Life

Grocery Store Pumpkin Pies, Blind Taste Tested And Ranked

Thanksgiving is all about going HAM. HAM on the ham, HAM on the sides, HAM on the spirits, and, at the end of your meal, while you’re keeling over after stuffing yourself better than your aunt stuffed the turkey, you still gotta muster the energy to go HAM on the pies. In the great pantheon of perfect Thanksgiving pies, only one calls to us like a siren’s song to a sailor. One pie we are willing to risk it all over. It doesn’t matter how full we get, how high we are after that “walk with the cousins,” nothing is going to stop us from cutting a slice of pumpkin pie that’s just slightly larger than it should be, dousing it with whipped cream, and dealing with the consequences later.

Speaking personally, I really like pumpkin pie. So much so that it’s a problem at work — “Let’s do an article about pumpkin pies!” I announce in Slack. “Dane, it’s f*cking June!” my editor replies. But here we are in November. It’s my time; pie time. And like a 1950’s dad who buys a whole pack of cigarettes for their kid after catching them smoking in the garage, he tasked me with rounding up a bunch of pumpkin pies from grocery stores across my city (bake case and frozen, how cruel) and giving them the old blind taste test.

By the end of this article, maybe I won’t reach for that second slice of pie this Thanksgiving. Oh, who are we kidding — of course I will!

The Pies + The Methodology

For this blind taste test, I rounded up 8 different pies from five different markets including Trader Joe’s, Target, Aldi, Whole Foods, Walmart, and a local California supermarket chain, Ralphs, plus two frozen pies, one from Marie Calendar’s which can be found at any market in the frozen section, and one from Great Value, which is Walmart’s store brand. I chose these markets because all of them but Ralphs have a multi-state presence, so rather than only grabbing pies from markets that are exclusive to SoCal, I tried to keep things national. If you’re unfamiliar with Ralphs, think of it like a Wegman’s or a Safeway.

Since two of the eight pies were frozen, I cooked them a couple of hours in advance and let them cool — so as not to have any extra advantage over the room temp and refrigerated pies. Each pie was given a gentle zap in the microwave, just because I like a warm pie. When I was ready to test, I had my girlfriend bring me plates with piece of pie one at a time (in exchange for doing all her Thanksgiving shopping). Then I gave each slice a dollop of whipped cream and got to tasting. Here is what I found.

PART I: The Tasting

Taste 1

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

We are off to a bad start. The consistency of this pie is oddly watery. It feels wet in my mouth. Not moist but wet — and that’s pretty damn off-putting. The flavors take a bit of time to start to come together and when they finally combine the spices taste muted. This is hands down, the weirdest pie I’ve ever eaten so I’m going to guess this is one of the frozen pies. Bad pie filling aside, the crust on this one breaks beautifully, it’s flakey and full of flavor.

Will the crust be enough to save it in the ranking? We’ll see, but as of now, this is my baseline for what a bad pumpkin pie tastes like.

Taste 2

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

This one has a very natural flavor that goes heavy on the spices. I can distinctly taste cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. The crust, while very neutral-tasting, provides a nice texture to the pie. Overall this one is pretty solid.

Taste 3

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

Compared to the last tasting, this one has a muted flavor. I can taste the spices, but they don’t hit quite as hard as taste number two. However, the crust here is significantly better. Rather than just providing a flakey texture, it tastes buttery, and that’s always a good thing. Had I not had taste two this would be a perfectly serviceable pumpkin pie in my eyes. But knowing a better blend of pumpkin spice is out there is going to hurt this one in the ranking.

Taste 4

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

This one tastes oddly like a pumpkin muffin. There is an extra dose of sweetness here that takes focus away from the blend of cinnamon, ginger, and allspice and the consistency is a little wet. Not as offensively soaked as taste number one, but still off-putting.

The crust here is full of flavor, but it’s also incredibly salty. I don’t know that you’d notice it if you didn’t have another pie side by side to compare it to, but for this blind taste testing the saltiness is jumping out at me.

Taste 5

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

A good pie but this one doesn’t quite balance the spices right. I’m not getting ginger, cardamom, or clove, just cinnamon. I like cinnamon, but this isn’t a cinnamon pie, it’s supposed to be a pumpkin pie! Not sure I’m convinced.

The crust here is all texture, no flavor.

Taste 6

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

Just looking at this weird patterned crust, I assumed this is our other frozen pie. After tasting it, if this is actually the frozen pie that will forever change my assumptions about frozen pies. This is easily the best pie of the lineup. Not only are the usual pumpkin spices all represented here: cinnamon, clove, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg, and ginger but they come together harmoniously, offering an enveloping wave of spices that is addicting to eat and deeply comforting.

Even after tasting five other pies, I couldn’t get enough of this one. That weird crust I made fun of is also deliciously flakey and adds a nice buttery counterbalance to the spices.

Taste 7

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

An awful mushy texture plagues this one. The flavors are great, but the texture feels like someone left this pie in the sun too long and it melted. If that sounds weird and gross, good — this pie’s consistency is so off-putting I couldn’t stomach more than a few bites. Am I just getting tired of eating pie? Maaaaaaybe.

Taste 8

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

Nope, turns out I’m not sick of pumpkin pie, because I’m enjoying this one. The flavors are good. It’s not going to blow anyone at the table away but no one is going to complain if you roll up with this pie. It tastes like what pumpkin pie should taste like. Its weakest attribute is the crust — all texture and no flavor.

Generally speaking, I like this one. It’s a perfectly serviceable pie and a scoop of ice cream is enough to take it to the next level.

PART II: The Ranking

8. Marie Calendar’s Ready To Bake Pumpkin Pie (Taste 1)

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

The Verdict:

I was right, the first pie was the baseline for a bad pie. I don’t quite understand the existence of this pie. Heavy statement, I know, but with an average price of $4.99, I just don’t see why you’d ever opt for this frozen pie over the pie from your market’s bakery section, which should be priced about the same.

This just has nothing going. It deserves last place.

The Bottom Line:

“How bad can a frozen pumpkin pie be?” Bad, and if you buy this one you’ll swear off frozen pies for life.

Buy it here. Or you know, don’t.

7. Ralph’s Supermarket Bakery Fresh Pumpkin Pie (Taste 7)

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

The Verdict:

I wanted this to be good, I sincerely believe most supermarkets make good-to-great pumpkin pies, but Ralph’s just might be the exception. Maybe something went horribly wrong with my pie, but the admittedly delicious blend of spices couldn’t hold up to the wet consistency that made this pie gag-inducing for me.

The Bottom Line:

Trust your supermarket’s bakery case pumpkin pie, unless your nearest supermarket is Ralphs.

Buy it here.

6. Great Value Traditional Pumpkin Pie (Taste 4)

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

The Verdict:

Walmart’s store brand frozen pie is actually better than a fresh pie from a supermarket. Consider my mind blown. Unlike the Marie Calendar’s pie, Great Value keeps things comfortably in the $3 range, and considering the effort you have to put into warming this pie up, it feels like a fair trade. This is probably the cheapest pumpkin pie you’ll find, so if you’re on a tight budget this Thanksgiving, grab this pie — you won’t regret it.

The Bottom Line:

A little sweeter than your average pumpkin pie. This one goes a little light on the spices for my taste but is by no means bad. Turns out not all frozen pies are bad… just Marie Calendars.

Buy it here.

5. Walmart Freshness Guaranteed Pumpkin Pie (Taste 5)

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

The Verdict:

Walmart’s store-brand fresh-baked pumpkin pie is a step up in flavor from their frozen option, but it’s also similarly priced, so again, I’m not sure why you’d pick up the frozen pie over this. It actually takes less effort to eat this pie because you don’t have to bake it in the oven for an hour. The flavor here was fine, but ultimately it leaned too hard on the cinnamon and didn’t balance the spices well enough. If that seems like a nitpick, it’s because it is. But that’s also what separates the good pies from the great.

The Bottom Line:

It’s a good pie. Not great. Not essential. Just good.

Buy it here.

4. Target Favorite Day Pumpkin Pie (Taste 3)

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

The Verdict:

Target makes a pretty solid pumpkin pie with a great flavor, nice balance of spices, and the proper mouthfeel. It’s also, hand’s down, the most difficult pie to find on this list. I traveled to three different Targets in my city in an attempt to track down this pie. At the third Target, I reached out to a worker on the floor who was filling out an online order and was also in search of the pie. Turns out Target doesn’t stock this pie in the obvious baked goods stand of their market section, they randomly plop it on one of those random grab baskets they have scattered around between aisles, so the employee and I essentially agreed to a polite race against one another to find this pie.

I was sweating bullets as I fast-walked through the aisles hoping to find it first. I won, sorry to whoever ordered a pie from a SoCal Target online and didn’t get it.

The Bottom Line:

Target’s pumpkin pie is good, edging on greatness.

Buy it here.

3. Aldi Bake Shop Pumpkin Pie (Taste 8)

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

The Verdict:

Aldi is the weirdest market I’ve ever stepped foot in. It has this grungy co-op meets stale supermarket vibe that looks like something out of a nightmare and I can’t imagine ever going back. Considering Aldi is in 36 states though, it gave me a unique chance to eat a pie that a lot of people across the country will come into contact with.

If you’d an Aldi shopper, grab the pumpkin pie — it’s delicious.

The Bottom Line:

A great-tasting pie that is large enough to feed the whole family.

Buy it here.

2. Whole Foods Vegan Pumpkin Pie (Taste 2)

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

The Verdict:

This wasn’t at all planned but the Pumpkin Pie I picked up from Whole Foods (the only pumpkin pie in the bake case) was actually a vegan pumpkin pie, which explains why this one had a natural spice heavy taste the others didn’t have. I would never reach for a vegan pumpkin pie over a regular pumpkin pie because I’m not vegan, but… maybe I should start? I don’t know what kind of magic went into this pie but it was damn good.

It makes sense to me now why the crust on this one was so neutral. I also love that Whole Foods sells half pies. Doesn’t affect the ranking, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

The Bottom Line:

Not interested in vegan pies? Try this one and come back to us — it’s one of the best pumpkin pies you can pick up at the market this year.

Buy it here.

1. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie (Taste 6)

Pumpkin Pie Ranking
Dane Rivera

The Verdict:

I’m not a big Trader Joe’s fan. I’ve always thought there was something ironic about the crowd that flocks to Trader Joe’s like a cat to catnip, viewing it as some sort of next-level local market when all it is is a wolf sheep’s clothing that produces a whole lot of unnecessary waste. Need a jalapeño? Too bad, instead we’re going to make you buy 10 jalapeños in a plastic case. Like bell peppers? Better like buying a pack of four, and we’ll choose the colors for you, and again, wrap it in a big plastic box. Want a familiar brand, too bad, meet Trader Giotto.

That said, they have some good sh*t. It pained me to see Trader Joe’s ranked as the best pie but that’s what blind taste tests are for, they help us leave our biases at the door and focus on what really matters — the flavors and experience. You’re not going to have a bad experience with this pie, it’s amazing. The spices are powerfully represented and well-balanced. A scoop of ice cream on a gently microwaved slice will send you to heaven.

The Bottom Line:

The best pumpkin pie your money can buy for this year’s Thanksgiving. It’s a reason to take a trip to Joe’s. Take it out of the box and pretend you baked it, you’ll be the legend of this year’s dinner.

Buy it here.

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