Down But Not Out: A Kettle Chip Throwdown Extravaganza
Who says we don’t take listener feedback into account here at GrubGrade? After our last Potato Chip Throwdown, a number of you commented that “regular” style potato chips were so 1980s (or thereabouts) and suggested that a better indicator of chip making prowess would be kettle style chips. Ever hard at work the please you, the readers, I immediately set off in making plans to continue our snack food odyssey, pulling connections and contacting reps from several companies in an effort to procure samples.
And while a busy summer travel schedule has kept me on the road and out of contact with several of our previously featured “all-star” chip taste-tasters, I did have time on a recent family outing to put five major brands of kettle chips to the test with the help of some family members.
The five brands of kettle chips included Lays, Utz, Herr’s, Route 11, and Cape Cod, with the latter chip maker constituting the newcomer to the snack world scene here at GrubGrade. Unlike our last test – which featured blind taste testing – this throwdown featured a more “grab and go” methodology. I decided on this because I felt the hoity-toity officialness of the last throwdown obscured our ability to rate chips, while the “blind” aspect left our taste-testers ‘guessing’ (and in effect, influencing their perception) about which chip was which. Seeing as though eating and rating potato chips shouldn’t be a study in micro-perceptions and the like, I felt like this format was more representative of how any plain old Joe or Jane would normally eat a chip; that is to say right out of the freaking bag.
Enough gibberish. Let’s crank out the results!
Lay’s: The Golden Standard, eh? Not quite, but not bad either. These chips were fairly uniform in size and shape, but had a somewhat weaker crunch than the other chips tested. Personally, I felt as though there was too little salt, although the chip did derive a nice potato flavor on the backend of chewing. My mom thought there was “not a lot of flavor” in these chips, while my sister felt they lacked any “initial flavor.” We were fairly agreed on this one, acknowledging that that the chips were “above average” but nothing to write home about.
Score: 6.00/10.00 (Average)
Utz: Aside from a slightly lighter color, these chips appeared remarkably similar to the Lay’s chips. They displayed an almost iconic “burnt edges” look which peaked my initial interest, but did not come across as any more crunchy than their Lay’s counterparts. The biggest difference between these chips and others tested was the salt content, which is higher than others despite the chips being labeled as having a low sodium number. Personally, I like the saltiness of the chip, which mad up for an otherwise average potato flavor. I did feel as though the peanut oil used to cook these chips helped to compliment this salty flavor, although my mother and sister felt the salt did more hard than good. Like with the Lays chips we agreed that these were good snacking chips, but did not find them exceptional or worth going out of our way for.
Score: 6.33/10.00 (Average)
Route 11: These were actually the exact same chips we tested in the original throwdown, although in our defense we made mention that they are cooked through a kettle process and thus should have been compared to kettle style chips. While they did only decently in our previous throwdown, all testers (including myself) were agreed that these were the best and “purest” tasting chips of the bunch. They exhibited a “harder” and “sturdier” appearance than their rivals, and were darker and “very, very crunchy.” The salt content was almost nonexistent, but what the “Lightly Salted” chips lacked in sodium they more than made up for in what I described as a “genuinely bold potato flavor.” My mom loved the “double and triple folds” of the chips, which she described “deep golden.” Carol, my sister, felt like they were nowhere near as oily as some of the other chips, and liked the “good crunch.” I commented: “It feels like your eating a rich person’s chip.” We all agreed that this “is what a kettle chip should be” and that these chips were clearly a cut above.
Score: 8.66/10.00 (Very Good)
Cape Cod: I had high hopes for these chips after tasting and loving the company’s “Sweet Mesquite Barbeque” flavor, but felt like the “Original Kettle” flavor fell short. The first thing I noticed was that the bag didn’t even smell like chips. In fact, I’m not sure it really smelled like anything. I thought there was a decent crunch in the chips but they lacked the “snap” associated with the Route 11 chips, while a salty flavor seemed to overpower any initial potato flavor which may or may not have existed. My mom thought differently, saying they were “very crispy” and that she liked the “multiple folds” of the chips, but she too felt the concentration of salt was off-putting. My sister loved the “good crunch” but not much else, oddly commenting that the chips “taste like the ocean, which is pretty weird.” I have no idea how to explain this particular notion, although I will add that the Canola Oil used to cook these chips probably didn’t add much in the way of flavor, which is bad news if the chips start out with very little potato flavor to begin with.
Score: 5.66/10.00 (Mediocre)
Herr’s: Oh, sweet Herr’s. A longtime friend of the GrubGrade team and winner of our last challenge, surely the Nottingham, Pennsylvania giant would repeat as our champion in the kettle department, wouldn’t they? Eh, in the words of Lee Corso, ‘not so fast my friend!’ While these chips were “remarkably uniform,” they nevertheless exhibited a high degree of saltiness which even I (a sodium fiend) felt a little overpowering. They had a good, thick bite, but like the Cape Cod chips they left me searching for a definite and robust potato flavor. My mom must have had a better batch, saying that there was some “good flavor” in the chips, but she was turned off by the uniformity of the chips and the lack of “folds.” Likewise, my sister and mom agreed that the chips were “too salty,” with my sister pointing out that they were “not my fave.” (Fave, she tells me, is short for favorite.) In all we agreed these chips were “slightly above average,” but like the Lays and Utz chips they left us wanting more; namely a strong potato presence.
Score: 6.00/10.00 (Average)
Final Impressions: In the end, my family and I felt like a kettle chip should have two main components; an exceptional crunch, and a bold potato taste that should transcend any ‘regular’ style potato chip. While we felt that all the chips were snackable, we were looking for a strong potato flavor and we felt like only one of the brands (Route 11) was able to fully deliver. So the lesson here is pretty simple; enjoy kettle chips when you get the chance, but if you ever find yourself face to face with the hard-to-find Virginia based-brand, buy them all. Immediately.
What is your favorite brand of potato kettle potato chips? We want to hear from you!