Who Makes the Best Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O Salad in the ’Burgh?

YaJagoff! will pit local bakers against one another in celebration of National Picnic Day to determine who reigns supreme with this distinctive dessert.
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When John Chamberlin of YaJagoff! thinks of a hefty slice of Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O Salad, he instantly envisions his uncles standing around family picnics indulging in the sweet and salty dish, wearing their knitted Iron City beer beanies, courtesy of Chamberlin’s aunt.

“It’s just part of nostalgia for me,” he adds. “I don’t like cream cheese; this is the only way I’ll eat it. All of my family picnics had it, and it’s living history when I see it.”

The folks at YaJagoff! — Chamberlin and Rachael Rennebeck — are looking for taste-testers to determine who creates the best version of this Pittsburgh picnic treat in celebration of National Picnic Day on April 23.

Beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, April 22, foodies will flock to the rotunda at the Mall at Robinson, 100 Robinson Centre Drive, to taste-test bite size variations of this delicious treat for the second annual Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O Salad Standoff.

Participating vendors include: Kemi’s Kitchen, Shell’s Sweet Treats, Spectrum Fudge, Allianna’s Kitchen, Mary Mac Bakehouse, Aunt Annie’s Pretzels, Chocolate Boutique, Cookie Cookie Ice Cream and Dairy Queen.

What’s even sweeter than the desserts themselves is that the event is free, and each baker has partnered with a local nonprofit. The nonprofit partnered with this year’s winner will receive $500.

“These businesses and nonprofits receive exposure, thanks to our partnership with the mall,” Rennebeck says.

“What’s cool is while we’re having fun, someone else will benefit from it,” Chamberlin adds.

So, what is a Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O Salad? If you’ve never delighted in this concoction of strawberry Jell-O, fresh strawberries, salted pretzels, Cool Whip, cream cheese, butter and sugar, you are definitely missing out. The cool mixture of sweet, salty and tart flavors awakens the taste buds and provides a refreshing end to any meal.

It’s typically served in slices, like a cake. However, Pittsburgh bakers have taken their dishes to the next level with this Yinzer event.

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“I enjoy the event because I like how people interpret it,” Chamberlin says. I am a traditionalist, but I love how people up the ante and interpret it in a certain way. It’s a cooking art, at that point. I love the fact that they call it a salad, honestly, it’s not exactly healthy.”

Mancini’s Bakery claimed victory last year with its Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O Salad Bread. 

“It was such an interesting take on the dish, and they won by a landslide,” Rennebeck notes. “They won’t participate this year, but they will be baking the bread trophy and present it to the winner.”

Both Chamberlin and Rennebeck rave about Mary Mac Bakehouse’s cookie version of the dish.

“People travel from all over just for those cookies,” Rennebeck says. “We give them 10 thumbs up!”

The Jagoffs will broadcast their podcast during the event. Rennebeck suggests getting there early to avoid missing out on the treats; once they’re gone, they’re gone. Each taste-tester will receive one sample each from the participating vendors.

Is the pretzel Jell-O salad really a Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania dish? If you hail from Pittsburgh, there’s no contest in this debate.

“We’ll fight anybody that says it didn’t originate here,” quips Chamberlin. “We’ll arm wrestle, have an eating challenge or do shots. However they want to challenge us, we’ll fight to the ends of the earth!”

Though the Jagoffs enjoy a good pretzel Jell-O salad, neither of them has actually made it themselves. 

“We leave it up to someone else to make it,” Chamberlin adds. “We’re very good taste-testers.”

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