Who doesn’t love a good brownie? Rich and squidgy, they’re the perfect sweet treat and afternoon pick-me-up. While homemade anything is usually superior, when it comes to brownies, boxed mixes tend to stir up feelings of childhood nostalgia like nothing else. Pre-packaged mixes are also so convenient — all you need is a bowl, a wooden spoon and a few minutes to spare and before you know it warm brownies will be ready and waiting. Bonus points if you pair warm brownies with a large glass of ice-cold milk — divine!
But which boxed brownie mix is the very best? We decided to find out! We scoured the shelves of our local supermarkets, delis and drug stores and got our hands on the most prolific brands around and tried to buy the most classic flavor — fudge — whenever possible. From good ol’ Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines to some slightly fancier options from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, these boxes of brownie mix were all mixed and baked (all in the same oven to ensure consistency!) according to their directions and then pitted against one another in a blind taste test. Those who participated tasted each brownie sample judiciously before giving each different brownie bite a mark out of 10 and commenting on the overall taste and texture. Read on to discover which brownie came out on top — the results may surprise you!
Coming in joint last place was Ghiradelli, perhaps the most fancy of the more mainstream mixes we tested. Though we tried to get our hands on as many fudge-flavored mixes as possible to ensure continuity across the board, the closest Ghiradelli simple flavor we could find in stores was double chocolate, which seemed to be a fudge brownie with a simple addition of chocolate chips thrown into the mix. Though one tester did give this brand a high mark of 8 and some thought these brownies had “good texture,” the general consensus was that Ghirardelli’s mix was too sweet and had a bizarre flavor that many could not pinpoint. “Cinnamon? Allspice? Cloves? Or just weird cocoa?” one taster wondered. “Tastes like a candle?”
We tested three gluten-free options for this brownie battle. After all, just because one is intolerant to gluten doesn’t mean life should be brownie-free, right? Like the Ghiradelli mix, this gluten-free offering from Trader Joe’s garnered a measly average and was tied for the lowest ranking of the bunch. Though some considered it to be “a solid contender,” a “slightly strange aftertaste” and “grainy texture” left most feeling underwhelmed and “meh.”
While the second of three gluten-free options didn’t exactly finish last, it certainly wasn’t the crowd favorite. Most tasters found this brownie to be overly rich (perhaps because it is made with a whole stick of melted butter rather than the more common 1/3 cup of vegetable oil?) “Rich! Wow. Is this too much?” one editor asked. Another observed that the result of the mix “looks like fudge” and is “very dense, rich and a bit grainy.”
Though the Whole Foods house brand of brownie mix looked “classic” with a glossy, crackly top and tasted like a “typical bake sale brownie,” the overarching opinion was that this was a bit boring and “bland.” If you’re looking for a basic brownie that has no artificial colors or flavoring, this seems to the kind of brownie that would probably be well-received, though it wouldn’t blow anyone’s socks off.
Classic Betty Crocker took sixth place, perhaps lower on the list than some would have expected. Of all the mixes, it was by far the most prevalent — easily found in all of the drug stores and delis that we visited in New York City during the preliminary boxed brownie mix search. The overall opinion was that these brownies were a little underwhelming with a mild cocoa flavor. “More of a blondie,” one tester opined. “Love the texture and the flavor, but this isn’t a brownie.”
Though well-known for its flour in general, King Arthur Flour is not exactly synonymous with delicious brownie mixes. However their regular mix landed squarely in the middle of this list, beating out boxed brownie powerhouse Betty Crocker by a full 2.5 points. Testers thought these brownies were “very fudgy and moist” saying they were “very good, chewy, chocolate-y” — one confident editor stated that “you won’t go wrong with this” mix. In spite of the many positive reviews, some thought these would benefit from “a pinch of salt” in spite of being “not overly sweet.”
In fourth place comes the Doughboy himself. The batch of Pillsbury brownies were well-received indeed, with tasters responding positively to their “nice shiny top” and their “yummy and fudgy” taste. “Tastes like my mom’s,” one tester even said, which is high praise indeed. “Not too dense. The perfect bite.” Overall Pillsbury’s mix was considered a solid but basic boxed brownie option and was enjoyed by most.
The No. 3 spot went to the last of our mainstream heavy hitters. Though the Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownies were the highest ranked when compared to Betty Crocker and Pillsbury (by a hair) it was by no means easy to find. Betty Crocker was prevalent in most New York City delis and Pillsbury was found at Target easily enough, but tracking down Duncan Hines was surprisingly tricky. When it came to the taste test, testers praised the the homemade taste and “beautiful cakey texture,” and one called the brownie “very classic and not too fancy.” Even the editor who called the taste “bland” noted that the brownie was pleasingly moist.
Second place went to a surprising mix, to say the least. While the regular King Arthur Flour Brownie mix did not garner scores that were high enough to beat out Pillsbury or Duncan Hines, the brand’s gluten-free brownie mix surprisingly did. Who knew a gluten-free brownie would take the silver medal? Tasters found this brownie to be “less flat than #7 [Pillsbury]” and praised the chocolaty, homemade taste. In spite of being a bit flatter than some of the gluten-full competitors, this GF variety did not have a grainy texture that the other gluten free variations did.
And finally, in first place: Trader Joe’s own in-house brownie mix, which was one of the few brownies to secure full marks of 10 from some testers. Though not everyone’s favorite, the overarching consensus was that it was delicious. “Tastes like a real brownie with nice dark color and not too sweet,” one taster observed. “Looks like a homemade brownie.” Others enjoyed “the richness of the chocolate chips” and noted that these treats had “great texture” When it came to cooking the brownies, both Trader Joe’s baking mixes were the only ones that actually looked like a homemade brownie batter, though the quantity of the mixture seemed to be less than almost all of the other brands. Though perhaps not the most readily available brand, after all you do have to go to Trader Joe’s to find it. The store is found in 41 states, so it’s not exactly under the radar and is widely considered to be among America’s best supermarkets. Without a doubt this box brownie mix definitely deserves a spot on the 62 foods Trader Joe's customers love the most.
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