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The Kitchn team took on the intrepid task of taste-testing every single bottle of salad dressing in existence. While it takes virtually no time at all (plus a handful of pantry staples) to whip up a restaurant-level vinaigrette that’ll last you an entire week, dare we play devil’s advocate and say it also takes no time at all to throw a bottle of the pre-made stuff in your grocery cart? Our hopes for this experiment were to find all the great salad dressing-related shortcuts on the market.
How We Chose the Salad Dressings and How We Tested Them
In an effort to divide and conquer the dressings (there are so many out there!), each editor was assigned their own category: Balsamic, Blue Cheese, Caesar, French, Fruity, Greek, Italian, Honey Mustard, Ranch, and Thousand Island. We tried to cover the bases of all the salad dressings you might find in a buffet salad bar. From there, we sourced as many mainstream bottles within our categories as we could via regular grocery trips and our online shopping platforms of choice.
Dressings were then tested blindly, using (mostly) lettuce as the vehicle. Ultimately, each staffer chose a clear winner in their category and named runners up accordingly. The results will, like any great salad dressing, leave you positively puckered. Let’s take a look!
The Best Balsamic Vinaigrette
Lauren Masur tested balsamic vinaigrette, which is the dressing she picks nearly every time if given the choice. Of the nine bottles tested by her family of four, the winner was unanimous and uncontested. Here’s what Lauren had to say.
The Best Balsamic Vinaigrette: Kraft Balsamic Vinaigrette
As my family circled our kitchen table dipping pieces of lettuce into bowls of dressing (backwards salad!), we all kept returning to the same sample. This bottle was balanced, tangy (but not too much so), herby, pleasant, and, above all, the right level of emulsified. We couldn’t detect any gloopiness (from stabilizers), nor was there any unpleasant aftertaste. It also wasn’t too oily, too garlicky, or too acidic. As Goldilocks would say, this balsamic was just right. It tasted like the dressing you’d get if you went to an Italian-American red sauce joint and ordered a side salad. (The highest of compliments in my book.)
Buy: Kraft Balsamic Vinaigrette, $16.74 for three 16-ounce bottles
The Unexpected Runner Up: Primal Kitchen Balsamic Vinaigrette
The Best Blue Cheese Dressing
Our Features Director, Arie Knutson, took on the wildly divisive blue cheese dressing category. Who knew that blue cheese was such a provocative ingredient? The real question, though, is if blue cheese dressing is a salad dressing or a wing dip. Of the seven bottles Arie tried, these were her winners.
The Best Blue Cheese Dressing: Ken’s Steak House Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing
If I were to boil down all of my hopes and dreams for the perfect blue cheese dressing, this would be it. Ken’s is the epitome of blue cheese dressing. This dressing is bold in its blue cheesiness, but the flavor is not overpowering. I think this is because it’s a little more balanced than the other dressings; it has a nice tang to it, but you also taste the earthy-sweetness of the blue cheese, garlic, and onion. It has the right consistency, too: It’s not too thin, chunky, or mayonnaise-y in its texture. It’s the kind of blue cheese dressing that you would associate with a really good wedge salad at an awesome steakhouse.
Buy: Ken’s Steak House Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing, $2.69 for 16 ounces at Target
The Delightfully Tangy Runner Up: Marie’s Chunky Blue Cheese
Lisa Freedman, Kitchn’s Lifestyle Director, managed to get her hands on 15 bottles of Caesar, proving just how popular this category has become. While these bottles were certainly not whipped up table-side by a waiter, Lisa managed to make this tasting feel like a momentous occasion nonetheless. Here are her top three and her thoughts.
The Best Caesar Dressing: Ken’s Steak House Creamy Caesar
The bottle says “This dressing is everything a great Creamy Caesar should be,” and the bottle is totally right! (Thanks, bottle!) The texture is spot-on (thick but not too thick) and the flavor has a brilliant brightness to it. My husband and I could taste the grated Parmesan and flecks of pepper. I actually had to check the ingredient list because I thought for sure the anchovies would have been listed higher up. If you went to an actual steakhouse and got a salad with this stuff, you would not be disappointed. Ditto for a salad at home. Additionally, I can say from experience that this Ken’s option is also great in this 3-Ingredient Baked Caesar Chicken.
Buy: Ken’s Steak House Creamy Caesar, $12.85 for two 16-ounce bottles
The Best Gourmet Caesar Dressing: Brianna’s Home Style Asiago Caesar Dressing
The Best Oil-Based Caesar Dressing: Ken’s Steak House Tableside Caesar
Thanks to Studio Food Editor Amelia Rampe, we now have a definitive “best French dressing” to scout out whenever the need arises. Here’s what she had to say.
The Best French Dressing: Wish-Bone Creamy French Dressing
The Wish-Bone Creamy French Dressing brought me right back to the Sizzler salad buffet — in the best way possible. Its sweet-tang flavor was perfectly balanced. It had a really nice creamy color, and the best texture and pourability of all the dressings tested. This one I kept wanting to taste over and over again, despite the fact that I’m mildly allergic to soybean oil. This dressing kept singing until the very end.
Buy: Wish-Bone Creamy French Dressing, $1.77 for 15-ounces
The Slightly Less Sweet Runner Up: Annie’s Organic French Dressing
The Best Fruity Salad Dressings
Associate Food Editor Kelli Foster wants to know “Why aren’t there more fruit-flavored dressings on the market other than raspberry?” Nevertheless, she Waldorf-style tasted her way through a dozen bottles of the stuff. Here are her thoughts.
The Best Raspberry Dressing: Newman’s Own Raspberry Walnut
Two factors made this the clear winner for me: It has the most tang of any dressing I tasted, which really helps to balance the sweetness, and it also contains little bits of walnut, which felt like a treat in my salad and added a nice nutty undertone to the flavor. Also, as a bonus, what’s not to like about a brand that donates its profits to charity? If I had to choose another raspberry dressing in a pinch, I’d go with Ken’s Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette — it was a very close call.
Buy: Newman’s Own Raspberry Walnut, $2.98 for 16-ounces at Walmart
The Best Non-Raspberry Fruity Dressing: Marzetti Tastefully Dressed Blackberry Poppyseed Dressing
Sheela Prakash, Senior Contributing Food Editor and Kitchn’s expert on all things Mediterranean, got the Greek. She separated her dressings into two distinct categories: vinaigrette and creamy.
The Best Greek Dressing: Ken’s Steak House Simply Vinaigrette Greek
This was the most well-balanced of the bunch and delivered a lot of freshness for a bottled salad dressing — not too sweet or too sour. So I guess Ken’s knows how to make Greek dressing. It was nice and light, too, which means it drizzled and tossed well. And bonus points because it doesn’t contain any artificial flavors, preservatives, or high fructose corn syrup.
Buy: Ken’s Steak House Simply Vinaigrette Greek, $2.69 for 16-ounces at Target
The Best Creamy Greek Dressing: Christie’s Greek Dressing
The Best Italian Dressing
Deputy Food Director, Grace Elkus, sourced 10 bottles of Italian dressing from a Kroger in Cincinnati, OH. For the fairest comparison possible, she avoided low-fat, light, and creamy options and stuck to those that most closely resemble “house” dressing.
The Best Italian Dressing: Kraft Tuscan House Italian Dressing
This dressing scored high marks in every category: taste, consistency, and appearance. It’s bold and punchy. And a splash of balsamic adds just a hint of sweetness, while a mix of spices and the addition of two cheeses (Parmesan and Romano) makes it decidedly savory. Even after sitting for a while, it doesn’t noticeably separate, and it instantly perks up lettuce. In fact, I could easily eat a side salad with just lettuce and this dressing — it packs enough punch to hold its own, no mix-ins needed.
Buy: Kraft Tuscan House Italian Dressing, $1.99 for 16-ounces at Target
The Runner Up: Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian
The Best Honey Mustard Dressing
You might have banished honey mustard to the category of dipping sauces, but did you know that it’s also a fairly ubiquitous salad dressing? Studio Food Editor Jesse Szewczyk did the honors of testing out a bunch.
The Best Honey Mustard Dressing: Brianna’s Home Style Dijon Honey Mustard Dressing
This dressing was the perfect balance of sweet and tangy. It has a strong, acidic bite from the Dijon mustard, and is just sweet enough to not be overwhelming. The sweetness (which comes from honey) perfectly balances the sharpness of the mustard, creating a robust dressing that is perfect for tossing on salad greens, but also gentle enough to eat as a dip or condiment. The texture is thick while still remaining pourable. You might notice, like I did, that the color is a bit green, which is not what I typically expect from a honey mustard dressing, but it doesn’t bother me. If you can’t find Brianna’s, Kraft Honey Mustard Dressing is the closest in comparison.
Buy: Brianna’s Home Style Dijon Honey Mustard Dressing, $3.29 for 12-ounces at Target
Best Honey Mustard If You Have a Sweet Tooth: Ken’s Steak House Honey Dijon Dressing
Associate Food Editor Meghan Splawn is a self-professed ranch aficionado, so she was enthusiastically up for the task of testing a dozen bottles. She’s also admittedly a Hidden Valley Ranch devotee, so she swore to a blind tasting in an effort to remain unbiased.
The Best Ranch Dressing: Hidden Valley Ranch
Honestly, I was a little hopeful that we’d find a different ranch dressing to love considering just how much Hidden Valley we buy and eat in our house. I love it, the kids love it, and the flavor holds up against all the other bottled ranch dressings on the market. If you’ve ever considered other ranch dressings to be too sweet, I’d urge you to try this bottle. The flavor is buttermilk-forward with an even tang and plenty of herby flavor in a super-creamy dressing that will never, ever let you down.
Buy: Hidden Valley Ranch, $4.29 for 16 ounces at Target
The Surprising Runner Up: Litehouse Homestyle Ranch
The Best Thousand Island Dressing
Our Editor-in-Chief, Faith Durand, took on the final task of tasting Thousand Island dressings — that salad bar classic, a condiment Frankenstein of mayonnaise, ketchup, egg, and relish. She hunted down about a dozen bottles to try, and tasted them not just with lettuce, but also with corned beef from the deli. Because, after all, Thousand Island and its cousin, Russian dressing, are really best known as the “secret sauces” of sandwiches like the Big Mac and the classic reuben. To really evaluate Thousand Island, you need to try it on something a little heartier. Here’s what she found.
The Best Thousand Island Dressing: Marzetti Thousand Island Dressing
I live just down the street from one of Marzetti’s distribution centers, but I swear I’m not biased to this hometown company) This dressing was the thickest I tried by far. It was the only one with discernible nubs of pickled relish, and the vigorous tang of vinegar. The mayo and the ketchup ingredients were in good balance and the whole experience was rather delightful on the meat, especially. I am not the hugest of Thousand Island dressing fans, but I can imagine a hundred uses for such a zesty, delicious sauce in my kitchen.
Your turn! What did we miss? Which salad dressings deserve a place on this list? Do tell!