The Unexpected Cracker That'll Add A Salty Flourish To Any Pie Crust

No matter what type of pie you're making, the crust will typically be made of either cracker crumbs or pastry dough. In some cases the two are interchangeable, for example when making key lime or lemon meringue pie. But others such as apple and pumpkin pie almost always call for dough. Pies that instead use crackers are usually cream- or custard-based. Since the filling sets in the refrigerator, not the oven, using a pie crust that comes together with just cracker crumbs and butter is sometimes easier and faster than having to pre-bake a pie shell.

Flavor is also a factor. When you don't want your pie to be overly sweet, pie dough is usually the better choice because it has a more neutral, buttery flavor. Using a cracker crust on the other hand means your pie will take on the sweeter flavor of the type of cracker you use, which in most cases is graham crackers or Oreos. But what if you want your pie to have the texture of a cracker crust without the extra sweetness? The good news is it's actually possible when you swap graham crackers for saltines.

Use saltines instead of graham crackers to make a pie crust

What makes graham crackers so distinct isn't so much the flour, but rather the honey, vanilla, and cinnamon. If you don't want your pie to taste of graham crackers, any type of cracker that's just as crumbly can be used in its place. Ritz crackers, for example, are a popular alternative, but saltines are arguably better. That's because they don't have as much butter as Ritz, nor as much sugar as graham crackers. Instead, they're bland and salty.

Bland and salty might not seem like something you'd want in a dessert, but there are two reasons it works so well for pie crust compared to other crackers. The first is that cracker crusts use butter to bind the crumbs together. An already buttery cracker like Ritz will yield an overly buttery crust. The second reason comes down to food science. Honey, vanilla, and cinnamon can certainly be tasty, but if you want to bring out the flavors of your pie rather than potentially overpower them with others, you won't get that from graham crackers. Salt is a natural flavor enhancer, and saltines have the perfect amount to balance out the sweetness in a pie and ultimately make it taste better.

How to make a saltine pie crust

Because saltines and graham crackers can both be easily pulverized into crumbs, turning them into a crust follows the same basic process. All you have to do is run them through a food processor and add melted butter. For best results, Chapel Hill, North Carolina's Bill Smith, chef of Crook's Corner, suggests using 1½ sleeves of saltines (or 60 crackers) per stick of butter. If you want a hint of sweetness, you can also add three tablespoons of sugar, however, the sweetness of your pie filling alone should be adequate.

There's a fine line between salty and perfectly seasoned, and a pie crust is no exception. To prevent your saltine crust from causing an overly salty pie, make sure to only use unsalted butter. A stick of salted butter contains ¼ teaspoon of salt, so unless you accidentally grabbed the low-sodium saltines, it's best to stick to unsalted butter. This will ensure your crust has just enough salt to enhance the pie's overall flavor.