17 Tips For Baking Homemade Pecan Pie

Let's get this straight: The star of your Thanksgiving table isn't the elaborately dressed turkey or the autumnal centerpiece, it's the pie. Specifically, the intricate, overtly sugary dessert we know and love as pecan pie. 

The first recipe for pecan pie was published in 1898. Besides being delicious, this pie was a source of inspiration for how people could use up the bumper pecan crop. Karo, a longtime manufacturer of corn syrup (one of the main ingredients in the recipe), was among the first companies that started printing the recipe on the back of its bottles. Before long, pecan pie became a Thanksgiving tradition. 

Although pecan pie wins the award for sweetest dessert on the Thanksgiving table, it certainly doesn't win the award for easiest to make. We've collected some of the best tips and tricks for making a delicious pecan pie that is notably complex in flavor and will leave your dinner guests coming back for a second slice. 

Be gentle with your crust

One of the biggest mistakes people make, regardless of the type of pie, is overworking the pie crust. Pie crust is notoriously finicky, so the last thing you'll want to do is upset it. A crust that has been overworked or overhandled won't be as easy to roll out — and it surely won't produce the soft, gentle bite that we all crave from a good pecan pie. 

If your pie slice fights being cut, you've likely ruined your pie crust in its early formation stages. Shaggy dough, meaning that you can see bits of butter throughout, is not only acceptable, it's desired. You should also mix together your flour, fat, salt, and a little bit (emphasis on "a little") of cold water to just bring it together. Too much movement in mixing or rolling will cause the gluten to overdevelop. You can also avoid tense gluten formation by popping your dough in the fridge before rolling, and again after you've shaped it into your pie plate. 

Make your crust with bacon fat

One reason why pecan pie isn't the most popular choice on the Thanksgiving table is that it's just too darn sweet. And while yes, it is a dessert, sometimes its sugary flavor can drown out the others. 

The most important ingredient swap for a bold and smoky pecan pie is in your crust. Instead of using a crust made exclusively with butter, add bacon fat for a savory spin. You'll also get some salty and umami flavor notes and a distraction from the sweetness of the corn syrup. For every 2¼ cups of flour, you'll want to use 8 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of bacon fat. It's important to make sure your bacon fat is chilled and solidified so it can melt in the oven and infuse flavor into your crust. However, resist the urge to add more bacon fat instead of butter; since the butter contains some water, it will produce steam pockets that give the crust its signature layers. 

Parbake your crust before adding filling

There is a ton of back-and-forth on the internet about whether you need to parbake the crust for pecan pie or not. Although it can be time-consuming, this extra step is mandatory for pies with unbaked fillings, like an unbaked cheesecake or soft peanut-butter pie. It can be helpful for pies with particularly wet fillings because it allows the crust to bake and firm up before you spoon in a wet filling. After all, fans of "The Great British Baking Show" will know how disappointing it would be to bake a pie only to have it come out with a dreaded soggy bottom. 

We strongly recommend parbaking your pie crust to avoid this. Once you've made your crust, place it in your pie plate filled with a layer of foil or parchment and dried beans or pie weights. This will help keep the crust in place and prevent it from rising. You won't want to bake the pecan pie crust as long as you would for an unbaked-pie recipe, but you will want to give it enough of a head start to prevent any sogginess. 

Always use fresh pecans

If you've ever taken a bite of pecan pie and noticed that it had a rancid flavor, this was likely caused by nuts that were too old to use for baking. Since these nuts have a high fat content, they tend to have a very short storage life. Shelled pecans, like the big bags you buy at the grocery store, only remain fresh for about three months when kept in a dark, dry place. If you put the nuts in the fridge, you can expect them to be in the clear for about a year.

The best way to make pecans last a long, long time is to freeze them. This is perfect for bakers who use them occasionally, or folks who take advantage of Thanksgiving sales at their local supermarket. Storing the nuts in an airtight container in the freezer will cover you for up to five years, and you can add them directly to the pie while still frozen.

If you do a quick taste test before baking, you can tell if your nuts are usable. If the nuts smell like paint or nail polish remover, or taste bitter, it's time to buy a new bag. It's better to taste one bad nut than to make a whole pie and realize your mistake afterward. 

Toast pecans before adding them to the filling

Pecans have a mealy texture — and this may be one reason why many people are not strong supporters of this dessert. The trick to giving your pecan pie an edge and making it more pleasant to eat is to toast the pecans before adding them to the filling. To do this, spread your pecans (halves or chopped into small pieces, depending on your taste) on a rimmed baking sheet and bake them for 10 to 12 minutes. Stir them once or twice throughout the baking process to encourage them to brown evenly on all sides rather than burn. 

Alternatively, you can also roast your pecans in a skillet on the stove. However, this method can be problematic because the nuts are more likely to burn, and you're going to have to toast them in batches if you want enough nuts for an entire pie. 

Don't automatically use corn syrup

Corn syrup is a fundamental part of pumpkin pie; we won't disagree with that. But there are much better sweeteners that won't impart that overwhelming sweet-and-sticky ingredient.

Pecan pie is much better if you use maple syrup instead. Think of a maple-walnut ice cream made with pecans instead of walnuts. If you go with this sweetener, you'll also want to add a granulated sweetener to thicken it, like brown sugar or coconut sugar. Whisk the sweeteners with the eggs and other ingredients and pour them over your pecans. Is this a healthy swap? Of course not — it's pecan pie, after all. 

If you are set on maintaining tradition and use corn syrup, you're going to want to always opt for the light variety. The dark variety is made with molasses, so it will impart more of a dark color and formidable flavor to your pie.

Amp up the flavor with Coca-Cola

When you sip on a cold can of cola, your first instinct probably isn't to pour it into your pecan pie — but it should be. This fizzy beverage isn't about the carbonation, but rather the sweet caramel base it's made with. The flavor will elevate your pecan pie and impress everyone at your Thanksgiving table.

We recommend using 4 liters of Mexican Coke with ¼ cup of white sugar. The sugar itself is optional, but it will help enhance the flavor of the soda. Once the two ingredients reach a boil on the stove, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. After the syrup has cooled completely, you can use it as a 1-to-1 replacement for corn syrup in your traditional pecan pie recipe. If you want a less DIY option, see if you can locate Coca-Cola syrup from a beverage distributor or online retailer. 

Use chocolate to distract from the sweetness

Chocolate is the ingredient you need to add to your pecan pie to give it the cutting edge. You can add this to your recipe in numerous ways, including in the crust and in the pie filling itself. Our recipe for chocolate-coffee pecan pie uses bittersweet chocolate and instant espresso powder mixed in with the sugar, eggs, and corn syrup to amplify the cocoa notes. 

You can add the chocolate to the bottom of the cooled pie crust after it's been parbaked. This will ensure that you get a little bit of chocolate in every slice without having it become a visual obstruction. As with any pie, after baking you should allocate enough time for it to cool and set before digging into a slice. Otherwise, you'll be faced with a slosh of chocolate and a messy pie. You could also add a drizzle of melted chocolate on top for an added visual effect. 

Add a bit of booze to your filling

Adding alcohol to baked goods can help balance out any overwhelming sweetness — and the same can be said for pecan pie. The pecan pie recipe of Food Network star Ree Drummond has bourbon in every step, including in the filling and the crust. The Pioneer Woman adds ¼ cup of bourbon to the corn-syrup-and-sugar filling concoction; any more may prevent the pie from setting. She also substitutes a tablespoon of water in the pie crust recipe with bourbon. 

Bourbon is the perfect pairing for pecan pie because it has tons of soft caramel notes with a mildly oaky profile. You can also confidently use alcohol in your recipe without worrying about catching a buzz; most of the alcohol cooks off in the oven. But even if the alcohol cooks off, the flavor does not — this is why you should always use a liquor that you enjoy drinking. Plus, you can sip on the leftover libations while your pie is in the oven. 

Use ancho chili powder to bring a savory balance

You'll need some crucial ingredients for baking your pecan pie: pecans, sugar, eggs ... and ancho chili powder. Although it might be a bit unconventional, ancho is the ingredient that will change your pecan pie forever. This spice is made with dried poblano peppers, which provide a bit of back-of-the-mouth heat and a smoky, savory quality. 

Furthermore, adding ancho chili powder to your recipe will also help enhance other add-ins, like chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla extract, or maple syrup. It is essential that you stick to ancho chili powder, because other chili-powder varieties may be mixed with extra seasonings that can easily clash with a pecan pie. While spicy-food fans may be tempted to pile on the ancho chili powder, restrict yourself to only adding about 2 teaspoons of this spice to your pie filling to avoid upsetting the balance of flavors.

Brush the crust with egg before baking

The perfect pecan pie has a beautiful, shiny appearance. If you put your pie in the oven as-is, you'll be left with a dull pie without any color. This is why many bakers add an egg wash to their pies. Moreover, if you only use egg yolks for an egg wash, you can expect to see an even brighter golden hue. Stick with only egg whites, and you can expect your pie to come out of the oven shiny but lacking that beautiful color. To stretch your egg wash a little bit more, you can add a couple of teaspoons of water to the mixture. 

Other non-egg alternatives for washes include melted butter, heavy cream, or oil. Choose one based on the result that you want. For example, these alternative washes with higher fat content tend to have a glossy shine with a darker rather than a golden color. You can also use different animal-free products, like almond milk or coconut milk, to add color to your crust. 

Go for a glass or ceramic pie plate

There are myriad pie plates out there that you can choose to bake with — and just because your great-grandmother used a metal pie plate for her pecan pie doesn't mean you have to. 

The best types of pie dishes for baking pecan pie are the sturdy metal, glass, or ceramic ones. You'll want to steer clear of the cheap disposable aluminum pie plates, since they can rarely withstand the weight of the pie filling. If a disposable container is needed to bring your pie to a gathering, bake the pie in a disposable plate but nestled within a glass or ceramic pie plate while in the oven.

Metal pie plates are rapid conductors of heat and promote browning, and you can purchase them in nonstick varieties for easy cleaning. The drawback of metal cookware, especially the nonstick variety, is that you can't use metal utensils on it without the risk of scratching the surface. So if you want a more durable pie plate, go for a glass or a ceramic one. 

See if your pie is done baking with a jiggle test

Any good baker will know that the time listed on the recipe isn't the gold standard to tell when your treat is finished baking. You'll know your pecan pie is perfectly done when you shake the pie dish and the consistency resembles Jell-O. If you see your pie filling sloshing around like a liquid, you know it's not done and will need to be finished in the oven for a bit longer. 

If you don't trust your visual judgment, use a thermometer. You'll find 200 degrees Fahrenheit is the perfect internal temperature for a well-baked pecan pie filling. The trick is to get the thermometer below the nut layer to get an accurate temperature from the most liquid part of the pie. Once this temperature has been reached, you must pull the pie out of the oven to prevent it from overcooking. 

Keep baking if the filling hasn't set

One of the most challenging parts of baking a pecan pie is determining when to remove it from the oven. If your pecan pie filling didn't set, the best thing you can do is put it back in the oven for a little longer. The visual sloshing on the surface of the pie suggests that the top (and likely the bottom) is not yet baked through. This means that cutting into your pie would yield a soggy bottom and fall-apart-crust (and not in a good way).

To prevent your crust from burning while waiting for the filling to set, you can use a pie shield or aluminum cover on the rim of your pie. This will prevent the edges from burning but will allow the filling of your pie to cook to its fullest potential. If your pie's doneness continues to be an issue, you should check your oven temperature. An insufficiently hot oven means the egg proteins in the filling won't solidify to create the perfect texture. 

Sprinkle the pie with salt after baking

One of the easiest ways to elevate the flavors of your baked foods is to add a sprinkle of salt to the top. Sweet and salty foods taste good together because the salt activates the sweetness receptors on our tongues, which will make your pecan pie taste sweeter than it actually is. Flaked sea salt can also provide a welcome crunchiness in a sea of mealy nuts.

You're going to want to add salt to your pecan pie during several steps of preparation — including in the filling, mixed into the crust, and on top of the pie right after you pull it from the oven. Flaked sea salt has the best texture out of all the salt varieties, so we recommend using it solely for the finishing stage. When making the pie filling, you can use cheaper and more accessible table salt instead. 

Serve pecan pie with delicious pairings

You've gone so far to get your pie to a perfectly baked state with a balance of sweetness and other flavors — so why would you waste the opportunity to pair it with something that isn't truly remarkable? 

Vanilla ice cream is a classic pairing for pecan pie, but it's far from the only ice cream flavor you can add. Pecan pie tastes excellent with spicy ginger ice cream too, since the spice can balance out some of the sweetness from the filling. You can also add a scoop of chocolate ice cream, since the cocoa notes will easily balance out some of the flavors in the filling. 

If you're going with the lighter option of whipped cream, you shouldn't just reach for the standard Reddi-wip. Elevate whipped cream by adding a spoonful of sour cream; the extra fat will help it hold its shape and generate the perfect creamy texture. 

Store pecan pie in plastic wrap

Pies are best eaten the day they're baked — there's no arguing with that. But if you need to store your pecan pie, you should turn to plastic wrap. After pulling your pie from the oven, always leave it on the counter at room temperature to allow the filling to adequately cool and set. Then wrap the entire surface in plastic wrap, including the pie plate, and you can refrigerate it for up to four days. It's important to refrigerate pecan pie because the filling contains eggs, which are perishable. 

You'll notice that after refrigerating, the pie will inevitably lose some crispiness in the crust. You can try to revive that by taking out a slice and placing it at room temperature to gradually warm up. Then, heat the pie in the oven (or air fryer) at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. And if all else fails, slather each slice with ice cream, and you won't know the difference.