The Battle of the Barbecue Chips

Noah K, Writer

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The Second Installment

Previously in this column, I brought you a straight-from-the-heart review expressing my personal opinions and passions concerning the quality of the Target Food Court.  Unfortunately, despite the high praise and accolades this review received for its bluntness and refreshing truthfulness, the good people of Target did not take it so warmly; in fact, they were not the only ones miffed by my blazing assault on their dignity as, in a sudden knee-jerk defensive reaction, the Food Court Union of America has restricted me from producing any further slandering rhetoric concerning their institution.  Tragically, this would illegalize the food review I planned to write on the critically acclaimed authentic Italian sandwich shop “Sbarro” as to this point I have failed to find one not located in a mall food court.  But don’t worry faithful readers, I have something far better than 2 dollar meatball subs to review today. 

For years I have attempted to tackle a key question, always failing to come to a verdict. It directly affects all of our lives, whether you are shopping for that tailgate party or facing an intimidating vending machine array with just one dollar and 25 cents to spend; whether you are making a quick run to a gas station store or struggling to complete that Subway combo meal… The age-old question, the question that drives us all out of bed every morning, searching for an answer, searching for meaning: What is the best barbecue chip?

Now before we can begin to analyze this complex issue, we must identify the scale of quality on which we are assessing these beautified potato slices.  For me, there is only one clear measurement of how good my barbecue chip eating experience is… What percentage of the bag is actually full of chips and not compressed air?  Beyond that, however, I’ve determined “Flavor” and “Crunch Factor” to be the primary axes of barbecue greatness.  And so by combining these three factors (flavor, crunch factor, and most importantly, percent of bag actually filled with chips) I will score 4 top barbecue brands to determine which one truly deserves the title of Supreme Chiptator. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 6.34.26 PMCape Cod Sweet Mesquite Barbecue

While the aesthetic of the “Cape Cod Kettle Cooked Potato Chips” bag certainly inspires some level of confidence as to the quality of the product, it is somewhat dramatically outclassed in size to the average single-serve Lay’s bag often sitting next to it in your average gas station snack aisle, but hey, size doesn’t always matter.  Upon cracking open the bag, I was immediately seized by a strong aroma of barbecue powder and pleased to see that indeed the majority of the bag was actually filled with chips (% Full Score:  7.8/10).  As I began eating, I was impressed by both the optimal sizing of each individual chip and the folded structure resulting in a satisfying multi-layered crunch effect (Crunch Factor Score:  8.4/10).  However, as I reached the lower regions of the bag, I began to experience a somewhat disparaging inconsistency in flavor – one chip doused in seasoning, the next dry to the bone, although each chip generally held up to the “sweet” barbecue tang promised in the label (Flavor Score:  6.2/10).  Overall, a solid product in presentation and quality, but somewhat lacking in the pizzazz I look for when making a 99 cents barbecue chip purchase

Final Score:  (452)

Lay’s BarbecueScreen Shot 2016-02-06 at 6.34.33 PM

A pillar of the chip industry, Lay’s has demonstrated its product quality on a global scale, but how does its barbecue flavor line up against the toughest competition?  Not very well actually.  For starters, I was immediately blasted in the face by a great expanse of compressed air upon opening the bag leaving behind a total of about 15 chips

So it appears that Lay’s afore mentioned superior bag size may be simply a facade to mask the hollow, lifeless product inside.  All talk, no walk.  The chips themselves improved my opinion of this brand little: too thin, too light, nowhere near the density or robustness necessary to achieve that perfect crunching sensation.  Flavor-wise, I would liken them most closely to the Wachusett brand barbecue chips, which any Bancroft student will be all too familiar with.  Take note that Wachusett Barbecue chips did not make it onto this list…just saying Bancroft, just saying.  So, overall, a fairly dissatisfactory

Final Score:  (C-)

Miss Vickie’s Smokehouse BBQScreen Shot 2016-02-06 at 6.34.38 PM

While not as well known as the chip titans Cape Cod or Lay’s, Miss Vickie’s is slowly creeping up the totem pole in many sandwich shop chains in the area.  I found this chip-eating experience quite similar to that of the Cape Cod potato chip: similarly strong chip to bag ratio, similar size, and structure.  These two chips diverge somewhat in flavoring, however, as where Cape Cod chose to emphasize a sweet tang in their barbecue seasoning, Miss Vickie’s puts forth a drier, gritty spice in their chip coating. A possible negative factor in a vacuum, but assuming a reality where you have access to a beverage to compliment your chip eating experience, I think their approach to barbecue flavor works quite well. 

Final Score:  (Silver)

Kettle Backyard BarbecueScreen Shot 2016-02-06 at 6.34.45 PM

Our final contestant struck me immediately with the confidence seeping tagline on their packaging: “great taste…naturally.”  Now to advertise with that slogan, the chip better match the lip, and Kettle delivered.  Now interestingly, upon extensive research, I found that the other brands also cook their potato chips using a kettle, bringing into question the validity of the branding as a means of setting itself apart, but nevertheless, the chip managed to do just that.  Hesitant of flavor shortcomings at first due to the seeming lack of powdered seasoning coating the chips, I was soon resolved of all doubts.  While tracking a similar course of sweet tang as the Cape Cod chip, Kettle, as promised, delivered a natural and robust sweetness without the over-powdering and somewhat artificial nature of Cape Cod’s barbecue.  Additionally, the sizing of each chip was impeccable, not the minuscule, over-folded crumbs you might find in a Cape Cod or Miss Vickie’s bag, but simultaneously not the flat, plate-sized monstrosities you might come across in a Lay’s bag.  It was a textural masterpiece.  While sometimes difficult to find at your average chip retail institution, I have to throw my official recommendation behind Kettle Backyard Barbecue as the optimal Barbecue chip.

Final Score (Yes)

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