Cook’s Illustrated Test Kitchens: A Few Grocery Store “Bests”

I am a huge fan of Cook’s Illustrated. The recipes are outstanding, and the “taste tests” are a resource that I turn to quite often when trying to decide which of this or that to put in the grocery cart.

I wanted to share some of the taste test results on Family Savvy in hopes that they might come in handy on YOUR next shopping trip! Some of the top picks are surprising, and many of the results show that some of the best tasting products can also be the best bargain.

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 12.47.32 PMThree supermarket brands came out shining in the sharp cheddar taste tests. Cabot Vermont Sharp (approximately $5.00 a pound but often on sale at Publix) was the winner. A close second was Tillamook, which sells for around $10 a pound. Third place was Cracker Barrel Sharp, another cheese often put on sale and for which shoppers can use coupons.

My personal preference for grocery store cheddar is Cabot Seriously Sharp, and I stock up when Publix puts Cabot on sale two for $5.00. It is delicious for those who prefer a sharp cheese, and it melts beautifully when making dips and fondues.


Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 7.49.03 PMCook’s Illustrated test kitchens taste tested nine brands of tortilla chips and found that all tortilla chips are not created equally. They found a range of textures from thick/coarse to thin/crisp.

Rating on texture, flavor and freshness, the test kitchen found that Santitas Authentic Mexican Style White Corn Tortilla Chips delivered a top shelf chip with a “mild, pleasantly salty flavor and sturdy yet crisp texture.” This is good to know, as this is one of the least expensive chips in the grocery aisle, proving that expensive doesn’t always mean better.



If tostadas are your thing, you might be surprised to find that Cook’s Illustrated compared the Mission Tostadas Estilo Casero Tostatdas to their own homemade & fried tostadas. The winner? Mission brand tostadas! They had a nutty corn flavor and surprisingly rustic texture that won taste testers, many of whom preferred them to homemade.



Several dishes, especially good chili, rely heavily on good chili powder, and Cook’s Illustrated gives top ratings to the Spice Island brand.  Rated on aroma, depth of flavor, and spiciness, Spice Islands Chili Powder came out on top.  One taste tester summed it up by saying this brand has “a big flavor that stands out among the others.”

I have used this brand for years and love the rich flavor and deep color that it gives to chili and other recipes calling for chili powder. It is a staple at my house.



Another example of “more expensive doesn’t mean better” is found in this surprise pasta winner. Ronzoni came out on top in taste tests, besting number two winner De Cecco. Competing against eight other brands, Ronzoni was praised for its “nutty, buttery flavor and superb texture.” So, save your money and don’t worry that you need to buy expensive imported pasta. American made is perfectly fine.


Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 12.29.23 PMTesting eight well-known brands of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate, taste testers found a clear winner in Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips. According to taste testers, the distinct flavors of “wine,” “fruit,” and “smoke” (along with lower sugar content) really allowed the chips to shine.  This is another product I keep on hand for any recipe calling for semi-sweet chocolate.


 When white bread is called for, it’s nice to know where to turn. If making a breakfast strata, bread pudding, or Flavor Packed Tex-Mex Stuffed Peppers, I pick up one of these top white bread choices.

Cook’s Illustrated compared eight leading brands of white bread, and these two came out on top for their larger than usual slices, “perfect structure,” and “subtle sweetness.” With summer (and fresh tomatoes) right around the corner, these brands will be a staple to have on hand for the coveted tomato sandwich!

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