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Capers

We love the briny, vegetal flavor and subtle crunch of capers. Which product is best?

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Winner

Reese Non Pareil Capers

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What We Learned

Capers are one of the test kitchen's favorite stealthy ingredients. Both salty and lightly acidic, these small buds make the butter and lemon sing in chicken piccata and highlight the nutty, sweet garlic flavor in pasta puttanesca. Once opened, a jar of capers can last in the refrigerator for months, which makes them a convenient ingredient for weeknight cooking. We often stir whole capers into dishes or sprinkle a handful over a finished dish. Although they're most closely associated with Mediterranean cuisine, they're used in other culinary traditions, too. Capers appear in English cookbooks from as far back as the 17th century.

Most American supermarkets sell capers in multiple styles and sizes. Capers packed in salt are especially tender and often have a wider range of delicate flavors, but they must be repeatedly rinsed before use, and their nuanced flavors are easily overshadowed in recipes. For everyday cooking, we like the convenience of brined capers. In previous tastings, we also determined that we prefer a small size known as nonpareil. To find out which brined nonpareil caper is best, we purchased six products and sampled them plain and cooked in our Chicken Piccata.

The Challenge of Cultivating Capers

These tiny green spheres are actually flower buds harvested from a spiny shrub (Capparis spinosa) that thrives in the hot, dry climate of countries such as Italy, Turkey, and Spain. If left on the bush, the germinated flowers grow into caper berries. When pickled, they're edible, too, but their large size and crunchy seeds make them better suited for an antipasto plate than for cooking.

The flowering process happens quickly and repeatedly. All the buds are hand-picked and then sorted by size with sieves or screens. After they're harvested, more buds appear, which are ready for harvest in 10 to 12 days.

However, capers are notoriously difficult to cultivate. As a result, most capers—even those harvested for commercial processing—are wild. “The caper industry is still in its infancy,” explained Brian Noone, a horticulturist and the author of the book Capers: From Wild Harvest to Gourmet Food (2016). Having spent the past two decades attempting to cultivate capers, he's well aware of the challenges. Noone told us that only about 30 to 40 percent of caper bushes grown from seed “produce a decent harvest,” meaning one bush might yield 2 pounds in a single harvest while another might produce just 2 ounces. On top of that unpredictability, capers are difficult to harvest; the bushes grow low to the ground, sprawl out in lots of narrow shoots, and often have painful thorns.

What Do Capers Taste Like?

You wouldn't want to eat ...

Everything We Tested

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*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.

Reviews you can trust

The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.

Kate Shannon

Kate is Deputy Editor of ATK Reviews. She attended BU's culinary program and has worked as a cheesemonger and line cook.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.