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Ready-Made Graham Cracker Crusts

Published October 2017

How we tested

Making a homemade graham cracker crust isn’t hard: Just whirl graham crackers, sugar, and melted butter in a food processor and pat into a pie plate—no rolling pin or crimping skills required. But if you’re short on time, store-bought graham cracker crusts can save you from lugging out the food processor. And since they’re sold already patted into disposable aluminum pie plates and prebaked, you can skip the blind-baking step usually required to set a homemade graham cracker crust before filling it.

To determine which was the best store-bought option, we bought four top-selling nationally available graham crusts priced from $2.49 to $3.99, including one gluten-free crust, and asked 21 staff members to taste them plain and in our Lemon Icebox Pie.

“Graham” is just another term for coarsely ground whole-wheat flour; it refers to Sylvester Graham, a prominent 19th-century preacher who encouraged eating a bland, whole-grain diet as a way to stave off temptation and lust. Sugary, nutty graham cracker crusts made primarily from enriched wheat flour (a misleading term for plain white flour) scarcely resemble the bland bricks Graham envisioned, but they still usually contain at least traces of whole-wheat flour. It’s no surprise, then, that tasters immediately singled out one crust: the gluten-free product, which was made with rice flour, tapioca starch, and “natural graham flavor” instead of wheat flour. It was, in short, unpalatable: crumbly, chalky, and mushy, with a lingering array of fruity and vegetal aftertastes. We vastly preferred products that stuck to a mixture of white and whole-wheat flours, which produced the subtle, slightly nutty flavor and tender texture we were looking for.

But that’s not to say products made from wheat flour were completely free from texture problems. One wheat-flour crust was gritty and shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces when we sliced into it. A comparison of the ingredient labels revealed that it contained less fat than our top-ranked products—4 grams per 21-gram serving, compared with 5 grams in our favorite crusts. Flour needs fat to create structure and shape; products with more fat were tender and moist and could be cut into pristine, neat slices. Though none of the products contain butter (like our homemade graham cracker crust does), we found that those with enough vegetable oil could replicate the moist, even crumb we like in graham crusts.

Flavor was important, too. A good crust is a supporting actor—it should add some pizzazz but not steal the show—so any crusts with overpowering sweetness or distracting strong flavors were out. Sweetness in the crusts came from a variety of sources: granulated sugar, corn syrup, molasses, honey, and cane syrup. While the types of sweeteners didn’t seem to matter, the total amount of sugar was paramount, with our favorite products having about 6 grams of sugar per 21-gram serving—a gram less than lower-ranked crusts. Though this difference amounts to only about ¼ teaspoon of sugar per slice of pie, we found that it was enough to draw the line between a crust that was cloyingly sweet and one that was pleasantly sugary.

Our favorite crust was made by Keebler, the company that also makes our winning graham crackers. Like those crackers, Keebler Ready Crust Graham Pie Crust ($2.59 per crust) had a subtly wheaty, slightly savory flavor that finished with a punch of sweetness.

We did want to be sure about one last thing before we awarded the Keebler crust top honors. When we tasted store-bought pastry pie crusts, we found that the prefitted shells were smaller than our winning pie plate, so they couldn’t hold all the pie filling for our recipes (this was one reason why we preferred roll-style pastry crusts). To make sure this wasn’t the case with our winning graham crust, we double-checked its capacity by filling it with 4 cups of pudding, about 1/2 cup more filling than most of our recipes yield—including our Lemon Icebox Pie. The filling fit just fine, so we’re confident this crust provides a handy shortcut when a homemade crust isn’t an option.

Methodology

Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen staff members sampled four supermarket graham cracker crusts plain and in our Lemon Icebox Pie. Information on fat, sugar, and ingredients was taken from product labels; fat and sugar amounts are per 21-gram serving. Prices shown were paid in Boston-area supermarkets. Results were averaged, and products appear in order of preference.

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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.)*