Pickles Are As Popular As Ever, So I Taste-Tested All The Fan-Favorite Pickle Brands (And There Was A Very Clear Winner)
"More than any of the other pickles I tried, these tasted the 'cleanest' because I could pick out and identify each and every ingredient used in their brine. The juiciness that each one packs is also pretty much next-level. If I could only pick one brand of pickles to eat for the rest of my life, I'd choose these in a heartbeat."
When it comes to the humble pickle, most people have their allegiances. I know people who only eat Claussen pickles, and then there are the folks who swear that Vlasic makes the crunchiest pickle money can buy. Me? I'll admit that I'm a bit "pickle agnostic," so to speak. I've never really felt compelled to go all in on one brand and entirely ignore the others. But with all this pickle obsession out there, I decided to finally figure out the best of the best when it comes to pickle brands, and to be 100% honest: Let's just say that the results were more unexpected than I thought.
There's one other very important consideration I kept in mind while selecting brands: refrigerated pickles vs. shelf-stable ones. People have strong opinions when it comes to comparing the two, but let the record reflect that I do not! I went into this taste test with no preconceived notions about which kind would perform better, so the results genuinely surprised me.
(And before you ask, yes, the non-refrigerated pickles all had over 24 hours in the fridge to get nice and cold before I tasted them.)
These were the shelf-stable, non-refrigerated pickles I tried:
And the other three brands I tried were all cozily tucked away in the refrigerator section:
To make sure I never knew which pickles I was tasting, I relied on my incredibly helpful, pickle-loving partner to feed me bite-sized pieces of individual pickles one by one. (He even used my aggressively-large kitchen tweezers to do it — what a guy!)
He made a note of the order in which he fed me the pickles, based on this PickleCuterie Board I made him...
...which corresponded to this arrangement. FYI: He chose them at random, not in this order.
Between each pickle-y bite, I jotted down my first impressions and overall thoughts, along with ratings out of 10 possible points for both "crunch" and "flavor" — objectively the two most important data points for scientifically comparing pickles.
To help myself remember my general attitude toward each brand, I used my usual (and obviously very accurate) smiley face ranking system. I even took a stab at guessing each brand as I tasted them, but that was mostly for fun since, TBH, I wasn't correct even once.
After tasting my last pickle, my partner revealed the actual order in which I tasted them, which, in turn, gave me my definitive pickle ranking.
One final note: I know pickle preferences can be highly subjective, so while I ultimately ranked each brand by taking an average of the crunch and flavor scores, I also included rankings at the bottom of this list based on those metrics separately. So if you're all about crunch over flavor (or flavor over crunch), I've got you.
9. McClure's — Soft, mushy, and with a noticeable "old water" taste to the brine itself, these pricey pickles were easily the worst of the bunch.
I had a pretty visceral reaction to this pickle, which — if my memory serves me correctly — hasn't ever happened to me in any of the taste tests I've conducted. After identifying the overall flavors and textures, it was pretty much a game of Chew And Swallow As Fast As You Can. Not fun!
🥒 Overall score for McClure's: 1.5/10
McClure's pickles have a noticeable "old water" taste to the brine and not much else going on in terms of flavor. They're also undoubtedly expensive, and they had the softest texture of all of the various pickles I tried.
8. Vlasic — They may advertise "one crunchy pickle," but let me assure you: They're anything but.
With a Crunch Score of 3 and a Flavor Score of 2, each category for Vlasic scored a whopping 1 point higher than McClure's. That's because I generally had the same feeling toward them as I did for McClure's, but they were just marginally better.
🥒 Overall score for Vlasic: 2.5/10
The good? That price point. The bad? The texture and flavor. If you like your pickles soft and mushy — and with the flavor profile of a literal olive — Vlasic pickles are for you! If not, let's move right along.
7. Whole Foods 365 — The crunch might've been better than average, but the soapy, floral aftertaste of these pickles was objectively subpar.
In terms of crunch and overall texture, I don't have many complaints! Especially when compared to the bottom two contenders, and especially considering the fact that this was a non-refrigerated variety, Whole Foods' dill spears had the pleasant crunch that you'd expect from a decent pickle. However, the flavor here was once again "off," and for a very different reason than the others up to this point.
🥒 Overall score for Whole Foods 365: 4.5/10
Texturally, I don't really have any complaints here! Especially for a non-refrigerated variety, these pickles were pleasantly crunchy and had a nice snap to them. That said, for the perfume-like, aggressively-floral aftertaste (without much of any dill or garlic flavor), these definitely weren't my favorite in the flavor category.
6. Mt. Olive — As the brand name itself might suggest, these "dill" pickles truly taste like they've been hanging out in a bath of olive brine.
Look, I love a good dirty martini, but not when it comes to my pickles. Dirty martini was honestly the first thing I thought to compare these to, flavor-wise. There's no actual garlic or dill listed in the ingredients — just "natural flavors" — so I can't say I was expecting much in terms of flavor. That said, I certainly wasn't expecting this.
🥒 Overall score for Mt. Olive: 5/10
They're on the pricier side for a non-refrigerated pickle, their brine tastes like a dirty martini (not ideal for a pickle), and they just didn't wow me in any way.
5. Trader Joe's — While the pickle brine itself "isn't the most appetizing," the other elements were pretty OK, and definitely an improvement upon the other contenders thus far.
Texturally, I found these pickles to be on par with the 365 ones. The seeds in each pickle spear were tiny and ultimately didn't lend any sort of unpleasant gelatinous texture, and both the flesh and skin were firm and crunchy.
🥒 Overall score for Trader Joe's: 6/10
Considering the two organic options on this list, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, Trader Joe's pickles were definitely the better pick. They offer relatively similar texture but better flavor overall, and they also ring in at over a dollar cheaper.
4. B&G — Though "nothing about these tasted fresh," B&G's pickles were, without a doubt, the crunchiest pickles I tried.
Let's start with their least impressive quality and move our way up. So, flavor. Though they're not bad or unappetizing in any way, they certainly didn't taste all that fresh to me. I noted that you could "taste the jar," and while that might've been a hyperbolic-ish statement, there's definitely a lot of truth there. The flavors were just a bit stale-tasting and not all that pronounced. It hit me with a big ol' punch of vinegar and not much else.
🥒 Overall score for B&G: 7/10
Though the flavors here were certainly nothing special, the crunch factor absolutely blew me away. If you can ignore some of the "meh"-ness of the pickle brine, you'll be rewarded with a seriously crunchy pickle.
3. Grillo's — Though an unexpectedly off-putting aftertaste dragged their flavor score down a bit, Grillo's pickles are an otherwise delicious, complex-tasting refrigerator pickle.
Grillo's makes a seriously fresh pickle, and you can tell both from tasting and looking at 'em. See for yourself! Their dill spears are loaded with fresh dill (what a concept!) and lots of fresh garlic. They're remarkably crunchy and taste undeniably fresh — but sadly, there's another taste that I just couldn't get past.
🥒 Overall score for Grillo's: 7.5/10
Less-than-ideal aftertaste aside, Grillo's pickles are certainly a great purchase when it comes to flavor complexity and incredible texture. You can taste every last bit of the fresh dill and garlic they use in their pickle brine — I just wish the taste that lingers in your mouth afterward was a hair less funky.
2. Boar's Head — With a subtle-yet-welcome hit of sweetness, an unexpectedly harmonious flavor profile, and a delightful crunch, these pickles certainly surpassed every expectation.
Most notably, the flavor they pack into these pickles is pretty remarkable. The brine tasted distinctly different from all of the others, and I mean that in a good way. There was a subtle sweetness to it, not in a bread and butter pickle way, but just enough to really bring out the flavors of the cucumbers and the fresh dill, garlic, and carrots (!) in the brine. (After the taste test was done, I of course sampled the pickled carrots, and I can confirm they're wildly delicious, too.)
🥒 Overall score for Boar's Head: 8/10
They might not be the crunchiest of all the pickle varieties I tried, but they were certainly one of the most flavorful. The brine's subtle sweetness beautifully highlights all the various flavors present, and it made for one seriously delightful pickle-eating experience.
1. Claussen — Mark my words: These pickles are pretty much the most perfect variety you can find at your local grocery store, and the price point is pretty incredible, too.
"Wow, wow, wow" was the first set of words I jotted down in my notes, so I hope that's a good enough indicator of just how special these pickles are. To start, let's dive into the texture. They're super crunchy, yes, but I also found that the cucumbers they used in these pickles were just really good. They're firm and fleshy with a thin, snappy skin, so any bite you take of a pickle spear will be a good bite — whether it's a bite from the ends or right in the middle.
🥒 Overall score for Claussen: 9.5/10
Claussen pickles really are perfect. They're the ideal blend of flavor, texture, quality, and value, and for all those reasons I'd whole-heartedly urge any pickle lover to grab a jar during your next grocery run.