Is there even a bad slice of pie? Really? Isn’t it all good? The answer is yes. Pie is always good (way better than wack-ass cake). But the difference between a good pie and the best pie is a vast gulf filled with empty pie crusts and sad, sugar-filled tears.
We write about comfort food a lot in these parts, so let us tell you: Pie is pretty much the perfect comfort food. The base is a lard or butter crust that should flake and add a textural counterpoint to the smooth filling inside. But know this: It’s the filling where a great pie lives and dies. A great filing balances the holy dessert equation of sweet + savory or tart = perfection. Tip the balance too far in any direction and even the best crust can’t save you.
Since the holiday season is rapidly approaching, pies are going start popping up more and more in our lives. There will be choices — hard choices — about which slice of pie to eat and which slice of pie to have seconds of. No one regrets a second piece of perfect pie, but a second slice of store bought cherry mush? That will stick with you.
Below is our ultimate ranking of the best “classic” pies that appear on almost all American menus at one point or another. And by classic we mean what we call pie in America: fatty crust with a filling and maybe a top of more crust or maybe cream with a flourish or two here and there. So you can take the cake they call a Boston Cream Pie and put it straight in the disqualified column. Stick to beans, Boston!
10. CHERRY PIE
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Okay, this list has to start somewhere, doesn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with cherry pie besides maybe the schlocky cock rock song about it. If this pie is done at exactly the right time (around early summer when the cherries are still a little tart), then you have something special. The major problem here is that more often than not you’ll be getting a cherry pie filled with cherries from a can. No one wants those.
9. PEACH PIE
Peach suffers from the same problems. Peaches have a pretty short window for perfect ripeness that’ll lead to great peach pie. Otherwise, you’re dealing with flavorless hard peaches or canned bullshit. That small window of greatness is short and wonderful when its open. But, you really can’t always trust a peach pie to be transcendent.
8. STRAWBERRY RHUBARB PIE
When the strawberries and rhubarb come in late spring, this is the pie to make. The umami of the rhubarb is the perfect counterpoint to the sweet strawberries and spritzes of lemon. There’s a good heft to this pie as well making it a little more satisfying.
Overall, you’re getting a lot of flavors in every bite and that’s a good thing.
7. APPLE PIE
Of the classic fruit pies, apple is the mountaintop. There’s a lot of variety here given the insane amount of apples humans have genetically modified breed over the millennia. But we all know that a tart Granny Smith pie with a good dose of sweet and spice is the way to go. Add in a super flaky lard crust and a dollop of vanilla ice cream … bliss.
6. KEY LIME PIE
Key Lime is a flavor bomb. It’s tart amped up to wonderful levels with a nice dose of smooth cream to balance things out. The only reason this one isn’t ranked higher is that there are just better pies out there with more going on. Maybe if there was a sprinkle of coarse sea salt in the mix, Key Lime might have been the winner.
5. LEMON MERINGUE PIE
Take the great citrus tart of a key lime pie and add effervescent meringue. That added dimension of egg white and sugar that gets a crunchy hard shell on the outside while maintaining a wispy texture on the inside that makes Lemon Meringue pop just above Key Lime. It’s tart, sweet, savory, and a textural wonder.
4. BANANA CREAM PIE
This is probably the easiest recipe on the list. All you have to do is make a great pie crust and layer it with sliced bananas, pudding, and whipped cream. But, damn, if it’s not a satisfying slice of pie. There’s a great texture at play here with the fresh fruit, stiff pudding, and light cream. It’s like a velveteen pillow of banana-infused comfort.
3. PECAN PIE
Pecan pie is one of those pies that you never know you want until you see it and then you wonder why it hasn’t always been part of your life. The base of eggs, butter, and sugar (better with molasses) is then covered in salty, roasted pecans. It’s a perfect mix of savory and sweet alongside a consistency of flaky, gooey, and crunchy. It’s kinda like a great candy bar but in pie form.
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2. PUMPKIN PIE
It’s hard not to put this at number one. The mix of egg, sugar, spice, and pureed pumpkin (or squash) is a smooth, sweet, and savory mix of greatness. A great pumpkin pie is almost impossible to beat. Except for …
1. SWEET POTATO PIE
… A sweet potato pie. Where pumpkin is great, sweet potato pie adds an extra dimension of sweet, heft, and starch that elevate it beyond the gourd fruits. Add in a squeeze of lemon juice and some spices and you’re in business.
A great sweet potato pie is a balance of natural sweetness alongside an umami and starch burst from the tuber inside a flaky pie crust. It’s the extra layer of complexity that makes sweet potato the unarguable best pie … ever. Please @ us with your responses, but know this: We are right.
[Except about strawberry rhubarb and key lime, which were robbed. -editor]