Which Boxed Brownies Are the Best? A Blind Taste Test of Betty Crocker, Trader Joe’s, Ghirardelli, and More
In our Taste Test series, BA editors conduct blind comparisons to discover the best supermarket staples (like vanilla ice cream or frozen pizza). Today, which boxed brownie mix ranks supreme?
Bon Appétit has an archive of brownie recipes that runs deep. We can help you bake soul-achingly adorable camouflage chocolate fudge brownies, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, we’re happy to point you toward tahini-swirled brownies.
But if you don’t have the time or energy to make brownies from scratch, there are tons of boxed mixes that can step in to save the day—though we might suggest supercharging your boxed brownie mix to take your treats to the next level.
Some people even prefer boxed to homemade—and we as editors certainly have our favorite mixes that we reach for out of habit, nostalgia, or brand loyalty. All the more reason we were shocked when some of our favorites just didn’t match up to our memory during a blind taste test (looking at you, Ghirardelli).
We picked six popular boxed brownie mixes, baked them at the same time according to the instructions on the box, and then tried each without knowing the brand. The goal: to discover once and for all which has the chocolatiest flavor, the most balanced texture (landing between fudgy and cakey), and that papery thin crackly top we love to see.
The Completely Confounding: Jiffy
The ingredients: sugar, bleached wheat flour, vegetable shortening, cocoa, contains less than 2% of: salt, tricalcium phosphate, flaxseed meal, natural and artificial flavors, corn starch, dextrose, monocalcium phosphate, baking soda, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, wheat starch. Flaxseed meal is a pretty unique ingredient that may have some bearing on the flavor. Jiffy asks for 2 Tbsp. oil, in addition to 1 Tbsp. water and 1 egg—significantly less add-ins than most other boxed mixes.
The verdict: The Jiffy brownie mix was, in a word, austere. Associate food editor Kendra Vaculin described it as “the saddest looking thing I’ve seen in my life,” though others were slightly more charitable (“not cute, but good!” senior cooking editor Emma Laperruque said). The box decreed it should be baked in a loaf pan (puzzling), and as it baked it pulled away from the sides, sadly curling in on itself like it was ashamed. The result was a thin, dense rectangle. It had a malty taste, almost akin to rye bread. And we’d rather eat rye bread.
The Shockingly Sweet: Ghirardelli
The ingredients: sugar, enriched bleached flour, semisweet chocolate chips, cocoa, soybean oil, cocoa, bittersweet chocolate chips, salt, artificial flavor, baking soda. Bring your own water, vegetable oil, and eggs (the standard additions to most boxed brownie mixes).
The verdict: We opted for the double chocolate version, which includes chocolate chips, though they remained entirely undetectable to our tasters. This mix is sweet to the point of cloying, or as Laperruque put it, “like frosting.” The texture here was this brownie’s ultimate downfall. “This requires all the saliva in my mouth to swallow,” Vaculin said as she finally finished her first bite. Associate food editor Zaynab Issa described it as “the texture of literal fudge,” and Hana Asbrink, deputy food editor, made note of its “tacky quality.”
The Serviceable Classic: Betty Crocker
The ingredients: sugar, enriched flour bleached, cocoa, palm oil, contains 2% or less of corn syrup, carob powder, cornstarch, salt, canola oil, and artificial flavor. This recipe asks for water, vegetable oil, and eggs.
The verdict: This one was still a touch too sweet, according to most of our tasters. Associate cooking editor Antara Sinha noted its texture was more crumbly than the others, though the brownie still had a stick-to-your-teeth chew that we weren’t crazy about. One upside? Its shiny, crackled top made it aesthetically appealing.
Just Fine: Duncan Hines
The ingredients: sugar, enriched bleached wheat flour, cocoa powder, vegetable shortening, contains 2% or less of wheat starch, dextrose, salt, artificial flavor, carrageenan, baking soda. Duncan Hines has you add a whopping 3 large eggs (many brownie mixes only call for 1 or 2), as well as water and vegetable oil.
The verdict: The Duncan Hines mix produced a brownie that we deemed just below average. Vaculin praised the flaky top, and we noted that it was easy to cut clean, even squares. But Laperruque took issue with its texture, deeming it “too cakey.” To the cakey brownie fans, she had one thing to say: “If you want a cakey brownie, eat cake.” Laperruque’s Marie Antoinette-ism aside, we thought the flavor was sweet without going overboard, but the praise stopped there—it’s not the brownie we dream of, but we wouldn’t kick it out of bed.
A Very Close Second: Annie’s
The ingredients: organic cane sugar, organic wheat flour, organic chocolate chips, organic cocoa, organic palm oil, organic tapioca starch, sea salt, organic natural flavor. This mix instructs you to add 1 stick butter, 2 eggs, and 1 Tbsp. water to top it off.
The verdict: “This one looks the best,” said Issa quickly as she cut the brownies into squares. She was right—Annie’s brownies had a thin and papery top, and we loved the little chocolate chips throughout that added an extra jab of chocolate flavor. But Vaculin had some slight misgivings about their density. “This is the texture of a flourless cake,” she said after her first bite. Ultimately, we were happy to crown Annie’s brownies as second place.
The Fudgy First Place: Trader Joe’s
The ingredients: sugar, chocolate chips, unbleached enriched flour, cocoa, wheat starch, soybean oil, salt, and leavening. Trader Joe’s bills this mix as “truffle brownies” (what does this mean?) and notably requires melted butter in place of water and/or vegetable oil. As with Annie’s, we theorize that butter is what helps it achieve a better flavor and texture.
The verdict: The mix ticked all our boxes. It had the velvety, dark, alluring aroma of actual chocolate, which helped dull its sweetness from a loud yelp to a lovely purr. “There’s a semisweet flavor,” Issa said after her first bite. “This is doing all the right things for me.” To top it off, the mix contained chocolate chips that stayed gooey long after the brownies themselves had cooled. This box was the breakaway favorite: It struck gold on flavor, texture, and appearance, and I found myself sneaking extra bites, even after our taste test had wrapped.
Psst, you know what would go great on top of your brownie? Ice cream.
Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit