Dill Pickle Spears
How we tested
With chefs and home cooks pickling everything in sight these days, we wondered if the quality of supermarket pickles had improved in recent years. Most supermarket pickles are what the industry calls “fresh packed,” meaning they’re made by soaking fresh cucumbers in vinegar and salt. The pickles are then either pasteurized, making them shelf-stable, or immediately packed in jars and refrigerated.
We tried three shelf-stable and two refrigerated products, all marketed as “kosher dill.” Kosher, in this case, has nothing to do with Jewish dietary restrictions but denotes the presence of garlic, a common seasoning in Jewish deli pickles. We served all the spears, lightly chilled, to 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers.
Tasters could easily identify the shelf-stable spears, which were “atomic green,” thanks to food coloring. They’re gently cooked before packaging and thus have a “wilted” texture. The two refrigerated products took home top honors for their “fresher” taste and “more crisp” texture. Refrigerated pickles have a shorter shelf life, so they don’t sit in their liquid as long and are much crunchier than the oversaturated shelf-stable pickles. Tasters also thought that most of the shelf-stable pickles had “off,” “chemical” aftertastes.
Garlic was also important—these are kosher pickles, after all—and many bottom-ranked products use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. Our winning product is one of only two to use real chopped garlic, and it was praised for its “peppery” spiciness and “bold” garlic flavor. (The other product with fresh garlic uses whole cloves, which didn’t saturate the pickling liquid enough to be detected by tasters.)
Tasters deemed our winning product the crispest and freshest spears of the bunch. Found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, these “crunchy,” “tart” spears are minimally processed and our top pick.