As much as we love all summer produce, there’s no fruit we get more excited about than apples. Freshly picked at a local orchard, apples have a crisp-tart bite we crave. Plus, no fruit is more fun to cook with: From pie to cider to sauce, apples bring everyone to the kitchen. (Here are more bakes that make your house smell like fall.)
At farmers markets and even supermarkets, we’re seeing a wider variety of apples every year. While it’s exciting to taste these new and ever-more-delicious fruits, not all apples are created equal. Some are best for eating out of hand, while others are better for baking or jamming. Brush up on apple types, and learn which apples to use (and how) with our handy guide.
Best for Eating Raw
Generally, apples that are best for eating raw have a naturally sweet flavor—often, their texture doesn’t stand up well to cooking.
Red Delicious: This apple is perhaps the most ubiquitous in grocery stores and farmers markets, earning its spot as America’s best-selling apple. It’s the simplest fruit on this list: The sweet flavor is one-note, it’s tastiest as is (it won’t hold up well when baked) and its flesh is crumbly (some say mealy; fresh is always best).
Gala: Queen Elizabeth II may have loved it first, but after the New Zealand apple made its way to the U.S. in the 1970s, it became a national favorite here. With golden flesh feathered by pink and orange, this variety is very sweet and crisp. You’ll find it growing in all but the southernmost parts of the country. Get the most out of it by eating it raw, juicing it or adding it to salads.
McIntosh: The McIntosh has soft flesh and a happy flavor medium between sweet and acidic. Grown primarily in the upper Great Lakes states and into eastern Canada, it is also best raw, although it can hold its own when tossed into a fruit salad or turned into sauce. (Novice? Try our Easy Homemade Chunky Applesauce recipe.) Although some enjoy its tart taste in pies, it tends to shrink down quite a bit when baked.
Best for Baking
Baking apples tend to have a more tart flavor, which helps offset the sugar added to baked goods. Their texture must be able to hold up to baking without becoming unpleasantly mushy or too wet.
Granny Smith: Another grocery store sweetheart, lovely green Granny Smiths are tart and crisp, perfect for adding some depth to desserts—like our Macaroon Apple Cobbler. For bold eaters who enjoy a super tart snack, Granny Smiths are awesome paired with a grounding ingredient such as peanut butter. (See which peanut butter won our taste test.)
The All-Stars: Eat Fresh or Bake
These apples are tart-sweet, so they taste delicious raw, baked or cooked. Buy one of these types if you’re not sure yet how you want to eat your apples.
Golden Delicious: If its name is any indicator, this apple has a lot in common with Red Delicious. Flavor-wise, it’s straightforward: mild and sweet, but more versatile than its blushing sibling. Bite into it raw, or throw it into a dish like this Apple Salad with Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette recipe. Since it juices very little in the oven, it’s great for baking.
Honeycrisp: What you see (and read) is what you get! As the name implies, this apple is sweet, with firm, crisp flesh and flavors that aren’t too overwhelming. Minnesota’s official state fruit is a star performer, and it thrives in a pie.
Fuji: Though created in Japan, Fujis are the offspring of Red Delicious and Ralls Janet, another American variety. Extremely crisp, they’re among the sweetest apples. Widely produced, there are more Fuji trees in the northern and southern parts of the States than in all of Japan. When it comes to enjoying this apple, be creative! Its firmness makes it a sweet addition to salads as well as baked treats like these homemade crumbles, cobblers and crisps.
Braeburn: Another New Zealander, Braeburns are what you think of when you conjure the smell of autumn. The flesh is sweet and tart, with underlying hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s fairly common throughout the United States, and while this apple is most delicious fresh from the branch, it also performs well in the oven (we recommend using some in our Potluck German Apple Cake.)
Pink Lady: The Pink Lady is a seductive fruit, offering crispy flesh and a sweet aftertaste following its tarter first bite. Primarily grown in Washington and California, it is very versatile. Enjoy it however you choose, whether raw or in a pie. (Want to mix it up? Try our Dutch Cranberry-Apple pie.) The Pink Lady’s firmness makes it a wonderful addition to any charcuterie board. Unlike other apples, its designation is quite strict; it has to meet firm criteria regarding its sweetness and acidity. If it fails to qualify, it’s called a Cripps Pink (still a tasty apple!).
Empire: A relative newcomer to the apple scene, the Empire was introduced in New York in the 1960s. This apple stands at the melodious intersection of tart and sweet, crisp and juicy. Calling the Red Delicious and McIntosh its parents, it’s an apple designed to satisfy every eater, no matter their preference. Enjoy it out of hand or cook it—it is as irresistible sliced raw as it is in our Apple Butterscotch Crisp.
The number of apple varieties out there is virtually limitless. We hope our guide to the most common types helps you pick the best fruit for your fresh pie or cozy apple butter. Happy fall!