What, exactly, is a donut? At The Daily Meal, we define a donut as an item that you would expect to see in a donut shop: the familiar ones we know and love (of both the raised and cake varieties), like crullers, apple fritters, and other donut-shop classics — you know them when you see them.
So, in order to assemble our most-recent ranking of the 25 best in the country, we more than doubled the number on the previous list from the year before. We stuck to strict criteria in looking for the best individual donuts in America: Freshness is key; are these legendary donuts — ones that inspire cultish devotion to the shop that sells them? We considered both plain glazed and extravagantly topped creations, but there needs to be a balance between all the components, be it bacon or blueberry jelly. Most importantly, these donuts need to be almost too good: fresh, soft, gooey, perfectly proportioned, and intended to leave you wanting just one more bite. There were over two dozen we believed deserved to be included on our list, and as it turns out, one can be found in Cookeville, Tenn., just a 75-minute drive east of Nashville.
The giant, lumpy apple fritter at local landmark Ralph’s has been a favorite of Tennessee Tech students and locals alike for more than 60 years. It’s a classic donut shop, complete with a counter and stools, and a throwback to an earlier time. Ralph’s is a little tricky to find, but it’s a true small-town gem and a place where time stands still.
Their apple fritter is so good, it made it to #21 on our national list, and since it’s the only one from the state to make our ranking, it’s also the title winner of the best donut in Tennessee.