The Best Store-Bought Bagels, Tested by Food Network Kitchen
Here are the five best brands to stock up on the next time you’re in the grocery store.
Tested by Vince Camillo for Food Network Kitchen
People love bagels. There’s just no debate about it. The carby treats have been a longtime breakfast and brunch staple, and posts about bagel boards are plentiful on social media platforms, like Instagram and TikTok. Though they come in a variety of delicious flavors, there’s something about the versatility of a plain bagel that screams #comfortfoodgoals. Whether you choose to eat them whole like a doughnut, split in half and loaded up with toppings like lox, capers and cream cheese, or use them to bookend a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, plain bagels always make a satisfying and filling meal choice. Though you can easily buy a dozen from your neighborhood bagel shop, pre-packaged bagels have now become a fixture in most grocery store bread baskets and aisles. So much so that we thought they’d make the perfect subject for our next round of taste tests. We bought, toasted and ate 10 different store-bought bagel brands to find out which ones you should spend your money on. Here are our findings.
A Note on Store-Bought Bagels
Pre-packaged bagels are often found in one of two places at the grocery store — the bakery aisle or in the freezer section. Bagels found in the bread aisle are very similar to sliced bread — they can be stored in your pantry for a while without going bad. This is due to a variety of preservative ingredients that help enhance their freshness and stave off staling and spoilage, like calcium propionate and sorbic acid. The use of these ingredients also means that bagels found in the bakery aisle taste a bit different than the freshly baked ones you purchase at a premier bagel shop. Frozen bagels, on the other hand, align more closely in taste with artisanal-style bagels and are somewhat truer in flavor and texture to freshly baked ones.
If you can get your hands on a batch of plain bagels from Utopia Bagels, they’re well worth a spot in your freezer! We were able to find the brand available on FreshDirect, and since they ship frozen, these bagels are perfect for holding onto for whenever a bagel craving hits. Utopia Bagels has been in business for over 30 years and once you take your first bite of one of their plain bagels, it’s very apparent that the shop knows exactly what it’s doing. The bagels, which are formed by hand before being boiled in water, have a dark golden brown hue and are a bit stubbly on the outside and slightly dense and chewy on the inside, giving you a unique mouthfeel. The only negative we noticed was that these bagels have an overtly rounded shape, which made taking small bites nearly impossible when you're eating them whole. Utopia Bagels' plain variety also has an almost-sourdough-like flavor, which was a very large reason why they were our overall favorite.
Thomas’ might just be the most readily available brand of store-bought bagels around. Though convenient to buy, we found the brand’s bagels to be pretty flat. Despite this, Thomas’ packaged bagels are also pretty dense and chewy, which made them satisfying enough to eat plain. They also held up nicely to a schmear of cream cheese, unlike some of the other brands we tested, which were much more gummy than chewy (one bagel even seemed to dissolve when we covered it with spread!) The flavor of these bagels was also richer and a touch more on the malty side than all of the other shelf-stable brands we tested.
Toasting is a great way to "breathe new life" into a bag of store-bought bagels. In fact, we toasted every single bagel we sampled for this taste test. Doing so actually seemed to create a crispier exterior and coaxed a more gratifying crunch. Of all the ones we tried toasted, Einstein Brothers came out on top. Slightly larger than all the other brands on this list, Einstein’s plain bagel offering was the most substantially crispy, chewy and satisfying when split and topped with butter. Curiously enough, they were also the only ones we tested that were not pre-sliced.
These pre-packaged bagels from Lenders are about an inch smaller in diameter than the standard ones you buy in a bagel shop, so they may be a bit slight for those looking for a heartier breakfast. Nonetheless, we found the bagel's dimensions to be a perfect fit for making a bacon egg and cheese sandwich. You’ll need to head to the frozen food section to find Lenders plain variety, so it should be noted that if you do decide to go with the brand, these bagels require some thawing first or a quick combo of microwaving, then toasting, before you can dig in.
People who prefer whole grain bagels will love these organic store-bought ones from Dave’s Killer Bread. Featuring 5 supergrains, including millet, barley, rye, wheat and quinoa, these bagels are completely free of the gums and additives found in other pre-packaged whole grain bagels. We were surprised to find that they were just as soft and chewy as all the other plain varieties we tasted for this story, and were very impressed that each one of Dave’s bagels also contains 11 grams of protein. The one caveat we found is that for a bagel that’s labeled "plain," the overall flavor of these actually comes across as very nutty and roasty with distinct cherry notes due to the cherry powder in the ingredient list.
How We Tested
For this taste test, we bought as many store-bought bagel brands that we could find locally at the supermarket and food warehouse delivery apps. (Please bear in mind that we are located in New York City, aka the heart of fresh, local bagel country!) We evaluated each store-bought bagel variety by its appearance, crumb, texture and flavor. In terms of appearance and texture, we were looking for bagels that were golden brown in color and slightly shiny, as well as pleasantly chewy and slightly dense. For flavor, we wanted bagels that tasted very similar to good bread — aka ones that were a little bit yeasty, a little bit salty and had a hint of malt. First, we tasted the bagels plain, then with cream cheese, and lastly, toasted with butter. We may have also made a few too many egg sandwiches… The bagels were also tasted over the course of a few days to confirm initial perceptions and to test whether the products changed in quality over the time period.