I’m a Pro Baker and I Taste-Tested 7 Boxed Cake Mixes—Here Are My Favorites

The winner was also the cheapest!

Boxed cake mixes on top of cake

Simply Recipes

Boxed cake mixes have been around since the 1930s. That’s close to 100 years of research and technology behind them to ensure they never fail and always taste delicious—just one of the many reasons every home baker should rely on boxed cake mixes to bake cakes. I’m a professional baker and I always keep them stocked in my pantry. This surprises some folks, but just because I can bake an amazing cake from scratch doesn’t mean that I always want to. Sometimes a store-bought cake mix will do. Plus, as a busy parent, I appreciate that my kids can use a cake mix to bake cupcakes on a whim with minimal supervision.

Typically, I buy whatever box catches my eye (a.k.a. what’s on sale). But recently a friend asked for recommendations and I was stumped. I had never paid close attention to brand names, prices, or whether I’d like the baked cake. So I set out to figure out which boxed cake mix reigns supreme.

How I Chose the Boxed Cake Mixes

As a proper millennial would, I took to Instagram to poll my followers about their favorite brands and flavors of boxed cake mix. Vanilla cake was a clear winner because it’s nostalgic and delicious, and it can easily be turned into different flavors like lemon or funfetti with a little lemon zest or sprinkles. Chocolate was a close second, but I stuck to taste-testing vanilla only.

Almost all legacy brands that can be found at my local grocery store, like Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury, were mentioned, so I tested all of them. There were a few less well-known brands, including two gluten-free options, that I had to order online, mostly through Amazon Prime. When you want cake, who can wait 5 to 7 business days for shipping?

The 7 Boxed Cake Mixes We Tested 

We tested seven boxed vanilla cake mixes—two of them were gluten-free. As a lover of side-by-side comparison, I baked all of the cakes on the same day following the instructions on the boxes. For the five classic (not gluten-free) cake mixes, I baked two boxes each—in a quarter sheet pan and in standard cupcake liners. Both of the gluten-free options yielded smaller cakes. Each baked one 9-inch round cake—the classic cake mixes yield two 9-inch round cakes. 

I called on my family and invited our neighbors to stop by after school to help with the taste test. They agreed with the promise of wine and time for the kids to jump on the trampoline afterwards.

Here’s the list of cake mixes we tested:

Boxed cake test

Simply Recipes / Meghan Splawn

My Top Pick is Also The Cheapest 

Kids are biased against cakes that brown unevenly, sink or slump, and crumble when cut into. I think it’s less about aesthetics and more about fairness—they want everyone’s slices to be exactly the same size. Two of the classic cake mixes, Pillsbury and Betty Crocker, hit the mark for the kids. They each rose and browned evenly in both cake and cupcake form. Neither crumbled nor cracked when cut, giving us perfectly shaped squares straight out of the cake pans.

As a professional baker, I too was impressed with the crumb on both the Pillsbury and Betty Crocker cakes, but Betty Crocker has a more even texture, better flavor, and is more moist. The big bonus for me is that Betty Crocker is the cheapest cake mix we tested—just $1.65 a box. That's why Betty Crocker is the clear winner.

Our Favorite Gluten-Free Cake Mix

I can’t overstate how impressed we were with Pamela’s gluten-free cake mix. If we didn’t already know it's gluten-free, we would not have been able to tell the difference. Plus, it baked up as beautifully as the Betty Crocker cake mix, although it was a little drier. Nothing a heavy hand of frosting can’t fix!

Dress Up Your Boxed Vanilla Cake Mix

One of the perks of keeping a simple vanilla cake mix on hand is that you can easily upgrade it—I have lots of easy tricks for how to make a basic cake mix taste homemade. You can dress the cake up with a cup of rainbow sprinkles and a teaspoon of almond extract in the batter to make funfetti cake. You can also top it with a crumb coating—this crumb recipe is amazing—for a quick coffee cake.