends' or relatives' trees in the Seattle/Tacoma area. What I couldn't manage to eat were made into apple sauce. After moving to Los Angeles in 1979 I was pleasantly surprised to find Gravensteins for a couple seasons in a small local grocery chain (which, of course, was subsequently gobbled up by one of the two grocery giants in Southern CA.) The last time I saw more than a picture of a Gravenstein was 1981. Thank God Ralph's and Vons didn't kill the Gravensteins for the rest of the world!
Susan October 7, 2014
Environmental constraints limit the range of apples I can grow (not enough chill hours for many), but I'm hoping a small orchard of Anna, Golden Delicious, Gala, Arkansas Blacknose, and Golden Dorsett will somehow add up to PIE. :)
ChickenQueen October 3, 2014
A lot of these apples aside from pink lady aren't even available in the Richmond,VA area. At least I have never seen them and I am an avid Apple lover. (Say that last sentence 3x fast!
Anne Y. September 13, 2019
Take a pleasant ride toward the west from Richmond. Lots of orchards with multiple varieties in Rappahannock County and elsewhere. Our favorite is Jenkins Orchard, but there is also Thorton River Orchard, Lee's, Williams' and others. If you go back country through Gordonsville, there's a great restaurant along the way, Rochambeau; or Barboursville's Palladio.
Alex October 3, 2014
I usually use golden delicious, but all of these apples sound/ look delicious. Here is an awesome recipe to use them all.
Susan October 3, 2014
I usually use a combination of apples in my pies ... Golden Crisps hold their shape if they're fresh from the orchard and get combined with Macintosh that cook down to a soft mush. Deep in winter, I use Cortlands and one Granny Smith for my pies. You have to go with what's fresh vs what's keeping well at the time of year that you're baking.