A Hamburger Today

Taste Test: Dill Pickles

20110728-pickle-tasting.jpg

[Photographs: Shell Tu, unless otherwise specified]

The Winners!

#1: Boar's Head
#2: Ba Tampte
#3: Woodstock Farms

Where do pickles fall in the taste test spectrum of oh-no-say-it-ain't-so and best-day-ever? It really depends. For some, myself included, it was a glorious day. Pickles, love 'em. On their own, in between bites of sandwiches and burgers, after a shot of whiskey. For our pickle-phobic intern Shell, who was opening jars and helping us set up—she scrubbed her hands at least seven times that day to rid of the briny, garlicky stench.

If you are on Team Pickle then you always have a jar on hand (one at the very least). Pickles have definitely seen a renaissance in the last decade. Small-batch pickle companies have cropped up, preserving all sorts of veggies in Ball jars, rubbing them with fresh rosemary and dill sprigs, Sriracha and hot habaneros.

But when you're cruising the grocery store and need a quick jar, which brands should you look for? We tried 11 nationally available brands of jarred dill pickles to find the most picklicious.

The Contenders

We stuck to the widely available, grocery-store-bought dill pickles. None of the fancy, small-batch (albeit tasty) pickles from the local farmers' market or boutiquey food market (we'll have to save those for another tasting!).

  1. B&G (bgpeppers.com)
  2. Ba Tampte (batamptepickle.com)
  3. Boar's Head (boarshead.com)
  4. Claussen (kraftbrands.com/claussen)
  5. Heinz (heinz.com/kosher)
  6. Mt. Olive (mtolivepickles.com)
  7. Target (Market Pantry) (target.com/market_pantry)
  8. Trader Joe's (traderjoes.com)
  9. Vlasic (vlasic.com)
  10. Whole Foods 365 (wholefoodsmarket.com/365-everyday-value)
  11. Woodstock Farms (woodstock-farms.com)

20110728-pickles-tasting.jpg

One of the pickle platters at the tasting. [Photograph: Jessica Leibowitz]

The Criteria

When shopping, we looked for the largest format available for each dill pickle variety. That meant we bought whole pickles whenever available, but if they weren't, we purchased the following in this order: spears, stacker slices, and chips.

The ideal dill pickle has a crisp, snappy texture, not soggy or mushy, with a balanced salty, briny, dilly flavor. It shouldn't taste like a raw cuke but it also shouldn't be so overwhelmingly spice-loaded or such a vinegarbomb that you can't taste anything else.

The Results

Tasters scored the fresh-tasting pickles much higher than ones that tasted artificial, like they'd been sitting out on grocery store shelves for too long. We also docked points whenever off-tasting spices crept in there, distracting from the classic, purist dill-ness.

#1. Boar's Head (6.79)

On the garlic spectrum, these kosher dill spears are pretty garlicky. "But in a good way!" agreed tasters. It's a pickle that's flavorful enough to eat on its own, or alongside a deli sandwich or hot dog. An anytime pickle. Not soggy or limp; very crisp and fresh. Doesn't taste like it's been sitting at the bottom of a grocery store aisle forever.

#2. Ba Tampte (5.93)

These spears have a mildly sour flavor, not the vinegarbomb that others were. "Very natural, like they're fresh from a deli barrel," said one taster. Garlicky, a touch sweet, and not processed-tasting. They could be a bit crunchier. Some bites were a bit floppy. But the flavor is fresh with an easygoing amount of sourness.

#3. Woodstock Farms (5.83)

This organic brand uses organic cukes that sit in organic distilled vinegar with organic garlic, organic dillweed oil, and organic spices. So if you're looking for an organic pickle, we can recommend you this one. It's spiced, salty, tart, and not soggy. All wins when you're scoring pickles! The fleshy part in the middle is a bit soft but the outside skin stays crisp. Very dilly and garlicky; a little too pungent for some tasters.

#4. Vlasic (5.67)

Quite sour and pungent. A little too acidic in some bites. "Gets you in the back of the throat," said one taster. Zesty, vinegary, and a touch spicy. As far as color goes, it was the most neon green-yellow of the pickles, in that somewhat scary, unnatural-looking, if-Mountain-Dew-made-pickles kind of way, but it stays crunchy and juicy. The bespectacled, bowtie-wearing pelican on the jar is right: "That's one CRUNCHY pickle!"

#5. Whole Foods 365 (5.43)

These reduced-sodium, organic kosher dills reminded us more of gherkins than your traditional dill. A little sweet, a little less salty, without blasting all your tastebuds with a vinegar hose. Pretty crisp, too.

#6. Trader Joe's (5.17)

Very salty and slightly mushy. Too salty for most of us. "Woah there, salt," said one pucker-faced taster. The label says they're a product of Germany, flavored with mustard seeds, garlic, cumin and other spices. It was a little much, even in small chopped bites, but the brine would surely be great for Bloody Marys or Picklebacks.

#7. Target (5.0)

These baby kosher dills from Target's Market Pantry in-house line are pretty tart and could be crisper. A little sweet, not especially salty, and not all that fresh-tasting. They taste more like a dill-cornichon hybrid.

#8. Mt. Olive (4.67)

Pickle skin so thick, it gets stuck in your teeth. Floss-required pickles. No snappy crunch. Tastes like it's been sitting out at a hamburger joint too long.

#9. Heinz (4.33)

Like the Vlasic's, these have that neon artificial color happening, more yellow-green than green. Really sweet, sour, and soggy. Too many dried spices. Was that dried rosemary at the end? Not crisp enough and very artificial-tasting.

#10. B&G (4.17)

Big on vinegar and could use more snap. "Tastes old, and like mayo!" said one taster. Eeesh, even if you like mayo, that's not a compliment for a pickle. Green, mushy, pretty meh all around.

#11. Claussen (3.89)

While this pickle was very crisp, it had an overwhelming allspice flavor. Cloves and floral hits, which turned many tasters off from Claussen, even if they grew up eating it. You can hardly taste the pickle-ness over all that spice.

Pickling at Home!

20110728-pickles-recipes.jpg

How to Quick Pickle »
Pickled Ginger Peaches »
Pickled Red Onions »
Pickled Szechuan Beans »
Quick-Pickled Daikon and Radish »
Deep-Fried Pickles with Old Bay and Buttermilk »
Pickled Grapes with Citrus and Spice »
Pickled Gingered Beets »
Indian Pickle »
Pickled Ramps (in the Spring!) »

More Taste Tests

20100631-cccookies-links.jpg

Printed from http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/07/taste-test-what-are-the-best-pickles.html

© Serious Eats