Over the years, I’ve learned that you either are a pickle person or you’re not. The briny, bumpy, pantry staple is either absolutely adored or vehemently detested by foodies—giving cause for the saying “hold the pickles.” But for those who have a palate for pickles, there’s a world of possibilities. So many delicious pickled recipes run the gamut from sweet baby gherkins, bread-and-butter and even Kool-Aid flavored pickles. My favorite? Dill pickles.
Kosher dill pickles tread a delicate balance between sweet and sour, juicy and crunchy. They also have a briny taste that’s full of salt, sweet dill and usually garlic. With so many flavor factors and dozens of brands to choose from, it can be difficult to decide what to buy. So I stepped up to find the best brand of dill pickles. I wanted to find one that would be perfect to pair with my pickle-and-cheese sandwiches or Chicago-style hot dogs.
I wrangled up a group of people who, like me, were picky about their pickles. Together, we taste tested the 5 popular supermarket brands side-by-side to see which tasted best. After stripping the labels from the pickles, we judged the following: texture, appearance and (most important) flavor. Read on to find our top picks.
A Sweet (Not Salty) Dill:
Mt. Olive Kosher Dill Spears
Average rating: 6/10
“Tastes sharp, not salty.”
Mt. Olive brought us back to the qualities of a classic dill pickle. The brand jumped onto our radar as it delivered a good crunch and looked plump and hearty on the plate. Its brine had a strong vinegar profile, but it didn’t overwhelm our taste buds. Compared to other brands, these pickles tasted slightly sweeter. Though, the brand didn’t have much salt in it, which could be the reason it didn’t get full marks. (Or the fact that the pickles were bright yellow.)
Best Budget-Friendly Brand:
Market Pantry Kosher Dill Spears
Average rating: 6.6/10
“This brand had the most radioactive color.”
Speaking of bright colors, Target’s Market Pantry pickles stood out from the pack. They had an almost fluorescent, neon color. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they glow in the dark!) In light of this, the pickles delivered a flavor that was hard to beat. They had a well-rounded briny taste that was equal parts sweet and tart. They commanded attention with lots of tasty garlic, dill and salt. What’s more, each spear had fantastic crunch. Congrats, Target. You’ve made yourself a major contender in our pickle-loving hearts. Plus, costing a little over a buck at our local store, this brand is easy on the wallet.
Our Top Pick:
Claussen Kosher Dill Spears
Average rating: 8.7/10
“This looks like a real pickle. Is it homemade?”
The champion became clear when we took a taste of Claussen’s spears. The brand had everything we wanted in a pickled cuke. Tasters loved how the product looked natural-and some even thought they were homemade! Claussen’s variety had deep green color with a slightly gray tint. When it came to flavor, the brand had top marks. The brine was both sweet and sour, and it had a decent amount of salt. There was a hint of garlic and a big dill flavor. Plus, the pickles had a fresh crunch-which is hard to beat.
What You Should Take Away
You eat with your eyes.
Color was an unexpected factor that made a big difference in our deliberations. It turns out that pickles range in hue from neon yellow to gray-green. Artificial colors made certain brands look unnatural, while the natural grayish pickles didn’t seem as fresh as the rest of the bunch. Our favorite brand found a middle ground between the two.
Price doesn’t make the pickle taste better or worse.
I was surprised to see Yeehaw Pickles wasn’t among our top picks. At a price of $7.99 per 24 oz., the brand was our most expensive by far. The pickles looked pretty in the bottle, too. You could actually see whole sprigs of dill weed and cloves inside. I was sure the pickles were going to be rich with yummy dill flavor. Instead, the top-shelf brand was surpassed by bargain brands like Target’s Market Pantry ($1.99/24oz.), which cost a fraction of the price.
Pickles are nostalgic.
As we tried each brand, the discussion became more heartwarming than fierce. The dill pickles seemed to bring everyone back to their childhood. (Perhaps that’s why we love them so much!) Some recalled how their parents would make homemade refrigerator pickles, while others said that as kids they loved the look of a neon-green spear. Even our Test Kitchen couldn’t help but weigh in. The pros said that Claussen and Vlasic were the brands they preferred because that’s what they grew up with.
If anything, this test made me appreciate pickles even more. And the leftovers? Well, those made their way into pickle-perfect recipes like this Dilly Potato & Egg Salad and this hearty BBQ Bacon Burger.