Not all apples are the same. Some are better for eating fresh, right from the fridge (or even the tree!). Some work well in apple sauces or similar dishes. Some are just perfect for cider, and some are the best for baking. However, that said, while there are many apple varieties that work well for baking, not all are best for baking the same things.
If you’re specifically planning to bake an apple crisp — not an apple pie, apple tart, apple muffins, etc. — you’ll want to look for some very specific apple varieties.
Crisp vs. Pie Apples
The perfect apple crisp ticks a few boxes. The apples are usually soft and gooey once baked, for an apple-based filling that is perfectly spoon-able, and with a texture that nicely contrasts against the slightly crunchy-crispy topping.
This desirable texture stands in contrast with that of an apple pie. An apple pie needs to be able to be sliced and served with a fork, so you don’t want the apple filling to be quite as gooey and soft as it might be in an apple crisp. Likewise, with an apple pie, if you have a too-soft, gooey filling, it’s going to ruin your pie crust, turning it doughy and unappetizing.
Because of these differences in desired texture, you won’t always choose the same apples for baking a crisp as you would for baking a pie.
Best Apples for an Apple Crisp
For an apple crisp in particular, a few apple varieties reign supreme.
Fuji apples are available at most grocery stores and most orchards, as they’re highly popular. Choose this apple for a somewhat sweet, somewhat sour crisp filling that can stand its own ground alongside a sweeter, brown-sugar-heavy crisp topping.
Another highly popular option, this apple is one that you can just about always reliably find at your favorite orchards. Go with a McIntosh filling if you want a crisp that’s all-the-way sweet, no tartness needed.
Granny Smith apples
Prefer your crisp tart? Go with the Granny Smith. This vibrant green apple is easy to find and is extremely versatile. Do note that Granny Smiths don’t break down quite as much as, say, a McIntosh; however, that fact makes this an apple that’s good if you want to bake both a crisp and a pie in the near future.
A lesser-known variety, the Winesap is incredibly juicy. Because of this, you won’t want to use this apple in anything requiring a pastry crust, but it cooks down for a delightful and deliciously flavorful crisp filling.
Don’t Be Afraid to Play Around
While the above varieties are top favorites for a traditional apple crisp, don’t be afraid to play around with the apples you use for your crisp. There are no wrong answers and this is an incredibly forgiving dish. If you prefer your crisp filling with a little more bite and texture, rather than soft and gooey, go with a firmer apple that will retain its shape and texture while baking. You can even combine apple varieties until you find the right flavor and texture combos for your ideal dessert.