Every Chef Boyardee Product, Ranked

Tasting our way through the best and worst canned pasta at the grocery store.

It's been nearly 100 years since Italian-American chef Ettore Boiardi opened a Pennsylvania factory to produce ready-to-cook spaghetti kits that included uncooked pasta, pre-portioned cheese, and his signature spaghetti sauce. Since then, Chef Boyardee has grown into a Conagra-owned grocery store staple, and its canned pastas have offered busy Americans a tasty, affordable culinary respite for decades. Well, mostly tasty. We've done the research, and we have thoughts.

With all due respect to Chef Boyardee (both the man and the brand), what follows is the definitive ranking of all canned Chef Boyardee products currently available at American grocery stores. This was accomplished with a team of three taste testers, evaluating each of the following four attributes on a five-point scale (with any tie going to the more unique product):

  • Flavor: Is there mere blandness, an overwhelming saltiness, or complex, tomato-forward flavor happening here?
  • Texture: Do the noodles fall apart into mush, or can they hold their own in the sauce? Are they fun to chew?
  • Satisfaction: Does this product leave the eater feeling like they just ate a square meal?
  • Repeatability: Would we voluntarily buy this product again to eat in the future?
  • With that, let's get started. There are many cans to pop open.

17. Chicken Alfredo

The fact that Chef Boyardee has crammed a hefty serving of chicken fettuccine Alfredo—a pasta dish typically consisting of noodles, butter, Parmesan, heavy cream, poultry, and spices—into a shelf-stable can is a minor miracle. It would feel a lot more miraculous, however, if it tasted good. The chicken bits are small, tough crumbles sprinkled in among the pasta, leaving behind a gritty, grainy sensation. Where it fails on texture, it also fails on flavor. Our tasting notes included the following query: "How can anything be this flavorless?" (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 1/5)

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16. Micro Beef Ravioli

The Micro Beef Ravioli is a good illustration of how Chef Boyardee lives and dies by its ratios. Micro, by the way, is not the same as "Mini" ravioli—it's smaller still, and a lot is lost in the process of shrinking it down even further. The filling inside each raviolo is virtually nonexistent, to the point that we were forced to scrawl "Where's the beef?" in our notes and then apologize profusely. However, the tomato and meat sauce is distinctly darker, with a more complex sweetness than that of other Boyardee products. We have no complaints there. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2/5)

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15. Mac & Cheese

A Chef Boyardee Mac & Cheese product has to compete with America's foremost brand, Kraft, which is a losing battle to start with—but it doesn't help that this product has little discernible cheese flavor, and that the noodles fall apart a bit more than the platonic ideal of macaroni ought to. The sauce-to-noodle ratio is great, but what does that matter if you can't taste anything in the sauce? At best, this is an inoffensive lunch option. At worst, it's a lost opportunity to beat Kraft at its own game. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2.125/5)

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14. Beef Ravioli in Pasta Sauce

When you think of Chef Boyardee, this is probably the product you're thinking of: the classic Beef Ravioli in Pasta Sauce. Since it's the defining Boyardee canned product, we were surprised to have to rank it so low in the lineup. The flavor comes almost entirely from the sauce, which is has decently sweet and mildly tangy tomato notes—the beef, however, desperately needs salt, or spice, or anything to differentiate it from the doughy noodle that envelopes it. It would be great to get some contrast between the sauce, the meat, and the pasta, but maybe this one-note meal continues to succeed because Americans need a meal they don't have to think about; if that's the case, then this delivers. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2.375/5)

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13. Mini Spaghetti Rings And Meatballs

Chef Boyardee's Mini Spaghetti Rings & Meatballs appear to be an attempt to swipe the crown from SpaghettiOs, which has placed its focus entirely on tiny ring pastas for nearly 60 years. The Boyardee equivalent just doesn't have the bright, sugary sauce that SpaghettiOs fans are trained to search for, and the meatballs here have more of a fall-apart texture than the firm little spheres adorning the Campbell's product. This product ultimately feels skippable, not only because there are better canned pasta rings out there, but because there are better Boyardee products out there, too. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2.46/5)

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12. Cheesy Burger Macaroni

How can you resist a can with all those little floating cheeseburgers dotting the label? We were excited to try this one, but as with the Chicken Alfredo, the grainy meat crumbles put us off a bit, putting us in a mindset to contemplate other weak points, like the slight soupiness of the sauce and the lack of flavor in each bite. Ultimately, this product would make a good blank canvas for some additional condiments: Doctor it up with hot sauce and shredded cheese and you should be good to go. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2.46/5)

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11. Cheese Ravioli

Another classic! Cheese Ravioli in Tomato Sauce—less of a crowdpleaser, more of a crowd-appeaser. Our notes on this product indicate that this ravioli is "alarmingly indistinguishable from the beef ravioli," an appraisal that calls out the blandness of both. Looking at the ingredient label explains a few things: Both cheddar and Romano are present, but all the way down in that "less than 2% of the following" section. We can, at least, give it credit for texture. It's fun to chew through each thick, mushy pillow of pasta, in a nostalgic sort of way. Eating this will probably remind you of being a kid, for better or for worse. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2.5/5)

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10. Mini Ravioli (Beef)

Chef Boyardee's classic Beef Ravioli is okay, but the Mini Ravioli is a clear improvement upon the original. Hilariously, all three taste testers independently noted that the filling has the texture of "paste." That's really the word for it, and yet it's not off-putting, because the mini pastas contain just the right amount of beef before you start thinking too hard about it. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2.71/5)

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9. Beefaroni

What is Beefaroni, you ask? Boyardee describes it as "a bowl of classic comfort—the chef's pasta in tomato and meat sauce," but we'll go ahead and call it "a mixed bag." Texturally, the solid, tubular noodles in this can are the best out of any of the 17 products we tasted, with a firm chew that's super fun to eat. Too bad, then, that those noodles sit in such a thin sauce with barely any discernible meat and a slightly bitter tang. We're considering buying this again, straining out the sauce, and add a jar of something a little more substantial. Could be a fun experiment, at least. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2.75/5)

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8. Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce

One thing this Chef Boyardee tasting frenzy taught us is that these products are not interchangeable—and that goes for the sauce, too. The tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, and meat sauce of various Boyardee products can vary wildly in flavor, texture, and color, and it doesn't get much better than the Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce. It's super sweet, nearly sugary, but in a way that a ripe cherry tomato might taste sugary. (Indeed, there's not quite as much total sugar here as in, say, the Mini Ravioli.) The noodles are also cut to fork-tine size, making this an ideal office lunch. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2.875/5)

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7. Mini ABC’s & 123's With Meatballs

It might seem like the Mini ABC's & 123's with Meatballs are suspiciously similar to the Mini Spaghetti Rings & Meatballs. So why are they so far apart in the rankings? Because with the various shapes and sizes of noodle, the ratio of sauce to pasta is slightly altered, and the proportions are better here. It's not a few thin noodles swimming in sauce, but rather a respectable pile of doughy carbs complementing the blandly sweet sauce, with a few meatballs thrown in for good measure. We would say that there aren't enough meatballs, but in the case of Boyardee meat, it might be better to leave us wanting more. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 2.875/5)

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6. Overstuffed Beef Ravioli in Pasta Sauce

Pop quiz: How many styles of Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli are there? Answer: Four. Classic, Mini, Micro, and Overstuffed, the latter of which is the undisputed king of the canned pastas. The key to this product's success is not the higher ratio of filling in each raviolo. Instead, it's the "Hearty Tomato & Meat Sauce," which is somehow an improvement upon the other ravioli varieties, even though all of their ingredient labels are virtually identical. This is more tomato-forward, lending a crucial bit of personality to the veritable wall of meat encased in each of the pastas. If you're buying canned ravioli, opt for Overstuffed. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 3.125/5)

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5. Mini Spaghetti & Meatballs

This can of Mini Spaghetti & Meatballs improves upon both the Spaghetti Rings and the ABC's & 123's. These silky spaghetti noodles really are the perfect size for amateur pasta eaters, and they're easy to fork up alongside each sturdy little meatball. We'd surely reach for these again—maybe not for dinner, but definitely for lunch. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 3.125/5)

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4. Lasagna

Given our experience with the Chicken Alfredo, we feared that Chef Boyardee Lasagna might be one big, creamy mistake. Thankfully, the brand sidesteps any complications by sticking to what it knows: doughy noodles, chunky tomato sauce, and flecks of meat (no ricotta to speak of). This might be the only Boyardee product in which we can taste the herbs and spices, which is a shame, since all of these entrees contain some amount of onion, garlic, and sea salt. The good proportions of the three main elements here made this taste the most "homemade" of any pasta we sampled—just the work of a diligent novice rather than a seasoned home chef. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 3.67/5)

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3. Spaghetti & Meatballs

Thick. Sauce. That's all it took to vault Spaghetti & Meatballs into the top three among all Chef Boyardee products. A thick, chunky, hearty tomato sauce can cover up a multitude of sins, such as the fact that the entire can contained only five meatballs and boasts significantly more calories per serving than any version of the Beef Ravioli. We're willing to overlook all that just to have some flavor, and from one bite to the next, this product served it up. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 3.83/5)

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2. Pasta in Butter Sauce

Depending on how close your palate remains to your childhood tastes, you might be surprised (or very unsurprised) by how high we ranked Pasta in Butter Sauce. Once microwaved, this product needs to sit out for a few minutes so the sauce can thicken up, otherwise it's unsettlingly thin and runny. By contrast, if you wait too long and the sauce has cooled, its congealed form is less than appetizing. Right in the Goldilocks zone, though, this pasta delivers what no other Chef Boyardee can does: some damn salt. Sometimes, that's exactly the flavor profile we're craving, and this straightforward can of starchy, sweet, salty carbs is a finger-puffing comfort food best eaten in moderation. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 3.875/5)

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1. Mini Pasta Shells & Meatballs

We ate many noodle shapes over the course of this Chef Boyardee tasting: wheels, tubes, spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna, ABC's, 123's, rings, macaroni, and something approximating mostaccioli. Who would've thought that the mini shells would outstrip them all? Each little shell cradled a serving of sauce on the inside, which helped reduce the amount between noodles to maintain a balance of sauce, pasta, and meatball throughout. Our descriptors for this product's flavors and textures included the words "gentle," "attractive," "complementary," and "satisfying," as if the entree had taken notes from its 16 lesser brethren and set out to be the very best dinner-in-a-can it could be. Chef Boyardee products might not be the best pasta you've ever tasted, but they come impressively close to getting the broad strokes right. (TOTAL AVERAGE SCORE: 4.04/5)

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