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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell | Design: The Kitchn

We Tried 4 Famous Lasagna Recipes and the Winner Blew the Competition Away

published Nov 8, 2021
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When I was growing up, I remember requesting lasagna for dinner more than any other dish. My mom’s recipe came from the back of the Prince dry lasagna noodles box, a brand that was (and still is!) a staple in New England homes. I’m not sure why, but instead of keeping the cutout recipe in her recipe box, she taped it neatly to the back of one of our kitchen cabinets. Every time I’d open that cabinet door, I’d see the bright-blue cardboard cutout and instantly crave the dish. It was hardly a fancy affair — just jarred sauce enhanced with ground beef, layers of ricotta, and shredded mozzarella — but it didn’t matter, because lasagna is pure comfort food.

With such fond childhood memories, I was eager to find the ultimate lasagna recipe to make for my own family. It needed to be hearty but also silky and decadent, with layers that melted into each other without overpowering one another. To find my perfect lasagna, I battled off four of the most well-loved recipes in a side-by-side taste test Garfield would most definitely approve of. Not only did I come away with a recipe I’ve now indoctrinated into my family, but I also learned some surprising tips and tricks along the way.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Meet Our 4 Lasagna Contenders

Lasagna comes in all shapes and sizes, but for this battle I wanted to stick with Italian-American lasagna, which is the style I grew up eating. In Italy, classic Lasagne alla Bolognese is made with layers of fresh pasta, Bolognese sauce, and bechamel sauce. Italian-American lasagna, however, typically means dry noodles, a simple meat sauce or marinara, and multiple types of cheese instead of bechamel (a combination of ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan is standard). The very best Italian-American version is what I was after in this showdown.

I chose four recipes that each took a unique approach to this type of lasagna. Allrecipes’ version, by John Chandler, featured layers of pasta, ground beef sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan and had an overwhelmingly positive five-star rating and over 13,000 reviews. Martha Stewart’s recipe also included the classic components, but featured a unique technique for preparing the noodles. I’ve always viewed Giada de Laurentiis as a trusted source for both Italian and Italian-American recipes, so I knew I had to include her recipe (I was also interested in her addition of spinach). I rounded it out with Ina Garten’s recipe, which swapped the beef for turkey.

How I Tested the Lasagna Recipes

I fed my neighbors and then some with all these lasagnas, but before I handed out leftovers, my family and I sampled all four lasagnas on one Sunday evening for dinner. To be sure, I also saved large slices of each to all try again for lunch the next day because lasagna on day two is often better than on day one. The ultimate lasagna, in my opinion, should be incredible both days.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

1. The Biggest Letdown: Giada de Laurentiis’ Classic Italian Lasagna

I’ve looked to Giada as a trusted source for Italian recipes ever since I started getting into cooking. I went in confident her recipe wouldn’t fail me — but unfortunately, it did. It was incredibly time-consuming and the time spent wasn’t worth it.

There’s just too much going on here. The recipe is a fusion of traditional Italian lasagna, which uses bechamel sauce, and Italian-American lasagna, which typically uses ricotta and mozzarella cheese instead. Giada’s use of all three made for a lasagna that was just too decadent. The ground beef and noodles got lost among all the cheese and tomato cream sauce, and while a layer of spinach lent color, it couldn’t save it. Add to this greasy puddles of butter on top of the finished lasagna, and the results were something I won’t be making again.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

2. The Taste of My Childhood: Martha Stewart’s Lasagna with Meat Sauce

Martha Stewart’s lasagna features a technique I’m a big fan of — she skips the fuss of boiling the dry noodles ahead of time and instead layers them in dry. They aren’t no-boil noodles, but rather the regular ones you’re usually instructed to pre-cook. When layered with lots of sauce and cheese, tightly covered with foil, and baked, they’ll actually cook right in the oven (it’s the same technique I use in my own easy lasagna recipe). This takes longer than starting with boiled noodles but it saves you prep time, which makes it the preferred method in my book.

This simple lasagna tasted a whole lot like the one I grew up eating, with layers of meat sauce made with ground beef and just the right amount of cheese. If the winner and runner-up didn’t surpass what my childhood lasagna tasted like, this one would have probably won. However, there are better recipes out there.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

3. The Time-Consuming Recipe (Mostly) Worth the Effort: Allrecipes’ World’s Best Lasagna

It’s rare that a recipe that claims to be the “World’s Best” actually comes close, but this one, by John Chandler, really did. The richly flavored meat sauce was studded with a mix of ground beef and sausage and the pasta layers didn’t get lost among the creamy, melty ricotta and mozzarella cheese.

Where it fell short was how long it took to prepare. The recipe states upfront that it’s time-consuming and it absolutely is. You’ll need about two full hours to make the sauce from scratch before you can even start on the other lasagna components. The dry lasagna noodles also need to be pre-boiled, which adds time and another pot. If you break up the steps or you go into this recipe knowing it will take the better half of the afternoon, you’ll no doubt be rewarded.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

4. The Clear (and Surprising!) Frontrunner: Ina Garten’s Turkey Lasagna

While Ina has fared well in many of our past recipe showdowns, I wasn’t totally sure how I would feel about her lasagna. Was her use of turkey instead of beef just a health gimmick? Add to that the fact that her recipe calls for goat cheese, which seemed completely unnecessary to add to the mix of ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan, and I had my doubts.

But at the end of the day, Ina totally proved me wrong. Her meat sauce isn’t just made with turkey, it’s made with turkey sausage, so it’s incredibly flavor-packed and juicy. The goat cheese mingled beautifully with the other cheeses and lent a subtle tangy note that brightened the lasagna. Her surprise trick of soaking the dry lasagna noodles rather than pre-cooking or layering them in dry is what really sealed the deal here. It didn’t add any more time onto the recipe, the lasagna cooked efficiently, and the resulting layers were silky and perfect. Truly, I can’t wait to make this again.

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: We Tested 4 Famous Lasagna Recipes and the Winner Blew Us Away