You don't wake up every day and say, "I'm gonna eat every Pop Tart on earth."
To be honest, I don't really know how this happened. I remember some chat at an editorial meeting, an email to Pop-Tarts HQ, and sure enough, the arrival of an 14-inch cubic box with a couple dozen smaller boxes inside—all Pop-Tarts. All of them.
Well okay, not all. There are many limited edition and otherwise elusive Pop-Tarts flavors that appear and disappear of their own volition. Seek out the apocrypha and you'll find even more. And hey, look—the UK has some flavors all to itself!
That said, what you'll see below is the lion's share of the Pop-Tarts canon: 23 varieties in fruit, chocolate, and beyond, some frosted, some plain.
What's the best Pop Tart? If you're a Pop Tart fan, you already know the answer. Just like pizza, the best Pop Tart is the one you ate growing up. As we toasted and froze* and nibbled our Tarts, we were pleased to know our childhood likes and dislikes remained, to the taster, almost completely intact. There are strawberry people and chocolate fudge people and weirdos who prefer their Tarts without frosting at all and hey, I'm not looking to change your mind.
* Yes, freeze your Pop-Tarts! They're great when frozen.
If, however, you haven't tasted a Pop Tart since your parents picked out your clothes, here's your field guide to today's lay of the land.
In the beginning there were two: strawberry and blueberry, jammy fillings encased in pasty dough. And you know what? They hold up pretty damn well. Strawberry and blueberry are the most natural-tasting fruit flavors in the Pop-Tarts lineup, and while they're undoubtedly sweet, they have the most fruity nuance. The naked pastry crust means the focus is all on that filling. But it also means these Tarts benefit substantially from toasting.
The Frosted Fruit
The frosted fruit Tarts come in four flavors: strawberry, blueberry, cherry, and raspberry, all with a shellack of royal-style icing and sprinkle bits. Blueberry and strawberry are probably your best bets; the blueberry in particular has a nice fruit cupcake thing going on. The cherry flavor is dark and sweet, as if cherry juice got a jolt of [charitably] Kirsch, or [less charitably] bubblegum. Definitely toast the raspberry to brighten up its flavor.
Now we're talking. These were the flavors of my childhood, and I was pleased to see more than a couple Pop-Tarts novitiates come back for more. So many, in fact, that we had to buy another box of the Chocolate Fudge flavor because it was finished before we could snap a photo. The "fudge" in the Chocolate Fudge is more of a hyper-condensed fudge ripple locked inside cocoa-darkened pastry; a hot fudge sundae without all that pesky ice cream. S'Mores is another winner: alternating stripes of gooey chocolate and gooier marshmallow in a crust that tastes eerily of graham cracker. The perfect s'more simulacrum.
The Brown Sugar
Did you ever eat a spoonful of sugar growing up just because you could? Did you keep it up when you realized no one was looking and this was, to your single-digit-aged mind, the greatest possible transgression you could commit? If so, brown sugar Pop-Tarts will likely appeal to you. These suckers are sweet, with a mellow molasses-caramel flavor and a coarse, pleasantly gritty texture. I find their sweetness too monochromatic, but I've spent enough time with sugar-eating subversive types that I can't dismiss them out of hand.
The "Wildlicious" line of Pop-Tarts first emerged at the end of my professional Pop Tart-eating career, so I never got that into them. Tasting them today, in a culinary age when "wild strawberry" is a more loaded term than it used to be, it's still unclear what "wild" is meant to connote. Here's what we can say: these are the Pop-Tarts fruit fillings you know with the intensity turned up a little too loud. The strawberry is sweeter and more tart than it has any right to be, and the cherry leans towards the bubblegum end of the cherry-flavored spectrum. But you'll find balance in wild berry, a mix of blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry, which tastes pleasantly juicy with nicely layered fruit flavors.
Pop-Tarts released these puppies last year, and with the salty-sweet flavor of Reese's and the creamy smoothness of Skippy, the peanut butter filling inside is beautifully engineered for the peanut butter fan. The unfrosted version features a plain crust dusted lightly with sugar; the chocolate version adds crackly icing but also some mild cocoa in the pastry. That crust has less chocolate flavor than you'll find in the Chocolate Fudge, but anything bolder would overwhelm the sweet peanut butter.
Marketed as a more nutritious whole grain option, these Oatmeal Delights eschew the normal slab of frosting for a small squiggle instead. The crusts do indeed taste of oats, though more the Quaker instant variety than toasty-chewy steel-cut. They come in two flavors: a rather sweet maple-brown sugar and lipstick-red strawberry that's less jam and more sweetened, dehydrated fruit. The crumbly crust met mixed results with our tasters; it tastes more nutty than the plan crust to be sure, but not actually good for you in any way.
Pop-Tarts has come out with a bunch of novelty flavors in the past few years, but we think you can skip most of them. Most successful may be the chocolate chip (first row, left), which does indeed have the pleasingly gooey texture of melted Nestle chocolate chips. The rest—Hot Fudge Sundae, Red Velvet, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Birthday Cake—all have strong artificial flavors and aromas best avoided.
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