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Hamburger Buns

Published October 2015

How we tested

When it comes to hamburgers, the patty tends to hog all the glory—but we think a great burger deserves an equally great bun. To find the best, we asked 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers to taste four top-selling products plain and with hamburgers. What separates a good bun from a great bun? First, subtle flavor that doesn’t overpower the patty. Burgers generally have a hearty dose of salt, so tasters preferred buns with minimal sodium and a dash of sweetness.

We preferred slightly wider buns with at least a 3.5-inch diameter, which comfortably accommodated moderately sized patties. One lower-ranked product was only 3.35 inches wide and our 4-ounce burgers hung awkwardly off its sides. What’s more, buns with bottoms that were less than 1/2 inch thick turned soggy under the weight of the burger.

But the key component was texture. Though every product was tender, one product took the crown for being the fluffiest and moistest of the bunch. Its secret? While traditional hamburger buns use water to hydrate the dough, the manufacturer of our winning buns replaces the water with potato flakes, milk, and butter (essentially mashed potatoes). Potatoes are rich in starches that prevent tough, chewy proteins from forming in the bun. The result? A bun with a delicate crumb that is moist but still extremely fluffy.

Though the second-most-popular hamburger bun brand in the country, our winner is found primarily on supermarket shelves in the eastern United States. Fortunately, these buns can be ordered online and stored in the freezer. Our tasters noticed no measurable difference in flavor or texture between a bun that was thawed and one that was fresh, but if you’d rather buy from the store and can’t find our winner, our runner up is a good backup choice.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

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.)*
Recommended

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.)*