The Best Apple Varieties for Pie

It’s a little silly of me to try to tell you what the best apples for apple pie are, because there’s a lot of personal preference involved. However, I assure you that my favorite apple for apple pie will become your favorite apple for apple pie — if you can find them.

apples in a basket

In search of the best pie apple

Of course, there’s really no wrong apple for apple pie. Some will cook into a mushier filling than others, some will result in a sweeter pie. I prefer a pie with a little bit of tang to it, not too sweet, so take that into consideration as I tell you what I think are the best apples for apple pie!

No matter what, though, don’t let me dissuade you from trying your hand at homemade apple pie with whatever apples you have on hand! Any homemade apple pie is going to be better than a frozen pie, and a good harvest time treat!

Gravenstein apple on tree - one of the best apples for apple pie!

Gravenstein apple

These are by far the best apples for apple pie. Bar none. End of story. These are the apples I grew up with, the first apples to ripen every season, and they make the best pie ever. Their flavor is slightly spicy and a bit tangy. They are a tender apple with thin skin and cook up beautifully when they are ripe. A perfectly ripe Gravenstein has green skin with a slight yellow tinge and red stripes. The Gravenstein apple in the image above is at my mom’s house.

(There is also a Red Gravenstein apple; they are sweeter than the standard variety and tend toward mushiness, though the flavor is good.)

Gravensteins are only in their prime for a few weeks, though. Overripe Gravensteins will become a bit mushy in a pie. Not to worry — Gravensteins are also great for making applesauce; if you find yourself with some very ripe Gravs, they make a wonderful sugar free applesauce.

Finding Gravenstein apples will be the most difficult trick. They don’t ship well, so unless you know someone who has a tree or live in an area where farmers grow Gravensteins, you might be out of luck.

(Amazing story: When my family and I moved to a new home in a new area hours from where I grew up, there was an old apple tree on the property. The owners didn’t know anything about it. Come harvest time, imagine my sheer delight to discover that it was a Gravenstein apple tree!)

So, now that I’ve expounded about my favorite pie apple, let’s take a look at some other possibilities. 

Jonathan apple

These are my second choice for pie making. Jonathan apples are sweet with a bit of tartness, and much firmer than Gravenstein apples. Jonathans are a red and green apple, less stripey than the Gravenstein, with a thick skin. A pie filling made with Jonathan apples will have a bit of an al dente bite to it.

granny smith apples in a pile with a price sign

Granny Smith apple

This is one that should be readily available, whether you live in apple country or not. Most grocery stores carry this variety, and honestly, since I no longer live where I can get local apples, this is my go-to for homemade apple pie. These apples are firm, with a little bit of a tang, and cook up nicely in a pie. Granny Smith is a good all-around baking apple.

McIntosh apple

Another apple with a bit of a spicy flavor, McIntosh apples — especially early in the season when they’re still slightly acidic — can be a good pie apple. They do tend to break down in cooking, though. Pair them with a firmer apple like Granny Smith to get the sweet spiciness of McIntosh with the firmness of the Granny Smith’s in your pie.

Gala apples

These are pretty readily available in supermarkets year round and a fine choice for pie. They hold their shape well during cooking and offer a mild sweetness when baked into a pie.

Pink Lady

These pretty apples are very crispy and don’t turn to mush when baked. They’re a sweet-tart apple that may be a little hard to come by, much like my darling Gravenstein. 

Looking for more apple recipes to make while apples are in season? Try these! 

 

BOXES of different varieties of apples

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About the author: Kris Bordessa Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle. She’s a certified Master Food Preserver and longtime gardener who loves to turn the harvest into pantry staples.