4 Best Types of Tomatoes to Grow for Your Favorite Recipes
Find the right tomato types, based on how you'd like to enjoy their fresh flavors.
Tomatoes come in a dizzying array of sizes and shapes. However, there are just 4 general categories of this favorite homegrown fruit. Categorized by size plus culinary use, each type of tomato fills a unique role in the kitchen. Love making pasta sauce from scratch? There’s a tomato for that. Assembling a modern take on a BLT? There’s a tomato for that, too. Use this guide to figure out the best tomato types to grow, based on how you plan to enjoy your sun-ripened bounty.
1. Grape and Cherry Tomatoes
Small enough to pop in your mouth for a garden-side snack, grape and cherry tomatoes are packed with flavor. These bite-sized fruits are available in hues ranging from yellow to almost black, with a host of new striped and mottled cultivars on the market. Grape tomatoes often fruit in dense ropes of a fruit resembling clusters of grapes. They are easy to pick and exceptionally productive. Grape and cherry tomatoes are usually the first tomatoes to ripen in summer.
Most grape and cherry varieties are exceptionally vigorous plants. They need a lot of space to grow and expand, but there are a few petite varieties that are just right for growing in a container or even indoors. Stake or cage grape and cherry tomatoes for easier harvest and best fruit production. Expect plants to fruit from midsummer until the first frost.
Kitchen notes: Grape and cherry tomatoes are perfect for fresh eating and using in salads. Roast them for side dishes and sauces.
Try these: ‘Sugary’ is a red grape tomato that ripens in dense clusters. ‘Fire Fly’ is a small cherry tomato with sweet pale-yellow fruit. ‘Tumbling Tom’ is a cherry tomato with a cascading habit that works well in containers and hanging baskets. It's available in red, orange, and yellow varieties.
Also known as a slicing tomato, beefsteak tomatoes are summertime favorites around the grill. These large tomatoes—some weigh as much as 3 pounds—make perfect burger toppings and sandwich filler. Beefsteak tomatoes are characterized by their juicy, meaty flesh and mild flavor. Plant breeders have developed beefsteak tomatoes in a wide range of colors and color combinations. For an especially striking platter of sliced tomatoes, grow yellow, orange, and red varieties.
Many beefsteak tomato varieties are determinate tomatoes, which means their fruit all ripens within a 2-to-3-week window. For a continuous harvest of beefsteak-type tomatoes, plant transplants in the garden every two weeks beginning after the last frost in spring and continuing until late June. Stake or cage beefsteak tomato plants for easy harvest and healthy plants.
Kitchen notes: Beefsteak tomatoes have firm flesh, which makes them perfect for slicing thin. Use them as sandwich toppers and all sorts of fresh eating. Use these productive tomatoes to make flavorful sauces and fresh salsas.
Try these: ‘Celebrity’ is an early ripening variety with excellent disease resistance and classic tomato flavor. ‘Chef’s Choice Red’ is an indeterminate type of beefsteak that produces ½-pound red fruit for two months or more. ‘Heatmaster’ is a good choice for hot Southern gardens.
Heirloom tomatoes are known for their intense tomato flavor, which is often described as deep and sometimes sweet. However, that heirloom tomato flavor is not consistent across the group—some heirlooms have a high acid and low sugar content that lends them a very tart, almost sour flavor, while other heirlooms have a balanced sugar and acid content. Here’s one thing you can count on with heirlooms—there will be plenty of flavor! Grow several varieties of heirloom types of tomatoes to experience the wide diversity.
Open-pollinated and passed down from generation to generation, heirloom tomatoes have less disease resistance than many modern hybrids. Heirloom plants are more susceptible to leaf spots and fungus and the fruit is more likely to be plagued with rots and skin cracking, but don’t let these challenges stop you from growing heirlooms. They are productive despite the diseases. Heirloom tomatoes are available in a rainbow of colors and a plethora of shapes and sizes. The traditional round, red tomato is an oddity in this group of colorful characters.
Kitchen notes: Heirlooms are exceptional for fresh eating. They don’t keep on the vine or on the countertop long; check vines frequently for ripe fruit, and then plan to consume fruit very shortly after harvest.
Try these: ‘Mortgage Lifter’ and ‘Black Krim’ are slicer-size tomatoes and are beloved for their balanced sugar and acid content, which creates a sweet flavor. ‘Yellow Pear’ is a grape-like tomato with great flavor; it is a bountiful producer and requires daily harvest.
Also known as plum tomatoes, paste types have a unique oblong shape and dense, meaty flesh. Few seeds and low water content make these tomatoes perfect for canning and freezing. Many paste tomatoes produce fruit that ripens in a 2-to-3-week period. A large harvest over a short period of time provides plenty of tomatoes for sauces, salsas, homemade ketchup, and many more tomato creations.
Grow paste tomatoes in a sturdy cage or on a strong trellis. The vines of these productive plants become heavy with fruit and benefit from support. Paste tomatoes are ready to harvest when they are fully colored from tip to stem end and the fruit is slightly firm to the touch. Once the fruit begins to ripen, plan to harvest daily.
Kitchen notes: Paste tomatoes are the best type of tomatoes for preserving. Their low water content makes them not nearly as juicy as beefsteaks and heirlooms, but this is a welcome attribute for canning and freezing. Paste tomatoes are not as desirable as other types for fresh eating.
Try these: ‘Amish Paste’ has large fruit with a tangy, sweet flavor. ‘San Marzano’ is a foodie favorite and is prized for its low water content and minimal seeds. ‘Sunrise Sauce’ is one of the sweetest of all paste tomatoes. ‘Wisconsin 55’ is an heirloom paste tomato with great flavor.