What’s Fresh: The Best and Worst Apples for Eating, Cooking & Baking

By: Hilary Meyer, EatingWell Recipe Contributor

Are you buying the best apple for your recipe? With all the apple varieties out there it's helpful to know which one will stand up best in applesauce, pie or apple crisp, and which tastes best for eating.

all-American apple pie

Pictured Recipe: All-American Apple Pies

There’s something about that moment when you bite into the first, fresh, perfectly tart apple of the autumn season that reminds you: “Yes, this is what fall is supposed to taste like.” But not all apples are equally suited for every purpose. Some are better for baking and making applesauce, some are great for salads and snacking, and some are downright delicious no matter what you do with it.

Regardless of variety, they’re all good for you. A medium apple (3-inch diameter) contains 4 grams of fiber; a large apple (3 1/4-inch diameter) has 5 grams of fiber. Apples also offer a bit of vitamin C and potassium. So what apples are best for your lunchbox and what apples are best suited for your apple pie? Use this handy guide for picking the right apple for every occasion.

Related: Every Kind of Apple & What to Use Them For

Best & Worst Apples for Cooking and Baking

deep-dish apple pie

Pictured Recipe: Deep-Dish Apple Pie

The Best

When it comes to baking, some people are partial to firmer apples that keep their shape in the oven while others prefer a softer apple that breaks down. In the EatingWell Test Kitchen, we like to combine the two. It’s also important to opt for apples with enough tartness to stand up to the sweetness of your creation. You want an apple pie that tastes like apples, not sugar!

McIntosh: The tender white flesh is crisp when freshly harvested, but soon adopts a softer consistency, making it perfect for cooking into pies or sauce. Macs are sweet and juicy with a pleasant tanginess.

Granny Smith: This apple is sharp and tart and its flavor holds up well in recipes with spicy notes; the flesh is firm enough to retain its shape when cooked.

When the softer McIntosh mixes with the more toothsome Granny Smith, presto! You’ve got yourself the perfect apple pie.

Related: 25+ Delicious Fall Apple Recipes

The Worst

Red Delicious: These apples are sweet, crisp and grainy. They lack a tart element and a rich apple flavor, which is what makes apple pie so great. You’re better off leaving them out of your pie.

Best & Worst Apples for Eating

apple varieties

So, what is the best apple to pack away for that perfect snack? Of course, the perfect apple for eating is a matter of personal preference, but we thought it might be interesting to take a look at why certain apples seem to get so much love.

The Best

Honeycrisp: This apple tends to be almost universally adored. It has exceptionally crisp, juicy, sweet-as-honey flesh with just a hint of tartness that makes it a tasty treat any time of the day. (You can also use it for baking, but with its sweet juicy flesh, I find I eat them so fast there’s never any left for my pie.) What makes them so crispy? Honeycrisps have cells twice the size of a normal fruit—so, twice as packed with juice—and strong cell walls that shatter rather than fall apart when bitten into resulting in that ultra-crispy bite we all love.

Sweetango: Fans of the Honeycrisp might want to try Sweetango. It has Honeycrisp’s signature crunch, but is a bit tarter.

A bushel basket of new apple varieties have been making their way to market over the last few years, including juicy, floral Jazz, firm Ambrosia and the delicate, almost tropical Piñata. We at EatingWell also love a trio of summer varieties that come imported from New Zealand: Eve, Smitten and Tentation. You might not be able to find all of these varieties where you live, but you’ll certainly find some. 

The Worst

Red Delicious: While some people (like myself) actually like their texture—when eaten fresh, not cooked—most apple lovers turn their noses up at this plain Jane variety for either application. Red Delicious apples have relatively weak cell walls. As a result, if you don’t get a really fresh one, you’re likely to bite into a mealy mess. I stand by the Red Delicious as a decent snack, but they're best eaten fresh-picked off the tree.

Best Apples for Salads

Apple Fig and Brussels Sprouts Salad

Pictured Recipe: Apple, Fig & Brussels Sprouts Salad

There are many apple varieties that could taste great in a salad, but if you’re not planning to serve it immediately, you might want to opt for a variety that takes longer to turn brown.

Cortlands: If you want to include fresh apples in a dish but don’t have time to assemble it á la minute, Cortlands are the best bet—they don’t turn brown as quickly as other varieties and the bright red skin and snow-white flesh look striking against a contrasting backdrop.

Gala: Gala apples have a really nice color. Like Cortlands, when you cut them up, they don't oxidize very quickly. So if you're looking for a table apple for presentation, like on a cheese board, this is a good choice, because they don't turn brown very quickly.

How to Pick the Best Apples

apple varieties

There are so many kinds of apples that it’s impossible to follow one general rule when looking for the right attributes, but there are a few key points to seek out. Choose unbruised apples that feel firm and heavy in your hand. Be sure to look for richly colored fruits with smooth skin. Also, watch out for signs of russeting—that’s those tan or brown streaky, corky marks that sometimes show up on the stem or base end of the apple, caused by excessive wetness or fungus.

Some original reporting by Matthew Thompson.

Watch: The Best Apple Varieties for Eating and Baking

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