Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Chip Off the Old Block

For Superman, it's Kryptonite: For me, it's always been crisps, AKA potato chips. Equal parts salty and crispy, chips are the perfect snack for munching on the road, or at home in front of the TV. We decided to see whose chips were best... and worst; and have the following to report...

7-Select Fiery Hot: I've never been on fire before; but I imagine it has to be on par with the feeling you get while consuming 7-Eleven's seriously Fiery Hot chips. Insanely hot, they're fun to eat; and once you get used to the heat, ultimately delicious. They're also gorgeous to look at, and a steal at $.99 for a 2.5 oz. bag. The 24-hour convenience store does it again!

Grade: B

7-Select Fiery Hot

Cape Cod Kettle Cooked: I remember Cape Cod chips from the '80s, and they're even better now. Salty, crunchy and super fresh, it may be the best tasting plain chip on the market. Hard to find, but when you do (Giant Food, $1.09/1.875 oz. bag) they're worth double the price.

Grade: B+

Cape Cod Kettle Cooked

"Dirty" Mesquite BBQ Potato Chips: Extra yummy, but darn pricey ($1.59 for a 2 oz. bag.) That said, you get what you pay for; and Dirty's kettle cooked chips are well worth the extra coinage, especially Mesquite BBQ... one of the best tasting barbecue flavors on the market. Tempted to grade higher, but cost is a factor. On taste alone, close to an A-.

Grade: B

"Dirty" Mesquite BBQ Potato Chips

Gold Emblem Crinkle Cut: CVS' "house brand" is a knockout of deal at $2.57 for a large 11 oz. bag; but on sale for $1.88? Get outta here! Savings aside, these crisps are average at best (when it comes to taste.) Most chips are well-sized and great for dipping; but be careful to avoid way too many burned ones. Way too many? Try dozens: It's enough to ruin an entire bag. That said, it's a great deal (especially if you're not picky about taste.)

Grade: C+

Gold Emblem Crinkle Cut

Grandma Utz's: Lard & salt. Not the healthiest duo, but it's hard to argue with the results. Grandma Utz makes a mean chip... crispy, salty and tremendously tasty. Utz's best chip by a wide margin, and one of my all-time favorites. $1.59 for a 3.25 oz. mid-size bag.

Grade: B+

Grandma Utz's

Hawaiian Mango Habanero: Hard to find (World Market) but very tasty & exciting. They're crunchy (kettle style) and the mix of mango (sweet) & habanero (spicy) grabs your attention from the very first bite. After all, they're inspired by Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire... What did you expect? I used to buy the Luau BBQ on a regular basis, a few years back... Nice to have something new to munch on.

Grade: B+

Hawaiian Mango Habanero

Herr's Lattice Cut: Kettle Cooked with Sea Salt, Herr's Lattice Cut chips are heavy on saltiness and extra crunchy. In fact, these could be the crunchiest chips on the market. A touch greasy, it's hard not to love 'em. $.99 for a 1.875 oz. bag at Walgreens.

Grade: B

Herr's Lattice Cut Kettle Cooked

Kettle Brand Maple Bacon: Already home to one of my favorite chips (Spicy Thai) Kettle Brand adds Maple Bacon to the mix with surprising results. I say surprising, because Maple Bacon screams breakfast, not potato chip. Smoky, bacon flavor is far from overwhelming, and downright delicious when coupled with Kettle's unrivaled crunch. Also, look for a hint of chili pepper... just enough to give it a welcome heat. $2.99 for a 5 oz. bag at Whole Foods.

Grade: B

Kettle Brand Maple Bacon

Lay's Garden Tomato & Basil: Doesn't pack quite the punch as I remember; but these are definitely the best Lay's has to offer. No one can eat just one? I managed to empty the 1 7/8 oz. bag ($1.09) with no problem. Nice & light, with a unique flavor profile.

Grade: B-

Lay's Garden Tomato & Basil

Lay's Stax Mesquite Barbeque: Lay's 5 1/2 oz. can beats Pringles at protecting its chips; but we found their Mesquite Barbeque dull and flavorless. Good crisp and dynamite price ($.99 on sale at CVS) but I still prefer their bagged offerings (especially their Garden Tomato & Basil.)

Grade: C+ (The price is right... Taste? Average at best.)

Lay's Stax Mesquite Barbeque

Miss Vickie's Jalapeño: Yet another branch of the Frito Lay chain, Miss Vickie is one hot tamale! Her Jalapeño chips are kettle cooked and really crunchy. I like to think of them as the extreme chip: You might think of them as extremely good. Either way, we're talking about a very tasty crisp. Available at Quiznos, Subway and select grocers.

Grade: B

Miss Vickie's Jalapeño

Munchos Potato Crisps: Is there a more interesting chip out there? We think not, and with good reason. For starters, the Frito Lay spinoff is incredibly light, yet crispy. It's also the only chip that literally melts in your mouth. Close to the best, and available just about anywhere.

Grade: B+

Munchos Potato Crisps

Nathan's Honey Mustard Crinkle Fries: Not a potato chip per se; but they're sold alongside 'em, so... Great crunch, and they certainly taste like honey mustard (sweet and tangy.) Also nice and light: The cotton candy of chips. 2 oz. bags are hard to find (I got mine at an Exxon gas station.)

Grade: B-

Nathan's Honey Mustard Crinkle Fries

Popchips Thai Sweet Chili: Dynamite texture with the subtle taste of Thai Chili. I'm a big fan of popped (over baked and fried) and it sure doesn't hurt that it's void of artificial flavors, cholesterol, preservatives, and saturated/trans fats. Also available in 10 other flavors including Chili Lime & Jalapeño. $.99 for a .8 oz bag at Yes! Organic.

Grade: B

Popchips Thai Sweet Chili

Pringles Original: Used to be nice & salty; but now... blah. Other flavors (Barbecue, Reduced Fat) are even worse. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. OK, if you can find 'em on sale; but I ponied up $1.99 for a 5.68 oz. can.

Grade: D

Pringles Original

Route 11 Barbeque: Great crunch, but its distinctive barbeque flavor takes some getting used to: Once you do, it's almost impossible to stop eating 'em. I can't wait to try their Mama Zuma's Revenge (best name ever) but it's hard to find. 2 oz. bags available at Firehook Bakery and select outlets.

Grade: B

Route 11 Barbeque

Snikiddy Hot & Spicy Baked Fries: What a delicious surprise! 50% less fat than regular potato chips and great taste? Sold! One of the milder hot & spicy versions out there, I found them incredibly light and plenty zesty. Only $1.99 (on sale) for a generous 4.5 oz. bag at Yes! Organic.

Grade: A-

Terra Zesty Tomato: A full serving of vegetables in every ounce. Terra's scrumptious exotic vegetable crisps could single-handedly end the debate over "eating your veggies." Their Zesty Tomato (Tomato, Worcestershire and Celery) tastes great, without much of the grease and saltiness you find in regular chips. P.S. They also look great on your plate. Price varies, but I got mine on sale ($2.99) at Yes! Organic.

Grade: B

Terra Zesty Tomato

Tim's Jalapeño Cascade Style: The bag says "HOT!" and I suggest taking them at their word. Tim's Jalapeño chips are wonderfully crunchy with some serious heat. Hard to find, I tracked them down at Safeway on Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda (8 oz. bag on sale for $3.) Available in six flavors, including Vlasic® Dill Pickle (the latest addition to my culinary bucket list.)

Grade: B

Tim's Jalapeño Cascade Style

Utz Bar-B-Q: Utz pours on the Bar-B-Q, more than any of its competition: Their ripple-cuts are even better. Light in texture, but heavy on flavor... You can grab an 1 oz. bag at Giant for just $.35!

Grade: B

Utz Bar-B-Q

Utz "The Crab Chip": Dressed in Chesapeake Bay Crab Seasoning, Utz' Crab Chips are zesty and Hanover, PA fresh. A fixture in the DC area, Utz scores extra points with their unconditional money-back guarantee. $.99 for a 1 7/8 oz. bag, available everywhere.

Grade: B-

Utz "The Crab Chip"

Walkers Sensations Thai Sweet Chili: The best chip in the world. Period. This UK import isn't easy to get your hands on (I order them by the case... 32x 40g bags via Gourmet Solutions, Tel: (202) 258-6393) but it's worth the extra effort. Not only is it the crispiest chip I've ever tried, it's also the most flavorful. Chili, onion & herbs combine for a burst of flavor, you won't soon forget. Also, the most consistent: Each and every chip is as good as the last.

Grade: A+

Walkers Sensations Thai Sweet Chili

Zapp's New Orleans Kettle Style Regular: "The Big Easy" never tasted so... bland. Perfect crunch, and void of grease... I still couldn't help but yearn for flavors like Hotter 'N Hot Jalapeño, Sweet Creole Onion and Voodoo Heat. A 5 oz. bag sets you back $2.29 at Safeway.

Grade: C

Zapp's New Orleans Kettle Style Regular