There's something to be said for the convenience of frozen pies. You can buy them well ahead of time, they're supremely affordable, and some require nothing more than a few hours on the countertop to thaw. But can these frozen versions compete with their fresh-baked counterparts? Will the crust be as flaky? Will the filling be as creamy?
I tried six frozen pumpkin pies, the ones you're most likely to find in a supermarket. I compared them based on price, ease of preparation, and taste (of the crust and filling). I looked at whether any unpronounceable ingredients were used, considered if I could finish a slice, and weighed how people would feel if I brought this as my contribution to a holiday party.
After sampling all six pies, there were a few I'd definitely toss in my cart again —and a few that are better left to freeze.
Price: $4.99 for a 37-ounce pie.
Ease of preparation: Medium. If you follow the instructions and bake it for 65 to 70 minutes at 375°F and then let it cool for two hours before serving, you're looking at over three hours from freezer to table.
Crust: It tasted sour and floury. It was also greasy, which made the pie tough to handle.
Filling: The filling wasn't sweet enough for my liking. In fact, it didn't have much flavor at all.
Any weird ingredients: The butter in the crust is listed as a butter blend with shortening and palm oil.
Could I finish a slice? No.
Would people be bummed if I brought this as my contribution to a holiday party? Yes.
Overall impression: Short of an apocalypse that lead to a world-wide pumpkin pie shortage, I would never serve this pie. It actually made me sad thinking of people who might have to eat this as their lone dessert option. Between the overly greasy crust and the bland filling, this pie was a dud.
Price: $4.99 for a 34-ounce pie.
Ease of preparation: Medium. Like Mrs. Smith's, this pie gets over an hour in the oven and then two hours of resting time before serving.
Crust: Crumbly and salty. I didn't like it.
Filling: Droplets of moisture pooled on top of the pie while it was cooking, which made it unappealing. Instead of a creamy custard filling, it tasted more like pumpkin-flavored gel. On the plus side, it looked exactly like the photo on the box, with dark spice specks throughout.
Any weird ingredients: This is the only pie with whey listed as a prominent ingredient. Is that weird? I think so.
Could I finish a slice? No.
Would people be bummed if I brought this as my contribution to a holiday party? Absolutely. They might throw cornucopias in your general direction.
Overall impression: If you must serve this lackluster pie, dress it up with an over-the-top bourbon-spiked whipped cream. That might be your best bet to mask this abject disappointment and turn it into something more palatable.
Price: $6.49 for a 38-ounce pie.
Ease of preparation: Hard. After you bake it for an hour at 375°F, you distribute the streusel and bake it for 10 more minutes. Then you still have to let it cool for two hours before enjoying. This is not exactly "difficult," but if you're entertaining guests or have little ones running around, it can be a pain to coordinate the additional baking steps.
Crust: Fine. Inoffensive.
Filling: I had such high hopes for this pumpkin-pecan pie! Although the filling had good pumpkin flavor with an assertive custard texture, it was dominated by the nutty, brown sugar-heavy streusel. As a result, this pie was way too sweet and cloying.
Any weird ingredients: The pecan streusel had a sandy texture that didn't add much to the party.
Could I finish a slice? Barely.
Would people be bummed if I brought this as my contribution to a holiday party? Potentially. If you want a nutty note to your holiday pie, stick with classic pecan pie.
Overall impression: The pecan streusel kicked the sugar content up to a whopping 32 grams per serving. Ditch the streusel topping; it's not much of an improvement on the original.
Price: $4.99 for a 21-ounce pie.
Ease of preparation: Easy. Since it's already fully baked, just thaw it on the countertop for two hours. You could also warm it in a 350°F oven for 20 minutes if you prefer a warm pie.
Crust: It was dry and crumbly, but had a pleasant taste — almost like it was homemade.
Filling: Above average. Notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger were laced throughout the creamy, light filling. It wasn't too sweet. In fact, the lack of sweetness made it taste almost savory.
Any weird ingredients: Whipping cream is listed as the first ingredient, which was unusual. It did make for a creamy pie, but it also felt heavy.
Could I finish a slice? Yes. For sure.
Would people be bummed if I brought this as my contribution to a holiday party? Absolutely not.
Overall impression: This pie was smaller than the rest so you'd need a few to feed a large gathering, but it was quite tasty and not too sweet. It would benefit from a scoop of ice cream or a drizzle of caramel to bump up the wow-factor.
Price: $6.49 for a 25.9-ounce pie.
Ease of preparation: Easy. There's no baking required. Just let the pie thaw in the fridge for two or three hours before serving and you're good to go.
Crust: The vanilla cookie crumb crust was a hit! Baked with ginger and cinnamon, it was crispy, buttery, and had pleasant salty bits throughout. It's a definite upgrade from the standard pastry crust.
Filling: This smooth pumpkin filling was almost mousse-like and had plenty of warm pumpkin pie spice flavor. The clove and nutmeg notes came through loud and clear.
Any weird ingredients: Sweetened condensed milk is listed as the first ingredient, which was unusual for this taste test. This pie also contains a cream cheese layer. While some people might not enjoy the Cool Whip-esque topping piped on top of the pie, I didn't mind it, as it reminded me of my childhood when I'd spoon Cool Whip right out of the tub.
Could I finish a slice? Yes!
Would people be bummed if I brought this as my contribution to a holiday party?: I don't think so. In fact, I think it might even enjoy a pleasant word-of-mouth buzz.
Overall impression: I didn't think I'd like this pie, but I was pleasantly surprised. As a bonus, since there's whipped topping included already, you don't have to fuss with adding whipped cream or ice cream. You could shake some cinnamon on top or drizzle a little caramel if you want to add a little pizzazz, but really, this pie is a slam dunk right out of the box.
Price: $6.49 for a 36-ounce pie.
Ease of preparation: Medium. It requires 70 to 80 minutes in a 375°F oven with two hours to cool.
Crust: The flaky pastry crust had a pleasant mouthfeel.
Filling: The classic creamy pumpkin pie custard flavor gets two thumbs up!
Any weird ingredients: Not that I could see. In fact, the filling had the most straightforward ingredients yet: pumpkin, sugar, water, eggs, nonfat dry milk, cornstarch, spices, soybean oil, and salt.
Could I finish a slice? Oh yes. Most definitely.
Would people be bummed if I brought this as my contribution to a holiday party? Nope. They might even think you baked it from scratch yourself.
Overall impression: Flawless. You could dress it up with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream, but it's perfect on its own.
The Pumpkin Pie Taste Test Results
After scarfing six frozen pumpkin pies, Marie Callender's pumpkin pie is the winner. This is classic pumpkin pie in its truest form. The crust tastes home-baked, and the filling will delight any pumpkin pie fan. It's delicious enough to stand on its own.
Edwards' pumpkin pie came in at a very close second, though. The only reason it didn't take first place is because it's not what most people would consider a traditional pumpkin pie. But if you're looking to try something new this holiday, definitely give it a whirl.
Both of these pies are proof that high-quality frozen pumpkin pies are available in your grocer's freezer. Happy eating!