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The Best Brownie Mixes
Packaged mixes are convenient, but are any worth making?
Published Feb. 22, 2022.
What You Need To Know
There's nothing like freshly baked brownies. We love baking them from scratch, but we also love the ease and convenience of brownie mixes. With so many products on the market, we wanted to know which one is best. Our lineup included nine nationally available brands—including a reader favorite from Trader Joe's.
Looking for Rich Chocolate Flavor
First and foremost, brownies should be chocolaty, and some brownies in our lineup were more chocolaty than others. They all contained cocoa powder, a common ingredient in chocolate desserts since it’s powdered and has a high proportion of flavorful cocoa solids. All but two brownie mixes included Dutched cocoa, which has been treated with an alkalizing agent that neutralizes the cocoa’s natural acid. Dutched cocoa is darker in color and provides deeper, earthier chocolate notes than nonalkalized cocoa (natural cocoa powder). One brownie mix containing only natural cocoa powder produced light-colored brownies that were a little lacking in chocolate flavor. The other had two additional ingredients, melted chocolate and coffee sprinkles, that helped it taste more chocolaty (more on that later).
Even some of the mixes that contained Dutched cocoa powder produced brownies that didn’t have enough chocolate flavor. Without strong chocolate flavor, these brownies tasted too sweet.
All our favorite brownie mixes got chocolaty boosts from an additional ingredient (or two), including chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, melted chocolate, a blend of cocoa powders, and even coffee sprinkles (see “Why Are Some Brownies More Chocolaty Than Others?”). These ingredients provided impressively strong, chocolate-forward flavor that our tasters loved.
We Like Crackly, Shiny Crusts and Fudgy, Moist Interiors
In general, brownies range from cakey to fudgy in texture. Most of the brownies in our lineup were fudgy, and our tasters loved their moist, chewy textures. However, three of the brownies were disappointing. One was particularly “sticky,” like “taffy.” Another was a touch dry, and the last was almost too moist; tasters found it “a bit gummy.”
The tops of a few of the brownies were crackled, and we loved this textural contrast; the textures of other brownies were more uniform from top to bottom. Over the years we’ve developed many recipes for brownies, and we've learned that sugar, fat, and egg all play a role in achieving this crackled surface. Some of the manufacturers had clearly engineered a crackly, crispy top for their brownies, and we loved it when they did.
Making Boxed Brownies Should Be Simple
There’s one more thing to consider when buying brownie mixes: how convenient they are to make. Th...
Everything We Tested
These brownies hit all the right notes: They were “fudgy,” “moist," "tender," and "chewy," with “great crackly tops.” The supersimple ingredient list includes a blend of two types of Dutched cocoa, including black cocoa powder, which is heavily Dutched and provides intense, deep flavor. This combination of cocoa powders produced a “rich chocolate flavor.”
Tasters were impressed by these “chewy,” “moist” brownies. The pairing of a “crackly top and fudgy middle” offered perfect textural contrast. Even more impressive was the “strong, chocolate-forward” flavor. These brownies contain two types of cocoa powder, Dutched and natural. Plus, unlike any other boxed mix in our lineup, this one came with a packet of chocolate syrup that is meant to be combined with the other ingredients before baking. One taster called these brownies "chocolate heaven."
These brownies were “rich” and “intense,” with “plenty of cocoa.” Small chocolate chips were scattered throughout the brownies, and tasters thought “the pockets of chocolate chips were lovely.” The brownies were slightly on the “cakier side compared to others,” but they remained “tender” and “moist.”
These brownies tasted great, but they required extra effort, including hauling out our stand mixer and melting chocolate chips before swirling the melted chocolate on top of the batter. Although these brownies contain natural cocoa powder, they had “intense chocolate flavor,” likely from the melted semisweet chocolate we swirled on top. It also created a delicate, crispy top layer that we loved. A surprise ingredient, coffee sprinkles (which we learned from the company don’t contain actual coffee but have coffee flavor), brings out the chocolate flavor even more.
Tasters described these brownies as “tender,” with “a nice crackly top and soft interior.” These brownies struck the “perfect balance of chewy and cakey.” To our tasters' disappointment, they were a little light on chocolate flavor. In particular, tasters "missed the bitterness" found in more intensely chocolaty brownies.
While cakier and fluffier than some other brownies in the lineup, these were still moist. They had an attractive, shiny top crust, too. A few tasters commented that there was “not enough chocolate flavor” and that the brownies tasted “sweet rather than deeply chocolaty.”
Recommended with reservations
We loved that these brownies were "very rich" and "chocolate-forward" with a “good depth of chocolate flavor.” But a few tasters found them "stodgy,” “dense,” and “sticky.” They had a “stick-to-your-teeth texture,” said one taster.
Although small chocolate chips were scattered throughout these brownies, they were still “lacking in chocolate flavor.” This mix was one of only two in our lineup that contained natural (rather than Dutched) cocoa powder. The brownies tasted “more like a milk chocolate brownie” and were “not as deeply chocolaty.” We know from previous testings that natural cocoa powder can dry out baked goods, and these brownies were notably dry.
These brownies were "very sweet" and "barely tasted like chocolate." Tasters were disappointed that they “lacked chocolate flavor.” Several tasters also noticed a “chalky” aftertaste. Brownies made from this mix were “soft” and “wet,” too much so for a few tasters, who found them "bordering on gummy.”
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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.
Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.