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Dill Pickle Spears

Published April 2015

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.

The Results


Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*