We Taste-Tested 6 Supermarket Cottage Cheeses—Here Are Our Favorites

The SE team pulled together six brands of full-fat cottage cheese (from Good Culture to Friendship to Daisy and more) you’re likely to find in your local supermarket, and forced the SE team to methodically, empirically, scientifically! taste their way through them all in a quest to identify the very best.

Six brands of cottage cheese stacked atop a counter.
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

You can only be the objective Resident Taste Test Witch-Slash-Shepherd for so many months before you start casting spells on the testers. Back in February, I wondered aloud on Slack: “What’s going on with cottage cheese lately? Are you all also noticing it’s kinda off now?” Et voila. In April, after months of unserious discussion with coworkers about needing quicker, heartier snack options on site…boom.  And finally:

Slack conversation about cottage cheese between coworkers.
Serious Eats / Tess Koman

Nefarious!

…Also, I just love cottage cheese! It’s easy, it’s delicious, I can slop it on my toddler’s plate at any time of day with berries or cinnamon and she’s happy—the trifecta! And so I recently pulled together six brands of full-fat cottage cheese you're likely to find in your local supermarket, and forced the SE team to methodically, empirically, scientifically! taste their way through them all in a quest to identify the very best. And we loved every minute of doing it! No, I’m not even kidding. They did! The spell worked, etc., etc. Read on for our favorites.

The Contenders

  • Breakstone’s Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat
  • Daisy Pure & Natural Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat Minimum
  • Friendship Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat, California-Style
  • Good Culture Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat, Organic, Whole Milk Classic
  • Hood Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat, Country-Style 
  • Lactaid Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat Min
Six cottage cheeses.
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

The Criteria

A good cottage cheese is a little bit sweet, a little more-than-a-bit salty, full of fresh dairy flavor, and leaves you with significant tang, without tasting sour. There should be firm yet creamy curds (not chalky!) and there should be just enough of the creamy liquid surrounding the curds—which is commonly referred to as dressing—to contribute to a pleasant overall sense of creaminess, but not so much that if your bowl were to tip over, you’d have to use any form of absorbent to clean it up.

Above all, a good cottage cheese squeaks. It doesn’t squeak a lot, oh my god. It squeaks gently, nimbly—a sneakers-on-a-floor-mopped-12-hours-ago squeak per bite. Medium-size curds accommodate such a squeak! Small ones melt away; large ones provide too much cushion. Goldilocks squeaks = Goldilocks cheese.

We opted for a 4% milkfat (aka “full fat”) experience across the board so as to allow the full extent of creaminess to come through. I mixed everything once over when it was fresh out of the fridge, plopped large scoops of each one into bowls, and let ‘em rip. Testers sampled each cottage cheese on its own, with no added flavorings and nothing to transfer it into their mouths but spoons.

Six cottage cheese samples.
Serious Eats / Jordon Provost

The Rankings

Good Culture Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat, Organic, Whole Milk Classic, 4/5

Imagine participating in a cottage cheese taste test. Then imagine volunteering to eat more cottage cheese. It’d have to be really good stuff! This stuff is! And Megan did just that, noting on her test sheet that after the tests were complete, she kept returning to the bowl for more scoops! In fact, nobody had anything bad to say about this sample. (OK, Genevieve had one mildly bad thing to say about it—she found it a “little heavy on the milk,” but that was actually a selling point for other tasters.) Indeed, everyone (Genevieve included) noted the dairy-rich flavor, a slight and pleasant tang, and a good hit of salt with each bite. There was just enough dressing to coat the curds and not a drop more.

Hood Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat, Country-Style, 3.4/5

Kelli, who, again, for some weird reason, had to eat a lot of cottage cheese for work one time on a different cottage curd-centric undertaking, declared this option to be “sweet, but not too sweet.” Daniel, who ultimately called this his favorite option, wrote that it had a “good creamy texture with soft curds that aren’t too soft.” All good notes on sweetness and creaminess from the group, though Kelli came full-circle to note: “The squeak!” Generally, “the squeak!” is not typically a fun way to describe an auditory or sensory experience you’ve just come through, so do with that what you will.

Daisy Pure & Natural Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat Minimum, 3/5

I wish I could’ve bottled the gasp I gasped upon opening this container. It was healing to come face-to-face with these curds. It looked like an edible version of a winning game of Tetris, but one where all the pieces were immaculate, snow-white squares. PRISTINE. “It’s creamy but doesn’t taste like old milk, which is nice,” wrote Genevieve. High praise, indeed, from this infrequent cottage cheese eater. Others enjoyed the tang. We did blow by “the squeak!” into “the bounce,” however, and while edible games of yore and bouncy castles might sound appealing to some, others who like less chew whilst eating cheese might prefer a different option on this list.

Lactaid Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat Min, 2.9/5

“Sweeeeeet,” “surprisingly sweet,” “quite sweet,” “sooo sweet,” and “no tang!” But also: “Good curd-to-liquid ratio,” “pretty nice to eat,” and “the texture is pleasant with curds of differing sizes,” followed by “the dressing is creamy and light!” Everyone claimed after the fact that they just kneeew they had been eating Lactaid. I’m sure!

Friendship Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat, California-Style, 2.9/5

This option—the one I grew up with!—was lightyears, well, lighter than every other option on the table. It was so aerated there was no question of it being overly dressed, nor was there any kind of heft to it, curd-wise. Like spooning out a baby made by the sweet union of cotton candy and whipped cream cheese partners, really! Our photographer Jordan wrote: “This had my favorite consistency and I was excited to taste it,” but that the cheese ultimately tasted like it would have benefited from culturing a bit longer. If mildness is your thing, this could be the cottage cheese for you.

Breakstone’s Cottage Cheese, 4% Milkfat, 2.1/5

My notes upon opening the container read: “It’s giving ricotta at first open. Soft! and! loose!” Breakstone’s did, in fact, taste wildly creamy and pleasantly sweet to most everyone, but it also swam in enough dressing to drown a curd or two or three hundred. “Really thick, not a lot of curds,” one of our testers wrote in a more helpful summation. “There are a few curds suspended in a yogurt-like substance.” A chewable option, this was not!

Up-close shot of cottage cheese.
Serious Eats / Jordan Provost

Our Testing Methodology

All taste tests are conducted completely anonymously and without discussion. Tasters taste samples in random order. For example, taster A may taste sample 1 first, while taster B will taste sample 6 first. This is to prevent palate fatigue from unfairly giving any one sample an advantage. Tasters are asked to fill out tasting sheets ranking the samples for various criteria that vary from sample to sample and also to give an overall score. All data is tabulated and results are calculated with no editorial input in order to give us the most impartial representation of actual results possible.

11 Recipes You Can Make With a Baby Strapped to Your Chest

For Mother’s Day (or any other day), here are some extremely safe, very straightforward recipes you can make with the help (or with the chaotic distractions) of a baby.

Overhead view of Lemon Tart
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

During parental leave, all I wanted to do was bake. Whether it was my first go at something like maternal instinct or the desperate desire to be alone and do something I love, it took months to be able to fit baking back into my schedule. And when I did? It was only possible with a near-sleeping baby strapped to my chest. Bonding? Check! Alone time? ...Kinda! Learning to love something even more in this new-and-improved formatting? Totally.

And then two seconds later I had a (hilarious, wonderful, beautiful) toddler with an obsession with heat sources and penchant for mischief.

All this to say: The Serious Eats team thought ahead of Mother's Day, it might be a fun idea to put together a list of recipes—sweet and savory!—that are not only easy to accomplish with one hand (and even easier with two hands if that baby is strapped onto you), but also safe for making with children in the vicinity. Oh, and if you're reading this and you're not a mom but you love a tired person, you can, like, take care of the baby and that person by making one of these recipes. :)

A note: Please always be mindful of anything dangling in your kitchen, as well as anything that can snag on surfaces and/or catch on fire. When kids are in the kitchen, pot and pan handles should never point out towards you, knives should be far from counter and cutting board edges, and any cooking task that involves hot oil that could spatter is not advisable. All of these recipes keep those qualifications in mind!

Lemon Tart

Overhead view of Lemon Tart
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

An easier, brighter lemon curd you will not find. There is catharsis in this curd!

Air Fryer Bacon

Overhead view of Air Fryer Bacon
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

All parents deserve quick, easy, and mess-free snacking bacon. These are the rules, etc., etc.

Hummus B'Tahini

Overhead view of hummus b'tahini
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

No (loud!) food processor required and ready in 10 minutes? Check and mate.

Easy Garlic Bread

Overhead view of garlic bread
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

No need to roast garlic ahead for this super simple, super garlicky bread.

One-Bowl Shortbread Cookies

Overheav view of shortbread cookies with coffee
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Come for the sheer amount of butter, stay for the satisfying 9x13 squishing.

3-Ingredient Stovetop Mac & Cheese

20210214-stovetop-mac-cheese-reshoot-vicky-wasik-9
Photographs: Vicky Wasik. Video: J. Kenji López-Alt

Easiest with a tiny baby snuggled all the way up in that carrier, but once the recipe is in your repertoire, it'll be there forever.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Angled shot of strawberry pretzel salad
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Please note that while straightforward, there is an element of (gentle) heat here to beware of whilst cooking with bebe.

Sālād-é-Shirāzi (Persian Cucumber and Tomato Salad)

Overhead view of Shirazi salad with bread
Serious Eats / Nader Mehravari

This Iranian salad features a combination of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions and is refreshing, simple, and quick to make.

Whipped Cream

Whipped cream on a red background
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

All you need is your hands and some cream, really.

Creamy Cheese Sauce

Alka-Seltzer cheese sauce atop nachos.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For nachos, hot dogs, or, again, just for straight snacking, this recipe finally unlocks the secret to consistently creamy cheese sauce from scratch.

Japanese Fruit Sando

Side view of three fruit sandos
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

A quick and gorgeous offering for someone you love.

We Taste-Tested 11 Supermarket Unsalted Butters—Here Are Our Favorites

The SE team has pulled together 11 brands of unsalted butter (everything from Kerrygold to Land O Lakes and more) that you’re likely to find in your local supermarket, and methodically, empirically, scientifically! tasted its way through them all in a quest to identify the very best.

Eleven sticks of unwrapped unsalted butter.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

You don’t need me to sit here and tell you why butter is good and important, do you? I don’t have the energy, you don’t have the time, and we all already have 17 sticks of the stuff waiting for us when we get home. I don’t mean to imply I—or you—get home from a very exhausting day and nibble through a butter bar or 17 butter bars just to feel something, but should that be the case, you know deeply why butter is good and important…and why it’s so important to stock yourself up with good butter.

And so, as we are wont to do, the SE team has pulled together 11 brands of unsalted butter that you're likely to find in your local supermarket, and methodically, empirically, scientifically! tasted its way through them all in a quest to identify the very best. And we loved every minute of doing it!

The Contenders

  • Finlandia Butter Imported Unsalted
  • Vermont Creamery Cultured Unsalted Butter
  • Land O Lakes Unsalted Butter
  • Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, Unsalted 
  • Beurre D'Isigny French AOP Unsalted Butter
  • Organic Valley Unsalted Cultured Butter
  • 365 Butter, Unsalted 
  • Vital Farms Unsalted Butter
  • Horizon Organic Unsalted Butter
  • Breakstone’s Unsalted Butter
  • Plugrà Unsalted

The Criteria

Butter’s smell should be good. Suggestions of grass, cream, and far-away movie theaters are all nice things. Whiffs of oil, acid, and nearby movie theaters are significantly less nice. All the above applies to taste as well. Nature: good! Not nature: oy!

As for the color of butter, this team went in convinced they could identify Kerrygold from a rocket ship (in a good and comforting way) because of its signature yellow color, so we aimed to eliminate this variable from the taste test itself in order to determine what actually tasted the best. All this to say: I spent a very long time giggling in the test kitchen galley attempting to spread equal 1/4-inch layers of 11 different butters onto many, many salt-free saltines and then flipping them upside down into little communal bowls while Slacking “do NOT look through the holes of the saltines when tasting—this is a blind taste test!!” at my coworkers frantically. (Credit where it’s due: Our new senior social media editor Kelli very graciously helped me spread butter after she saw me struggling. Don’t worry—she did not see the key to the test and did ultimately test blind.) It turns out this team enjoys all colors of unsalted butter!

Also worth noting: There should be nary a hindrance to using an unsalted butter, whether that be for baking, for greasing, or for, well, buttering. You should be able to unwrap it, dip into, and spread it with ease. It shouldn’t take physical effort or dexterity to evenly coat your desired surface with the stuff. In order to gauge each sample’s true spreadability, we let the blocks sit out at room temperature for just over three hours. By the time we sampled, each of the 11 butters measured temps somewhere between 57-62 degrees.  

This! wasn’t! easy! No, stop! It wasn’t! If you say you like butter so much, you try eating back-to-back pats of the stuff slapped onto unsalted crackers, all the while straining, straining your jaw to note all your helpfully pithy butter sample-specific nonsense. Then we’ll talk!!!

A sheet tray packed with bars of unsalted butter.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Big Picture

If there’s one thing to take away from this tasting, it’s that there wasn’t a huge difference among any of these butters. Below, you’ll see a scored ranking and comments from tasters, and yes, technically, that’s how these butters scored. But we were all struck by the fact that it was pretty damn hard to tell any of these butters apart, aside from the faint tang of some of the cultured options. It’s worth noting that almost all of the scores hovered close to a very narrow one-point range.

Were there differences? Sure. Were they dramatic, life-altering, or at least butter-purchasing altering? No, not really. There were differences and some of us did feel that one or two brands truly rose above the rest, but they also all more or less tasted like…butter. 

Take that as good news: Approach the butter section of the market free of the kind of decision-making anxiety that can freeze you in the cereal section for 43 minutes. You really can’t go wrong.

The Rankings

Vital Farms Unsalted Butter, 3.84/5

A resounding round of applause for this guy right here. It smelled sweet, but not too sweet. It tasted grassy and milky, but not too grassy and milky. It ate smoothly, it wasn’t greasy, it evoked images of rolling hills and gentle background cows. It made a bad thing (see: old salt-free saltines) better. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this butter has the highest butterfat content of the group at a whopping 84 percent (the others ranged anywhere from 78.6 to 83).

Plugrà Unsalted, 3.6/5

Megan described this offering as a “robust buttery butter,” which I adore as both a butter taste test descriptor and a tongue twister. Despite the room temperature-ness of it all, Plugrà held just firm enough. Each tester noted and approved of its solidity and distinct dairy flavor. Daniel wrote: “Good!” which, as always, felt important enough on its own to include. IYKYK, etc., etc.

Finlandia Butter Imported Unsalted, 3.6/5

There comes a time in every Serious Eats when Genevieve identifies a sample as “like what I think ‘the thing we’re testing’ tastes like.” This one is what Genevieve thinks butter tastes like! It’s “lightly, lightly sweet” and the aroma was striking in, like, a pastoral way. This was another sturdy butter; Daniel noted its dense texture while tasting, and it held its own for long after the taste test concluded (See: It was seamless to handle and re-wrap). Finlandia specifies its unsalted butter runs between 82-83% butterfat, for what it’s worth.

Horizon Organic Unsalted Butter, 3.42/5

A creamy yet neutral offering among the bunch. This was a departure from richness and hay bales butter and an introduction to “I am late, I have nothing in this fridge except butter, that’s OK, a buttered English muffin is one of life’s best things sometimes, this is gonna be great” butter. It was thinner, easier to spread than the above offerings, and smelled perfectly of dairy and dairy alone.

Breakstone’s Unsalted Butter, 3.33/5

Three of our testers made a point of mentioning the smoooooothness of this butter. They noted how “smooth,” “really smooth,” and “very smooth” it was, to be specific! Megan also specified her approval of its “mild buttery, almost nutty smell,” while Genevieve appreciated the butter’s “plain and straightforwardness.”

Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, Unsalted, 2.8/5

...There comes a time in every Serious Eats taste test when each and every participant just knows they can pinpoint their real-world favorite. This group of Kerrygold enthusiasts went in confident and came out less so. They enjoyed Kerrygold, to be clear (its cultured tang, its funky aftertaste, its lovely texture), but they did not automatically or collectively pinpoint it as their favorite.

Land O Lakes Unsalted Butter, 2.75/5

It is here we begin to enter “it’s not you, it’s me” territory. We can’t particularly tell you why we’re not ready to move in with Land O Lakes, but we appreciate it and can’t picture our lives without it, we swear. (Megan enjoyed its “good, sweet buttery smell.” Otherwise, the stuff was pleasantly neutral. And sometimes neutral is exactly what you want.)

Beurre D'Isigny French AOP Unsalted Butter, 2.75/5

The experience of eating Beurre D'Isigny French AOP Unsalted Butter on a salt-free saltine, from what I can glean from my coworkers’ notes, is kinda like chugging movie popcorn butter and then eating the popcorn itself. It’s not a bad thing—you get to experience butter smell and taste, you get a nice little snack in the process; it’s all just very sensorily intense (gonna chalk that up to the lactic starter listed in the ingredients of this flavorful cultured butter).

365 Butter, Unsalted, 2.6/5

At this point, our team was prepared for at least some kind of dairy-driven smell with each sample. This one didn’t smell like anything, which in some ways worked in its favor: “A surprisingly buttery flavor for a butter that has no discernible aroma,” Megan wrote. Daniel gave up on giving aroma notes about five samples ago, noting for this offering that he “literally couldn’t tell any of these apart.” Again, take it from me: High praise from the Serious Eats team. Kinda.

Vermont Creamery Cultured Unsalted Butter, 2.5/5

Neutrality on neutrality on neutrality here. “Neutral, but good?” said Daniel. “Good for cooking when you want a more neutral flavor,” opined Megan. “Nothingness!” wrote Kelli, which, in a way, is a synonym for “neutralness,” yeah? 

Organic Valley Unsalted Cultured Butter, 2.34/5

Interestingly, Organic Valley Unsalted Cultured Butter has the same percentage butterfat as our top-ranked selection (84 percent). And yet…they did not taste, spread, or eat the same.

Our Tasting Methodology

All taste tests are conducted completely blind and without discussion. Tasters taste samples in random order. For example, taster A may taste sample 1 first, while taster B will taste sample 6 first. This is to prevent palate fatigue from unfairly giving any one sample an advantage. Tasters are asked to fill out tasting sheets ranking the samples for various criteria that vary from sample to sample. All data is tabulated and results are calculated with no editorial input in order to give us the most impartial representation of actual results possible.

We Taste-Tested 5 Supermarket Ketchups—Here Are Our Favorites

The SE team has pulled together 5 brands of ketchup you’re likely to find in your local supermarket (from Heinz to Hunt’s to Annie’s) and methodically, empirically, scientifically! tasted its way through them all in a quest for the best.

Five bottles of ketchup
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I love ketchup so much that when I came to work at this site years ago now, I felt it was important to align myself with the condiment near-immediately, including this little admission on my bio page when it first was published:

A Q&A screengrab from the author's bio page.

A bold move, in hindsight! I stand by it.  

In fact, I’ve never understood people’s aversion to-meets-commitment-to hating ketchup. It’s synonymous with some of the universe’s greatest joys: Cheeseburgers! French fries! Barbecue sauces! SANDWICHES! What’s not to love about a perfectly sickly-sweet thing that makes life’s best and saltiest offerings better?

Still, when I suggested a ketchup taste test as the latest installment in our taste-testing series, I was met with skepticism: "We have to eat straight ketchup??" "What kind of ketchup do we have to eat?" You know—the kinds of things people who don't truly adore ketchup say upon learning they are mandated to consume it. Undeterred, I gathered five big brands of ketchup that you’re likely to find at your local supermarket and forced the team to partake in a blind tasted. (Hey, I also gave them fries, so there were fewer complaints than I expected.) We methodically, empirically, scientifically! tasted its way through them all in a quest to identify the very best. And joke’s on my coworkers, because I am deeply pleased to report that they loved every minute of doing it!

…We all like ketchup! Some more than others, sure, but enough that I’m going to change everyone’s bio pages to include mentions of such right after I publish this piece. 

Without further adieu: the ketchups.

The Contenders

  • Annie’s Organic Ketchup
  • Heinz Tomato Ketchup
  • Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup
  • Primal Kitchen Organic Ketchup (Unsweetened)
  • 365 Tomato Ketchup

The Criteria

It’s not easy to agree on what makes A Good Ketchup. That’s mostly because everyone thinks they hate—or are better than?? Yikes!—the condiment. Or as previously mentioned, if they don’t actually hate it, they’ve doubled down to a polarizing opinion of it online (and that opinion is: “KETCHUP IS ONLY GOOD THE WAY I USE IT.”). That’s so silly! Like everything else, there are good ketchups just as much as there are bad ketchups, and a really, truly good ketchup serves to make your go-to savory staples better with its proper balance of sweetness, acid, and spice.

That balance is crucial, we found over the course of the tasting. If too sweet, ketchup can eat like chewable juice. If too acidic, it gives vinegar-based salad dressing. If too spicy, it simply does not contribute to the sacred experience that is eating french fries.  

In addition to smell, taste, and color, I asked our team to evaluate the ease of—and I’m so sorry—squirting. I duct-taped the bottles to remove all identifying labels and qualities and asked each person to shoot each ketchup at a singular french fry in order to gauge how seamlessly they could control the flow of ketchup to get the exact quantity they wanted. This ended up being an excellent gauge of ketchup looseness (bad! Loose ketchup is bad! Do I have to tell you why loose ketchup is bad?), as well as a ridiculous team-bonding experiment. Who else gets to play “hide the ketchup bottle?” at work? If you do, are you required to take it very seriously? OK. Let’s ketchup.

The Rankings

Heinz Tomato Ketchup: 4.45/5

Imagine opening this taste test and finding a different result! The notes from this test are delightfully predictable. “This is the red I think of when I think of ketchup,” Amanda wrote. “What I think of as the classic American ketchup flavor (which I like!),” Megan noted. “A clear spice profile,” Daniel said. I didn’t participate in this test (trust me, I’m a reliable narrator, etc., etc.), but watching other people enjoy this moment made me want to skip off to the nearest McDonald’s for a large Diet Coke and a meal of medium fries.

Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup: 3.63/5

Not only was Hunt’s offering the easiest to squirt (...I really am so sorry, I’m actively pursuing a good synonym—spurt? Eject? Oh god. Squeeze?? Maybe squeeze?!), but it also boasted the group’s favorite color and spice profile. Genevieve wrote: “[It’s a] pretty vibrant red. [It] reminds of canned tomatoes if sweetened and slightly acidified.” It was distinctly more savory than Heinz’s version, hitting you with a gentle clove-y aroma before the french fry and sticking with you a while after the fry is gone.

365 Tomato Ketchup: 3 / 5

Onions! Unclear if they were dried or sautéed and tossed all up in everything (just kidding: ‘organic onion powder’ is the fifth of nine ingredients listed on this bottle), but it tasted like a bunch of both all in one bite. TL;DR: It was also a more savory, smellier offering. Better for sauces than for straight dipping.

Annie’s Organic Ketchup: 2.94/5

Each tester noted a clearer vinegar tang in their Annie’s bites. In a fun way! Megan opined the ketchup was “tart and vinegary but with a nice balance of sweetness, yielding a bolder, slightly more complex flavor than some of the others.” Where they also agreed, though, was that managing the squirt (sorry, squeeze) was more difficult: It’s a thinner ketchup, one meant to already exist in a dipping container rather than be squirted squeezed for dipping, if that makes sense. 

Primal Kitchen Organic Ketchup (Unsweetened): 2.88/5

Alright. A few things here: Firstly, we made all efforts to secure the sweetened version of this offering, but could only procure unsweetened versions, and, wouldn’t you know it, the group noted it was decidedly lacking in sweetness. Secondly, it was brown. And…wouldn’t you know it…it turns out we prefer ketchups that are red. Regardless, squirts (sorry, squeezes) of Primal Kitchen held their shape well, allowing for nicely contained (brown) dipping pools for fries, and all the sample fries went anyway.

Our Testing Methodology

All taste tests are conducted completely blind and without discussion. Tasters taste samples in random order. For example, taster A may taste sample 1 first, while taster B will taste sample 6 first. This is to prevent palate fatigue from unfairly giving any one sample an advantage. Tasters are asked to fill out tasting sheets ranking the samples for various criteria that vary from sample to sample. All data is tabulated and results are calculated with no editorial input in order to give us the most impartial representation of actual results possible.

A Love Letter to Matzo

What other foods can you name that are, without exception, always at their very best…and simultaneously at their very worst? Matzo is so bad. I still love matzo.

Stacks of matzo.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I would not say these are the best of times. I would not say these are the chillest of times. I would not say, as we emerge from a dark and hot winter into a wet and hotter spring, that these are the most predictable of times. And yet I cannot tell you how excited I am that we are barreling toward Passover. Passover sucks (a week-plus of unleavened meals, a distinct heaviness in the form of constant reminders of our past, too much sugar-wine, etc.), but it always brings matzo times. And I positively adore matzo times.

To be clear: Matzo sucks, too. No, I hear you—matzo is a mammothly important food, a colossally symbolic one. No, no really—I understand (I will attach my Hebrew high school certificate here, where is yours?!)! But also, matzo is a worse version of a large and stale salt-free Saltine. Even when it’s at its absolute freshest and best, it’s still the same level of bad as when it’s been sitting inside a box in a damp basement for 11 and ¾ months. What other foods can you name that are, without exception, always at their very best…and simultaneously at their very worst? Matzo is so bad. I still love matzo.

Over the past few months, we have been subjected to the introduction of Girl Dinner, #WaterTok, Fruit Roll-Up ice cream, the cottage cheese-ification of everything…you’re familiar, I’m sure. Do you know what wasn’t featured in anyone’s Girl Dinners? Broken shards of solid flour-water. Do you know what no one was eating that made them so thirsty, prompting them to bum-rush an area Target and monopolize all the Stanleys? Holy holey cardboard. Matzo will never go viral. Nobody wants it to! None of us aspire to live in a world where matzo is aspirational. And that’s just some of the beauty of matzo.

Over the course of the next week, on the internet and IRL, we will see lush vats of charoset, hacks for horseradish housing, and takes on how to best arrange a Seder plate amidst a larger Seder spread, but no one will talk about matzo. We will all sit there and grimace as we pile charoset and then horseradish onto the vehicle that is matzo—a mandated player at the same table—and comment on everything we just ate…except for the matzo. To be clear, matzo will make continuous appearances in all this super-cute Seder content across the world during the holiday…but it will likely be enveloped in gorgeous, sentimental matzo covers, never to be seen by the naked eye. What other foods can you name that are, without exception, so synonymous with a holiday but nobody wants to talk about eating them? 

Every year for as long as I can remember, right around the time the sun starts rising closer to 6 a.m. than to 7, two boxes of matzo appear on my parents’ countertop right by the coffee machine. They’re not prepping for Passover quite yet; not explicitly. But they’re slowly rotating buttered or cream-cheesed pieces of it into their breakfast routines. Different pots of toppings—sweet preserves, salty spreads, straight salt for that already salty butter—end up spread around their plates. They mix and match their matzo toppings from piece to piece. They offer me a piece every time, every single year, across days in February and the beginning of March, always insisting the strawberry jam makes it so much better. It doesn’t, and they know it, but it’s nice that we all pretend. 

A few weeks later, fresh boxes stack up on their counter, next to the fridge, on the table. There’s a lot of fucking matzo before there’s none at all for months and months. I love the brown-and-yellow stacks of boxes. I love the pre-matzo times that every single year dovetail us right into the matzo times. They are completely predictable, unremarkable times, and I love the bowel-clogging cracker that ushers all of it in.

Passover sucks. Matzo sucks. I love Passover. I love the matzo times.

We Taste-Tested 8 Supermarket Bottled Waters—Here Are Our Favorites

The SE team pulled together 8 brands of bottled water you’re likely to find in your local supermarket (everything from Poland Spring to Dasani to Evian) and methodically, empirically, scientifically! tasted its way through them all in a quest for the best.

Eight bottled waters.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I don’t mean to brag, but I do drink water sometimes. I mostly drink it from a tap in a glass or a ridiculous pink tumbler, but I do drink it sometimes! Other times—and again, I am not trying to make anyone jealous—I forget my absurd drinking vessel and I have to buy bottled water. 

That’s where my bragging rights end. I am a fairly hydrated person whose brain is rotted by the internet and the times and the motherhood of it all, so when I am standing in front of a wall of bottled waters, all of which are packaged like the way typing in all lowercase letters feels, all judgment and best practices go out the window and I’m a sucker for whatever…looks the most hydrating?? Oy.

This is to tell you that bottled waters were the perfect taste test for the Serious Eats team to tackle. There are too many options, they all promise far too much, and we are smart, mean, and skeptical, especially when you tell us we’ve got a weird task ahead. So the SE team pulled together eight brands of bottled water that you're likely to find in your local supermarket and methodically, empirically, scientifically! tasted its way through them all in a quest to identify the very best. And! we! loved! every! minute! of! doing! it! A lot of bathroom breaks, though.

The Contenders

  • Fiji
  • Dasani
  • Voss
  • Icelandic
  • Poland Spring
  • Aquafina
  • Smartwater
  • Evian

The Criteria

Listen—no one here is a water somm. We were just a group of silly, goofy food nerds fresh off a creamy peanut butter taste test looking to create more content you’d enjoy reading and find useful. We still are, to be clear. With that in mind, here’s what we came up with: Good bottled water should not taste like…much. It’s allowed a tinge of minerality, a hit of glacial energy, and literally nothing else. If you smell something before you drink it—that’s bad bottled water. If you taste something amidst drinking it, that’s mid bottled water. And if you taste something after it? Oh my god, that’s disgusting bottled water. 

You are allowed to feel things while drinking bottled water, and those feelings correlate directly to the water’s quality (again, in this group of non-water-somms opinions). Did you gulp and find yourself in Fiji? Great! (We gulped Fiji and found ourselves in a nearly retired dentists’ waiting room, but more on that in a sec.) Did you chug and think “I don’t know where I am, but I am mouth-down in a street puddle?” Not as great! If it's helpful, the whole group ranked that famous old NYC tap water as their second favorite in the whole bunch for its clean taste, lack of smell, and general easy-to-chug vibes. (I obviously could not include it in this ranking of bottled waters, though.)

We (1) let all samples come to room temperature before tasting them, (2) poured each one into identical paper cups, and (3) required our testers to smell everything before tasting. We then asked them to rank just on smell and taste, but to also consider minerality, as each person’s tolerance for and opinion on minerality would sway their rankings. This sub-scoring “minerality scale” was not to assess good versus bad, but to assess the degree to which each taster did or did not detect a mineral flavor in the water. Daniel prefaced the test by explaining: “You could, in theory, rate a water as having a four in minerality, meaning a discernible mineral flavor, but a one in taste, which might indicate that you, personally, don't like waters with a mineral flavor.” I then factored in each person’s comments on minerality in the smell and taste categories to enforce the below rankings.

TL;DR: Our findings from this taste test are that…You should feel like you’re doing something good for yourself when you drink water (lol lol lol). If the opposite occurs, pick another bottle? See a physician? I don’t know, I have to prep for a chicken broth taste test.

Different selections of bottled water.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Rankings

Icelandic, 3/5

I came here prepared to write a whole helpful and clever thing about how Icelandic water was the loveliest, most neutral  offering of the bunch and then I revisited the tasting notes. Daniel Gritzer wrote in his—and I quote—“I have no complaints.” I, in turn, have nothing left to give you. Simply huge, if true.

Dasani, 2.38/5

Given that the collective internet has made hating Dasani an entire personality, I was so pleased to see it come in second place. Each one of our testers remarked positively on its minerality (“slight,” “pleasant,” etc.), which you will not see again on this list. Genevieve and Yasmine both wrote they’d voluntarily reach for a bottle of this, and that they’d be happy to have purchased it. I recused myself from this tasting as its keeper, but as a person who used to spend too much time in Florida, I’d know the inoffensive, not-cold-enough flatness of a Dasani anywhere and second this ranking.

Smartwater, 2.25/5

Again, nothing bad here, which is a huge win. Megan noted the lack of aftertaste (again, a positive!). Megan had lots of funny things to say about all subsequent waters’ aftertastes. The only thing that knocked Smartwater into third was Genevieve’s note about a very distinct distillation flavor. “It’s not harsh,” she wrote, “but it tastes really distilled.”

Poland Spring, 2.13/5

Again again, notes from the group on inoffensiveness, thirst quench-iness, and lovely-and-fine neutrality. Yasmine tanked this one, writing “It just tastes like water that’s been sitting out for a while.” In its defense…it had been. But I certainly can’t speak to what all happened to that springy stuff before they bottled it. Anyway, Poland Spring is solid and probably best enjoyed cold.

Aquafina, 2.13/5

There comes a point in every Serious Eats taste test where the tide starts to turn. Allow me to introduce you to that point! ‘Twas here we transitioned from everything going great to mentions of chlorine, “other smells,” and aftertastes. It’s worth noting Daniel wrote, though: “I like this one just fine.” This from a man who joked the other day on Slack that we should start a YouTube show called Old Man Gritz Hates Everything. I worry! He may be chronically dehydrated except for the day we did this test??

Evian, 2.13/5

To be fair, everyone went into this talking about how much they dislike Evian. They then proceeded to blind-trash Evian. It reminds me of Florida water minus the obvious punch of sulfur,” wrote Daniel. “Slightly milky, wet doggy,” wrote Megan. “It tastes very strongly of…not natural,” wrote Genevieve.

Fiji, 1.88/5

Right off the bat, Genevieve clocked this as “Evian-esque,” which you’ll know is a sick burn if you have been reading since one paragraph ago. I cannot speak to how this water tasted in real time, but I can tell you it was not fun to instruct people to drink cardboard!

Voss, 1.85/5

Not just a distinct papery taste here, but an aggressive smell as well—a remarkable feat for a taste test centered on smelling and tasting as little as possible per sip. Things were said both in jest and in seriousness that were not fit to print, which feels both completely dramatic for such an undertaking and also so perfectly my coworkers!

Our Tasting Methodology

All taste tests are conducted completely blind and without discussion. Tasters taste samples in random order. For example, taster A may taste sample 1 first, while taster B will taste sample 6 first. This is to prevent palate fatigue from unfairly giving any one sample an advantage. Tasters are asked to fill out tasting sheets ranking the samples for various criteria that vary from sample to sample. All data is tabulated and results are calculated with no editorial input in order to give us the most impartial representation of actual results possible.

12 Quintessential Local Recipes to Try on Your Path of Totality Roadtrip

Whether you’re trekking across North America for The Great Solar Eclipse or are lucky enough to be in the total dark right at home, here are some regional dishes from places within the path of totality you’ll have to try…and make again as soon as you get home.

Overhead view of cincinnati chili on a black and white checkered background
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Listen. I know you didn't drive all the way to Buffalo, New York, to eat buffalo wings (at least not this time around). But I do know that now that you're (1) in Buffalo, New York and (2) on a high waiting for, having witnessed, or having just seen a total freaking solar eclipse, you're going to want to celebrate. And once you've eaten the world's best buffalo wings, you're never going to get them out of your brain.

All this to say: Enjoy your path of totality fun times. Also, enjoy some of these wild and fantastic dishes while you're there—wherever that might be. And when you get home and are craving a meal from one of the coolest trips of your life, we've got the best possible versions of those recipes.

Happy 2024 eclipse! Happy eating! We're all tiny specks of nonsense on a floating blue marble, etc., etc.

Buffalo Chicken Salad

Overhead view of buffalo chicken salad
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

About as filling and delicious a salad you're ever going to eat.

Air-Fryer Buffalo Wings

Overhead view of air fryer Buffalo Wings
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Crunchy, meaty, satisfying—perfect for post-eclipse and next weekend's game.

Scrapple

Overhead view of scrapple on a plate with eggs and hashbrowns
Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

Once you scrapple properly, there's no coming back.

Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pie

Side view of apple pie
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Hearty layers of buttery sweetness.

Cincinnati Chili

Overhead view of cincinnati chili on a black and white checkered background
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

One of our all-time reader favorites.

Texas-Style Beef Short Ribs Recipe

20130929-268000-smoked-short-ribs.jpg
Joshua Bousel

You're in Texas. This is how you should be partying.

Texas Sheet Cake Recipe

a piece of sheet cake on a white plate beside a full sheet pan full of cake
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

You're in Texas. This is how you should be after-partying.

Pastel de Atún (Mexican Tuna Cake)

Side view of a slice of Pastel De Atun
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Celebrate properly across Mazatlán.

Mazatlán Ceviche de Sierra (Sinaloan Mackerel Ceviche)

Overhead view of ceviche on a tablescape
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Tart, refreshing, and slightly sweet fresh, this ceviche will absolutely be the move after the darkness.

Classic New England Lobster Rolls

Overhead view of a stuffed lobster roll on a blue plate with potato chips
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Self-explanatory, yeah?

Oklahoma-Style Onion Burgers Recipe

an Oklahoma style onion burger
Andrew Janjigian

A slider to ruin all future sliders.

Hoosier Cream Pie

20120501-204379-Sugar-Cream-Pie-primary.jpg
Alexandra Penfold

A Midwestern rite of passage.

We Taste-Tested 10 Supermarket Creamy Peanut Butters—Here Are Our Favorites

The SE team has pulled together 10 brands of creamy peanut butter you’re likely to find in your local supermarket (everything from Skippy to JIF to 365) and methodically, empirically, scientifically! tasted its way through them all in a quest for the best.

Jars of creamy peanut butter.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I normally preface these taste tests by writing nearly verbatim: “The SE team has pulled together X number brands of X Thing We Know You All Love to Eat, which you're likely to find in your local supermarket, and methodically, empirically, scientifically! tasted its way through them all in a quest to identify the very best. And we loved every minute of doing it!” 

I will tell you that that whole first part is true—when it came time to eat and evaluate some easily accessible creamy peanut butter options, we did all the true-to-form testing with all the true-to-form best intentions. But I will not lie to you and say we “loved every minute of doing it.” There was joy, sure. But there was also grimacing, gagging, very dramatic sighing, and a lot of loud outrage from a group of people who just wanted to eat good nut butter in the name of science and reader service. But it turns out a lot of creamy peanut butter out there is very bad and a lot of our editors had some pretty mean shit to say about it in turn. 

But that’s just a different kind of fun, yeah? And, fine, there were a few we ultimately really liked—even some we totally loved. OK, let’s go!!

The Contenders

  • 365 Unsweetened Creamy Peanut Butter
  • Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter
  • Jif Creamy Peanut Butter
  • Woodstock Organic ‘Smooth & Salted’ Peanut Butter
  • Peanut Butter & Co. Smooth Operator
  • Teddie All-Natural Smooth Peanut Butter
  • 365 Unsweetened and Unsalted Creamy Peanut Butter
  • Smucker’s All-Natural Peanut Butter
  • Nature’s Promise Creamy Peanut Butter
  • Once Again Creamy Peanut Butter

The Criteria

A good creamy peanut butter needs no crutches. It doesn’t need bread to absorb a slick of palm oil or separated peanut oil, it doesn’t need jelly to sweeten the experience, and it certainly doesn’t need a sweet fruit pairing to make it more satisfying. To gauge that standalone snackability, we ate many, many spoonfuls of just straight PB. We did not slap any of the samples onto bread, crackers, pretzels, or the like given the above-stated belief that (good) creamy peanut butter should be able to be enjoyed as an island of a snack. 

No part of a proper creamy peanut butter-eating experience involves a couple of textures. We’ll allow that some good creamy peanut butters require a quick stir before using them, but once reconstituted, a perfect peanut butter should be velvety smooth and thick yet completely spreadable. No grit, no gum. You should never take a bite of it and think: “Oh, wow, that’s like taking a sip of a very oily drink and a bite of an old bar snack at the same time!” 

As for the reconstituting, we spent a 20-second-per-pop minimum mixing each jar ahead of distributing samples. The amount of separation ultimately didn’t correlate to our testers’ tastes, so we know a good-quality product in this realm shouldn’t require a whole-arm workout to ensure proper consistency (though so many of them did)! The best jars reconstituted well within those 20 seconds and did not leave me feeling like I’d legitimately exercised my fingers or biceps, nor did they snap any plastic knives at first mixing pass (again—more on that in a bit). 

Beyond texture, we of course evaluated the flavor of each peanut butter. To assess, we looked for bold, toasted nutty flavors with no acrid or otherwise funky aftertaste. Listen. When creamy peanut butter is correct, you have it as a pantry staple because you know it’s going to be easy, satisfying, and smooth.  

In our blind tasting, each tester tasted each sample in a random order (each person in a different order) and rated it on a scale of zero to five on the following criteria: spreadability, smoothness, and taste(See more on our tasting methodology below.) We included salted variations, sweetened variations, and unsalted and unsweetened variations. We stayed away from peanut butter “spreads” (which typically contain fewer peanuts and more stabilizers) in favor of identifying a peanutty-as-possible winner. Some testers used water and/or white bread as palate-cleansers between samples. That’s it. Let’s go.

Creamy peanut butter samples
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Rankings

Woodstock Organic ‘Smooth & Salted’ Peanut Butter: 4/5
This one right here? The only consensus across the whole group. Pre-stir, it was looser than I thought people were going to like, but there was minimal separation to start and a brief stir yielded a smooth and shiny product the group enjoyed. “If it’s a natural peanut butter, it has a smoothness that I haven’t seen in others,” Daniel wrote in his tasting notes. The peanut taste hits you hard up front, everyone said, before mellowing out a bit. Genevieve said the whole bite was “nutty, caramel-like, and [hit] right.” From here on out, people either gave high marks for smoothness and spreadability or for taste—there was not a single other jar that netted high marks in both veins. With an ingredient list that includes just organic dry roasted blanched peanuts and salt, this peanut butter was impressively smooth (not necessarily a given with more “natural” peanut butters).

Jif Creamy Peanut Butter: 3.92/5
My
favorite part of taste testing with my coworkers is when they take a bite they feel soooo confident they can place immediately. It is very fun when they’re wrong, but they far more often are right. My notes from their notes on tasting Jif’s Creamy peanut butter are as follows: “So sweet,” “so sweet it almost circles back around to ‘salty,’” “this reminds me of Jif,” “it is…so sweet. It would be good in desserts, milkshakes, smoothies, or as a snack with chocolate,” and “so sweet. Jif?” The thing was a soft, laminated block with absolutely no separation upon opening; I stirred and stirred for Taste Test Integrity’s Sake, but there was no need. The stuff is made of “Roasted Peanuts, Sugar, Contains 2% or Less of: Molasses, Fully Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Rapeseed and Soybean), Mono and Diglycerides, Salt.” Anyway, if it walks like an overly processed, viscerally nostalgic duck and talks like an overly processed, viscerally nostalgic duck, it’s going to sneak its way to the top of a Serious Eats taste test. 

Peanut Butter & Co. Smooth Operator: 3.67/5
Given how (1) light and (2) distinctly separated this one was out of the gate, I wasn’t sure where it would land. But it reconstituted easily and pleasantly, giving way to high points in smoothness and spreadability from all of our testers. That said: with three grams of added sugar serving, it was sweet-sweet. But listen—if you like a sweet and smooth peanut butter, this is a good pick!

Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter: 3.65/5
Again, Genevieve, with the “Is this Skippy?” note immediately. The ulta-refined sheen and very easy spread gave the stuff away pretty quickly.  (Relatedly: My pre-stir notes for this option are nearly identical to my Jif ones—do with that what you will!) It also ate like a dessert, leading Yasmine and Megan to note they likely wouldn’t eat this on its own. I would eat it on its own and be very happy to do it, but that’s my mid-millennial speaking. 

Once Again Creamy Peanut Butter: 3.41/5
This one was an odd duck, but, like, in a fun way. It was so, so loose, but not at all separated. Stirring, of course, did nothing, but, sure, I had fun moving gloopy nut water around in circles in a tiny space! It’s just…I barely tipped the jar over the sampling bowl in order to pour so much of it out. You could’ve dripped this bad boy onto a 1° angle and it would’ve found its way to the floor in a second!! But I digress: The product was gentle in all the other ways—smooth, but not too slick, nutty, but not overly so (simply “savory,” even, per one set of notes), and no hint of processed junk. In fact, Once Again’s PB was the only option without mention of the word “processed” in the testers’ notes. Just, ya know. Straight liquid. 

Teddie All-Natural Smooth Peanut Butter: 3.41/5
A few things of note by the time we hit this halfway point: People began to remark on “grit,” “salt,” and “stick.” I noted visible chunks in the pre-stir phase and I wasn’t able to physically de-chunk the sample before presenting it, so it wasn’t a surprise to read that everyone called this a significantly chewier experience. Daniel didn’t hate the salt level, but he didn’t love the grit. Everyone loved how it spread in a luxurious, meldable blanket. The color was pretty too.  So…chunky and salty “smooth” and spreadable! That’s this one’s shtick. If you like your “creamy” peanut butter to be not-so-secretly chunky, this could be the one for you.

365 Unsweetened Creamy Peanut Butter: 2.6/5
If you don’t have room in your heart for brutally honest peanut butter discourse, this is your heads up to back out now. We’ll start with the positives here: Whole Foods’ Unsweetened Creamy Peanut Butter spreads like a dream. Give it a surface area—any surface area!—and you’d be able to coat it exactly to your liking with this stuff. Otherwise, though, this was a soupy, lackluster option that no one particularly enjoyed eating. In fact, it tasted as though it had been roasted with elderly peanuts a long, long time ago.

365 Unsweetened and Unsalted Creamy Peanut Butter: 2.41/5
If I had to award a superlative for “Most Separated Peanut Butter,” this would’ve taken it. It was an oleaginous party up top and a rock-solid party on the bottom. Nobody hated how it tasted, but it was very hard to get past the grease slick. Daniel called it “liquid goo” and then wrote something almost certainly litigious, so that may be the last you’ll hear of his thoughts for the remainder of the piece. Genevieve most helpfully contextualized the consistency, writing “If you ate hole-y sourdough, it would definitely drip through.” 

Nature’s Promise Creamy Peanut Butter: 2.3/5
Listen, I don’t even want to do this anymore, but: this was the most difficult-to-blend of the bunch. I did actually snap a knife trying to do it. Nobody had striking thoughts on the spreadability of the product, but they did mention it tasted like “chemicals,” and ate like “lipstick” and “spackle,” so.  

Smucker’s All-Natural Peanut Butter: 2/5
“This peanut butter did not understand the assignment,” per Yasmine. “It's not the peanut butter I want,” wrote Daniel. It was gummy, Megan said. It simply did not feel like a natural product. I snapped another knife attempting to reconstitute this one. And yet: They all said it tasted just fine.

An Honorable (Absent) Mention

I forgot we agreed to do this day-of when I revealed Koeze wasn't part of the tasting samples and I am so tired after having written 2,100 words about peanut butter that my pal Daniel wrote this nice little bite up for me today. Again, this is Daniel writing as me so that I could keep my day moving without further thought to peanut butter:

Daniel was scandalized by the absence of his favorite peanut butter from the tasting—but what can I say, it's not widely available! While this peanut butter was not part of the tasting and therefore can't be ranked with the others, Daniel insists it get an honorable mention because he swears it's so damned good. He describes it as a natural peanut butter that seems to resist extreme separation (some minor separation happens because it's not a homogenized product, but it stirs back together easily), and says it has a classic peanut flavor with a subtle sweetness that seems to come directly from the peanuts themselves given there's no added sugar and just a touch of sea salt.

Our Tasting Methodology

All taste tests are conducted completely blind and without discussion. Tasters taste samples in random order. For example, taster A may taste sample 1 first, while taster B will taste sample 6 first. This is to prevent palate fatigue from unfairly giving any one sample an advantage. Tasters are asked to fill out tasting sheets ranking the samples for various criteria that vary from sample to sample. All data is tabulated and results are calculated with no editorial input in order to give us the most impartial representation of actual results possible.

5-Ingredient Pork Roll (AKA Taylor Ham)

All New Jerseyans agree it is made up of the same four ingredients: a bready vessel, fried egg, American cheese, and slices of fried pork roll made by one of two companies—Taylor Provisions or Case Pork Roll. Our version ensures buttery layers throughout.

Stacked pork roll halved.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I know everyone has a regional sandwich they are proud to lay claim to. I know everyone thinks their regional sandwich is the most infallible and superior combination of bread, protein, and cheese. I also know that New Jersey has the best combination of bread, protein, and cheese of them all, and it is the Taylor ham/pork roll sandwich. No others are really worth discussing. 

Wholly related: I was born and raised (and, therefore, have returned to spend my adulthood, as the fates demand) in North Jersey.

For those of you unfamiliar—i.e. for those of you reading this and continuing to think, “Lol OK, this lady’s never had an [insert lackluster regional sandwich here]”—a Taylor ham/pork roll is a simple and satisfying sandwich. All New Jerseyans agree it is made up of the same four ingredients: a bready vessel, fried egg, American cheese, and slices of fried pork roll made by one of two companies—Taylor Provisions or Case Pork Roll. When you order a Taylor ham/pork roll, you’re getting one of each of the aforementioned star ingredients unless you specify you’d like to adjust quantities and textures. You’ll most often hear, “Give me a pork roll extra crispy,” or “I want a double-egg Taylor ham,” or, practically 100% of the time, “Taylor ham/pork roll SPK.” That is “salt, pepper, ketchup,” for the uninitiated. 

Pork roll half up close.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Taylor Ham vs. Pork Roll

Whatever you call it (more on that in a sec), the process of ordering and consuming one of these sandwiches is involuntary and ritualistic. We eat them when we are hungover. We eat them on Sunday mornings. We eat them whenever we are stopping in at the deli real quick. We eat them so fast and we eat them straight out of the brown bag (but still in the wrapping) and whether we eat them alone or with the group responsible for the hangover, we eat them in content silence. 

And while New Jersey as a collective proudly claims the sandwich (I hear you can find versions of it in Delaware and Pennsylvania? Ew!), the star meat product has caused contention re: titling since it was first created nearly 170 years ago. Jenna Pizzi, author of The Pork Roll Cookbook, explained the origin of the product and the debate to The Sporkful a few years back: “A New Jersey state senator and businessman named John Taylor started selling Taylor ham around Trenton. A few years later, [in] 1870, a butcher in Trenton named George Washington Case…started selling something very similar that he called pork roll.” Both versions were (and remain) takes on salty, salty, salty hickory-smoked and sugar-cured ground meat. Taylor proceeded to home in on North Jersey sales, while Case headed to South Jersey—their products remain the primary two options available for purchase in the state. I sincerely don’t know if any others even exist. It would be sacrilegious for me to even attempt to find out! 

To this day, the way people ask for the sandwich is determined exclusively by where they were raised in the state (or, if they are elsewhere within it, how scared they are to fight on unfamiliar turf). The only reason I stand here before you, the proud author of a “pork roll" recipe, is because the rest of my family has always lived firmly in “pork roll” territory and I just don’t want to get into it with them. And while a comparable 27,100 people open Google and search for “pork roll” and “Taylor ham” each month, the makers of Taylor ham have even been calling it “pork roll” since 1906, because that’s when, per the Asbury Park Press, the product didn’t meet federal definitions for ham and got slapped with a “Taylor pork roll” label. It was just so already firmly cemented in its “Taylor ham” nomenclature by then that that’s what North Jersey kept with. 

Anyway, I was less terrified of publishing a recipe with an incendiary title than I was actually nailing it. How do you codify your take on something you’ve loved and consumed constantly (...and bought from NJ’s finest bagel places) your whole life? Daniel tells me you begin by defining it, so…yes, a pork roll is a simple and satisfying combination of a bready vessel, fried egg, American cheese, and Taylor ham (yeah, I said it. Taylor ham.). The eggs should have a yolk that's soft, but never overly runny. The meat should be seared and browned in spots, but never enough to call it crunchy. The cheese should be melted, but not so much that you can’t identify it visually or taste-wise. The whole thing should be salty, but not saltier than an accompanying diet Snapple couldn’t handle. And, dear god, it should not go on a bagel. (That was the easiest decision to make: I started with a Kaiser roll and tinkered with the rest from there.)

The whole point is that it’s the most compact, mess-free sandwich you’ve ever eaten that gives you the same satisfaction as an unlock-your-jaw, get-the-whole-stack-of-napkins-ready sandwich. You don’t walk away from a proper pork roll having (1) expended any energy or (2) needing anything more to eat for many, many hours.

The Non-Negotiables

First, the meat: As we’ve established, this sandwich is built around Taylor ham/pork roll, so your first order of business is to buy a pack  A lot of people asked if I planned to score my slices of Taylor ham with a knife before searing them to prevent it from curling; I tried three and four significant cuts around the perimeter of the pre-packaged slices and, sure enough, the cut slices only popped up slightly in the middle. However, I ultimately decided against the cuts because it turns out the meat curling is actually an advantage when making the sandwich: , When seared to perfection, the upside-down large pepperoni-shaped cups of pork roll nestled into each other and the top half of the Kaiser roll more cozily, kind of creating a top hat for the rest of the sandwich. Plus, once steamed, the un-cut slices flattened juuust enough that they retained that original curve but did not interfere with the architecture of the sandwich. Save yourself some time and skip the slicing!

After frying the pork roll slices, it's time to fry the eggs in the pork roll grease. As soon as the eggs are closing in on over-medium, they get lacquered in American-single yellowish orange. It's important to be able to taste a distinct layer of cheese in the sandwich, so putting one slice of cheese atop each egg doesn't work . The most impactful cheesing I attained was actually layering both slices on top of one of the fried eggs; once I understood that I needed a sturdy base for the rest of the sandwich (separating the cheese made things slippery!), it all kinda fell into place. The final order in the sandwich, from bottom to top is: egg, egg, cheese, cheese, pork, pork. 

Pork roll half in front of an NY Jets shirt.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

As for the bread, my goal was to keep the Kaiser roll as solid as possible, but I also wanted you to experience Taylor ham juice~* in its purest form. Giving the bun a quick little slick of what remained in the frying pan not only gave the sandwich some rich saltiness, but it also really helped it all squish together.

Don't overlook the final step, it's a critical one: Wrapping the sandwich in foil for a few minutes allows it to steam, softening the bread and fusing the layers. The result is perfect for getting into prime dipping position. For ketchup. The truly correct way to eat a pork roll is to dip each bite in ketchup.

And if you don't do it correctly...bro, do you even lift?

Line a plate with paper towel. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet set over medium heat, melt butter until foaming. Add the pork slices and cook, pressing down once or twice with a spatula, until well browned around the edges and domed on top, about 3 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until second side is well browned, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer to prepared plate and set aside. 

Pork roll searing in a cast-iron pan.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Gently slip eggs into the pan, season with salt, and cook until the whites are just set and bubbling, then flip, season with pepper and continue cooking until eggs are over-easy, about 2 minutes. Place both slices of cheese on top of one of the eggs and continue to cook until eggs are over-medium, about 1 minute longer. Stack the cheese-covered egg on top of the bare egg and transfer to a plate.

Eggs searing in a cast-iron pan.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Dip Kaiser roll halves, cut side down, into the pan juices to lightly coat.

A Kaiser roll mops up juices in a pan.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Set eggs on top of bottom half of roll, top with pork roll slices, and close sandwich. Wrap sandwich tightly in aluminum foil and let steam for at least 3 minutes and up to five—the longer the steam, the softer the sandwich.

Pork roll assembly.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Serve with ketchup (if using), either alongside for dunking or on the sandwich itself, depending on preference.

Pork roll half dipped in ketchup.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Slotted spatula, paper towels, aluminum foil

Notes

For the most efficient execution of the recipe, you can carefully wrap the kaiser roll in foil and heat in a low oven or toaster oven while cooking the pork and eggs. Then unwrap to dip the bread in the fat and assemble the sandwich before rewrapping.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Yeah, that’s a hard no.

KitchenAid Just Teased Its New Color of the Year, And We’ve Got Predictions

The brand teased four types of salt as options for the new color, which they’ll announce on February 8. We take a salty stab at predicting the new drop.

We predict KitchenAid's 2024 color of the year.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

There are very few things in this life that are certain: (1) hot dogs are sandwiches, (2) frosting is a condiment, and (3) when KitchenAid releases the teaser for its color of the year, my colleagues and I are allowed to make very serious, very batshit predictions about what it will be.

That day, my friends, is today. Their launch page claims it's about salt, but...we're not so sure. After all, this is the year of AI, and hallucinations are the name of the game.

Here's what we have to go on while we wait for the February 8 confirmation: In the clip, we see a cube of Northern-lights-tinted ice. A vague, uplifting bop plays as the block cracks and fractures in a gorgeous, menacing swirl of blue, green, and purple. At its core, a deep red and grey heart pulses. The caption mentions breaking through monotony. Does this mean breaking free, or just breaking in general? My money is on the beauty of despair, the passage of time, and pain, both literal and figurative. After all, 2024 has hardly promised anything better thus far.

Prediction #1: Nine-Month Cruise Post–Drake Passage Pink

If slate grey and the height of consumerism had a baby, this post-Daiquiri vom "pink" mixer would keep you wonderful company as you beat your batters and cream your butter. After all, why not experience the churn from your cookie dough's point of view? I, for one, want it. I need it! Give it to me! Give it to me now!!

Prediction #2: Winter Barbie Blue

It's Barbie, but it's Barbie the moment her irrepressible thoughts of death hit. This actually works, because we're done with pink and because that moment was aesthetic in a way we'll see scattered across TikTok for at least a year to come. There's no world in which this drop doesn't actually draw some dotted line to Barbie. Or to Travis Kelce somehow? Not Taylor, that'd be too obvious. Anyway, I bet the color "Slurpee blue" is his fav.

Prediction #3: Mood Ring

Did you begin that batch of brownies thinking it'd fix everything? Did you decide to whip a little cream just to make it all go away? Nice try, but it sure fucking won't, and this color-shifting hue is gonna make sure you never forget it.

Prediction #4: Frigid Death Blue

Like Mood Ring, it can't be defined as any one color. It's best described as the shade of life draining from you, the ice setting into your veins. Maybe you'll have the good fortune of good 'ol John Torrington—maybe someone will dig you up one day.

Prediction #5: Black Hole Black

Just don't get too close, or time will become ever slower as you almost, but never quite, get your cup of flour into the mixer bowl. It's all for the best, though. The results would have been way too dense.