America's Best Soft Pretzels

Soft, doughy, and delicious — these pretzels are simply amazing
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery

Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery / Facebook

Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery has been making soft pretzels since 1850.

If the only soft pretzels you’ve ever had are the frozen ones from the supermarket, or the ones you overpaid for during a baseball game, then we’ve got news for you: A great soft pretzel is one of the most delicious foods in existence, and these shops, bakeries, and restaurants are serving America’s best.

America's Best Soft Pretzels (Slideshow)

Pretzels can trace their origins to the Middle Ages, when most historians agree they were invented by European monks as a reward to children who learned their prayers. They were first introduced to North America in the late 1700s, when Palatine German immigrants (who came to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch) settled in the Pennsylvania countryside and opened pretzel bakeries. In the twentieth century the popularity of pretzels spread to cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago, where they could commonly be found for sale at carts on street corners. Mass production increased their availability, and over time they became the classic and beloved snack they are today.

Making a traditional soft pretzel isn’t as easy as twisting up dough and baking it. While they start with traditional yeast dough, after being shaped they’re briefly boiled in water that’s been mixed with lye before being baked. This alkaline treatment speeds along the Maillard (or browning) reaction, which gives them their traditional dark-brown crust. Like most tasty snacks, soft pretzels have made their way around the world; in Finland they’re called viipurinrinkeli, in the Czech Republic they’re called preclík, and in Poland they’re called precel. But outside the German speaking world, there’s nowhere else where pretzels are more popular than in America.

The art of the soft pretzel is still very much in practice, and like any artisanal bread they’re popular among bakers of all stripes, but they’re especially common in German bakeries. Soft pretzels are a quintessential part of Philadelphia’s cuisine, and the typical Philadelphian consumes about 12 times as many pretzels as the national average. While about 80 percent of the nation’s pretzels are produced in Pennsylvania, the gospel has spread across the country, and truly great pretzels can be found from coast to coast.

In order to assemble our ranking of America’s best soft pretzels, we started by tracking down reviews both in print and online, from professional and amateur reviewers, of pretzels from across the country. These pretzels all needed to be hand-made fresh daily (or throughout the day), and couldn’t rely on gimmicks like being drenched in butter for flavor. From a market in New Jersey to a renowned bakery in the Bay Area, here are the places where you can find America’s best soft pretzels.

#10 Philly Pretzel Factory, Philadelphia

Philly Pretzel Factory

Photo Modified: Flickr / slgckgc / CC BY 4.0

They look funky, but they're delicious.

Philly Pretzel Factory may be a chain with more than 100 locations, but that doesn’t mean that the quality suffers. Fresh dough is made throughout the day at every location, and their traditional Philly-style pretzels, which look more smushed-together than what you may be used to, come right out of the oven and into your waiting hands. No trip to Philadelphia is complete without a trip to Philly Pretzel Factory; don’t forget to dunk them in plenty of brown mustard.

#9 Bay Street Biergarten, Charleston

Bay Street Biergarten

Bay Street Biergarten / Facebook

These pretzel bombs are the bomb.

The Bay Street Biergarten is Charleston’s first contemporary beer garden, and naturally one of the hottest spots in town. There’s nothing that complements great German beer like a great German pretzel, and their “Haus Made Pretzel” created by baker Jason Walker is a thing of beauty. Made with a dash of German beer and brown sugar, these beauties are lightly brushed with butter before being served, and are insanely good.

Click here for the 8 top soft pretzels.

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