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Credit: Image: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn
Recipe Review

We Tested 4 Famous Granola Recipes and the Winner Is the Only One You’ll Ever Need

published Aug 6, 2020
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Homemade granola is one of the most humble-yet-luxurious things you can keep in your kitchen. Although it’s made with nothing more than oats, seeds, nuts, and some pantry staples, the resulting mixture has the ability to transform a mundane bowl of yogurt into something that feels a little fancy — and hearty enough to power you through a hectic morning. And did I mention the way it makes your kitchen smell as it bakes?

But choosing a go-to granola recipe isn’t as easy as it sounds. There’s an endless array of recipes on the internet, each producing a granola with a completely different taste and texture. Some yield big clusters of oats that stick together, while others result in a drier mix that keeps the ingredients separate. Some boast a laundry list of mix-ins, while others take a minimalist approach. The oils, sweeteners, and spices vary drastically as well.

I was eager to find the absolute best recipe — one that’s so irresistibly tasty on its own that the yogurt becomes an afterthought. So I chose four of the most popular granola recipes and baked them off in a side-by-side taste test. At the end of the day, I found one that completely exceeded my expectations. It’s crispy, it’s salty, and it’s packed with flavor, and it’s downright impossible to stop at just one bite. Curious what it is? Read on to find out.

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

Meet Our 4 Granola Contenders

To keep things fair, I decided to only test crispy granola recipes. While I love chewy granola, I consider that a completely different recipe. From there, I searched the internet to see what the most popular recipes were, looking for ones with loyal followings and positive reviews. I also hit up my coworkers to see if they had any personal favorites. This led me to four recipes that each had a devoted following and took a unique approach: Serious Eats, Alton Brown, Cookie and Kate, and Early Bird.

Serious Eats’ recipe soaks their oats in buttermilk and melted butter before baking, so I was curious to see how that would impact the texture. Alton Brown’s 5-star recipe was rather classic, and I was eager to see if his simple approach would prove to be the best. Cookie and Kate’s mix-and-match-style recipe had over 2,000 comments singing its praises, and is the first recipe to pop up in a granola recipe Google search. And last but not least was Early Bird’s recipe, an olive oil granola that my coworkers raved about.

How I Tested the Granola Recipes

Each granola recipe was made on the same day and compared in a side-by-side taste test. I followed each recipe exactly as written and tried my hardest to keep all outside factors to a minimum. I baked them all in the same oven, used the same brand of oats, and tasted them all at the same time. I wanted it to be a fair test.

I also had my roommate taste the granolas to see what she thought. At the end of the day we both picked the same recipe as the winner. It’s crisp, flavorful, and perfect for sprinkling over fresh fruit or eating by the handful. I will never make another granola recipe again.

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

1. The Simple (but Slightly Underwhelming) Granola: Alton Brown’s Granola

This granola recipe was by far the easiest to make, but it wasn’t that exciting. The flavor was super mild and a bit forgettable. My favorite part was the use of the shredded, sweetened coconut, which gave the granola a subtle coconut-y flavor. The use of dark brown sugar also helped, providing a rich, molasses-y flavor that tasted almost like caramel. But despite the flavorful additions, the recipe just didn’t wow me. It wasn’t a bad granola at all, it just wasn’t very unique. If you’re looking for a super simple granola recipe that can be dressed up or down with additional mix-ins, this recipe is for you, but as a stand-alone recipe it’s underwhelming.

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

2. The Completely Customizable Granola: Cookie and Kate’s “The Very Best” Granola

This recipe is a good, basic granola recipe you can customize with whatever you have on hand. You can mix and match the nuts, seeds, oils, and sweetener — and even add things like chocolate chips at the end to bulk it up. And the ratios work perfectly! The granola is crisp, just-sweet-enough, and has the perfect amount of salt. If you’re looking for a basic granola formula to keep in your back pocket, this is the recipe for you.

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

3. The Close Second: Serious Eats’ Crisp Homemade Granola

The thing that made this granola so good was soaking the oats in buttermilk. (Really!) The soaking step seriously improved the texture of the granola, causing the oats to stick together and create perfect little clusters that became crisp and crunchy in the oven. You couldn’t necessarily taste the buttermilk, but it completely changed the texture. For people who like their granola with large clusters, this is the recipe for you. The flavor was also delicious. It was perfectly sweet without being sugary, and the combination of dried fruits and nuts made it exciting. My only complaint is that the granola had a tendency to burn in the oven, but other than that I was very pleased.

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

4. The Clear Winner: Early Bird Foods’ Toasted-Coconut Granola

This was the most flavorful granola I’ve ever had, matched with a perfectly crisp texture. The moment I mixed the olive oil into the oats I knew it was special. When the oil, coconut, and maple syrup combined, it created the most alluring scent ever. It reminded me of a tropical tiki drink, and the flavor was just as special. It was perfectly sweet with a bold fruity flavor and warm and toasty undertones. A generous amount of salt balanced it all out.

The olive oil wasn’t just a gimmick, it was the key ingredient that brought it all together. It was crunchy, bold, and absolutely perfect. I will definitely be making this granola again, and I can’t believe it took me this long to try it. It’s (dare I say) a perfect granola recipe.

Do you have a favorite granola recipe? Let us know in the comments!