Long before they flavored your latte and practically every fall-themed food and drink item imaginable, pumpkin and spice combined to make pie. This centuries-old mashup of New World produce and Old World baking became the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert for a reason, as it symbolizes America's contentious, colonial history in the sweetest, most delicious way possible.
And while traditionalists would argue that the purist expression of this patriotic pie is homemade, the modern reality is that many Americans have neither the time nor the culinary wherewithal to do it justice. Luckily, the aproned staffers in the bakery department of your local supermarket do this sort of thing for a living. Indeed, many major grocery chains are already cranking out pumpkin pies well in advance of the yearly autumnal feast.
I recently scooped up an enticing quartet of these seasonal sweet pies from some of the most reputable supermarket bakeries in my area—Costco, Sam's Club, Wegmans, and Whole Foods—to find out which one serves up the tastiest rendition around. With the help of some hungry friends, including the most fanatical dessert lover I know, I judged each pie based on appearance, texture, taste, and price.
Here's how each store-bought pie stacked up, ranked in descending order from my least favorite to the absolute tastiest slice. Shake up your favorite whipped-topping spray can and dig right in.
The bakery department at Sam's Club is simply brimming with seasonal delights right now, ranging from cinnamon crunch muffins and pumpkin cream cheese cake rolls to the classic pumpkin pie. Sam's pie measured 11 inches in diameter and weighed a hefty, three pounds, 10 ounces. The pie cost me $6.98 in store, though the price listed online was strangely a dollar less.
The look: Expertly constructed. This pie was big and smooth, with very few visible cracks or bubbles in the dense, yellow-orange custard, which resembled an almost fudge-like consistency. Viewed up close, the beige-colored crust showed wavy patterns.
The taste: Heavily spiced with an unremarkably bland crust. Both of my tasters were turned off by the strong level of nutmeg, in particular, which overwhelmed the pie's other flavors. "The spice really killed it," one friend noted. "I didn't want to eat a spoonful of nutmeg—I wanted pumpkin pie."
Costco's pumpkin pie is as massively popular as it is, well, just plain massive. The pie is equal in size to Sam's, which is actually a little smaller than some of Costco's other enormous desserts. Costco reportedly sells some six million pumpkin pies every fall, using up 12 million pounds of canned pumpkin and 24 million eggs in the process. While it's tied for the biggest pie in this survey, it's also the cheapest: just $5.99 at the warehouse.
The look: Glossy. This enormous pie gleamed with a distinct slickness that suggested mass production, yet it showed signs of imperfection, too. There were cracks in the custard, particularly along the edges. The crust, meanwhile, featured a pattern of indentations.
The taste: Sweeter, far less spicy, and much lighter than its rival from the other warehouse club. The actual pumpkin flavor was more pronounced in this version, though one taster noted "some kind of oily substance," which she described as "a little off-putting." Both tasters liked this crust better than the rest, describing it as flaky, but not too much, crunchy yet soft, and not too dry, either.
Whole Foods Market proudly promotes its high-quality standards for all products, so you should probably expect a top-notch pie from its in-house bakery. Predictably, given the store's "whole paycheck" reputation, this 28-ounce dessert was also the most expensive of the group, costing me $13.99.
The look: Like an orangish Blood Moon, with numerous craters and crevasses in the custard. The crust had the palest color of the group, but the most ornate design, combining divots, lines, and ridges. The filling, meanwhile, was arguably the most authentic-looking. One friend described it as a "nice pumpkin tone," adding, "It didn't look fake."
The taste: Perfectly balanced. The flavor was a little sweet and a little spicy in equal measure, with an appealing soft and supple texture. "It had spicy notes, but also a nice pumpkin flavor," noted one taster, who actually declared the Whole Foods pie his overall favorite. My other friend, though, found the crust to be too crumbly. The soft, flaky rim sort of reminded me of shortbread or a sugar cookie. It's a clear step up from the other two, but another pie impressed me even more.
If you're unfamiliar, Wegmans is a beloved regional grocery chain across the Northeast, similar in popularity to H-E-B in Texas or Publix down South. It's well known for its deli sandwiches, prepared foods, fresh produce, and impressive cheese selection. Oh, and the bakery isn't too shabby, either. This 30-ounce pumpkin pie cost me $11.
The look: Distinguished but imperfect. This pie clearly stood out from the rest with its notably darker tone, suggesting a stiff dose of molasses or brown sugar or both. The crust, meanwhile, looked almost churro-like, showing a substantial dusting of something resembling cinnamon sugar. And if Whole Foods' pie is the moon, then Wegmans' is Mercury, showing even more cracks and craters in its filling, though that probably makes it seem more homemade.
The taste: Indulgent to the max. This pie offered the sweetest, most cinnamon-y flavor in this survey, which is surprising because it actually contains less sugar per serving than some of the others, according to the label. The ultra-light, airy texture of the custard also set this one apart. The listed ingredients notably include heavy whipping cream, which the other pies lack. Its superiority was immediately clear to two of us. Even my friend who preferred the Whole Foods version admitted, "If I was going for something dessert-y and sweet, it's Wegmans for sure."
You could settle for a more basic pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving and be perfectly content with the Costco or Whole Foods version. But, for a truly decadent dessert that you don't have to bake yourself, the pumpkin pie from Wegmans really can't be beat.