The Great Mid-Atlantic Potato Chip Throwdown
It all started when I was seven.
Like many kids growing up I had the prerequisite “fat kid” friend. Blessed with absolutely no athleticism and two parents more than willing to nurture a growing interest in Star Wars, Civil War history, and the original Red Alert computer game, this friend provided a welcomed break from my usual posse of little league speed demons and future All-County football players. And while I fondly recall visiting my friend’s house for an afternoon of Super NES, the one thing I most vividly remember and enjoyed about my visits were the chips.
Yes, chips. Potato chips to be exact, and lots of them. Frankly we downed UTZ Sour Cream and Onion chips with the same vivacity as a college kid takes to Red Bull during finals week. I mean we were seriously addicted to the things, and if not for a steady exercise calendar to include “Army Dodge” and “Ghost in the Graveyard” on most nights, I would likely stand before you today two potato chip bags shy of a triple bypass. While I may have been saved from the dark and lonely road of ridiculously excessive potato chip consumption, my love affair with the crunchy snack never quite went away. Knowing this, I recently embarked on a path to settle one of life’s most vexing questions; Which Mid-Atlantic potato chip company makes the best chip?
Why Mid-Atlantic you ask? Well, simple really. A) Because I live in the Mid-Atlantic and B) Because everyone knows the best chip makers can be found between Pennsylvania and Virginia. While I’m sure some Cape Cod purists and Zapps fans are crying blasphemy right about now, please know that I invited these chip makers to be part of the process, yet they did not bother to respond in kind. In fact, only three companies were bold enough to bet their chips against the competition for this experiment in snacking, with Utz, Herr’s, and Route 11 all graciously volunteering to send samples to be tested. The other two companies tested (Martin’s and Lays) did not respond to my attempts to contact them, but because of their availability at my local store were used in this experiment nonetheless. (As a sidenote, should any chip maker feel their company’s product superior to those listed below, feel free to contact us here at GrubGrade to set up ‘alternative’ taste testing. K thanks.) Before we get to the results of our little taste test, let’s take this opportunity to review basic, sixth grade levelish science project report criteria that was used for the evaluation process.
The Set Up
About the Test: Five brands of “regular” style chips were tested; Herr’s, Utz, Martin’s, Lay’s, and Route 11. Each brand was assigned a sample number which corresponded to a key kept hidden from the tasters. It was in effect a “blind” taste test in that none of the tasters (including me) were be able to match the chip being tested at any given point with its maker. Chips were provided in batches of 3-4 chips at a time to testers, who then graded the chips on a scale of 1-10, with “10” being the highest score and “1” being the lowest score. Testers were asked to consider Taste, Texture, and Saltiness while making comments, but ultimately were asked to grade the chip on how good it was overall, and whether or not they would buy it. Because snacking is subject to so many personal biases, I will do my best to highlight specific comments made by the testers on each chip; taking into account that what we felt was a “good chip”, may not be what the rest of the world feels like is a good chip. This is especially important when considering one tester (Kyle), who we will get to in a moment…
About the Tasters: Six individuals took part in this taste test, including myself. Three are male, three are female, and we range from 11-21 in age. There names are as followed: Kyle, Katie, Carol, Maria, Sean, Adam (that’s me). In certain cases I’ve marked Kyle’s grades, just because the little whipper snapper seemed to grade everything higher than the rest of us. I guess anything fried and salted tastes good to an 11 year old, so do try to keep that in mind when reading the results. For the sake of their own coronary health, no old guys were included in this taste test, so do keep that in mind as well.
About the Grades: Each chip was graded on the aforementioned scale of 1-10 along official GrubGrade standards. The six scores were averaged for a final GrubGrade.
Enough with these shenanigans. Let’s do it to it, Lars…
Sample 1: This chip was well enjoyed by everyone in the group. Sean felt it had a “nice texture” and that it was “salty, but not overwhelmingly so.” Maria liked that it had a “good potato flavor” but felt that there was a “little too much salt” for her taste. Katie, Kyle, and myself also felt the chip was a tad bit saltier than most chips, but since we enjoy salt we gave this chip high marks. The consensus was that while these chips were above average in “greasiness” and “saltiness” they nevertheless had the best potato flavor of any chip tested.
Individual Score: 8, 7, 7, 6, 9, 8
Average Score: 7.66 (Good)
Sample 2: The tasters felt like this chip was in the middle of the pack and described it as “average.” We all noticed how it was thinner than Sample #1, with Sean taking umbrage in that it wasn’t as crunchy. Carol liked the fact that it was not as salty as Sample #1, and also liked the “bland” flavor of the chip (note: Carol is my sister, and she refuses to eat red meat which is not cooked anything short of totally burnt to a crisp. I have no idea how we are related sometimes…) I felt like the chip had only moderate Potato flavor, while Katie said that it had less flavor in what she would expect from a potato chip. Kyle thought it didn’t have enough grease.
Individual Scores: 6, 7, 6, 6, 5, 5
Average Score: 5.83 (Medicore)
Sample 3: This chip completely freaking sucked. We’re not even going to mince words here. I felt like it had a funky taste, and would have guessed that it was made from old potatoes in a batch of old oil in some old factory in Flavorlessville, USA. It did have a very strong crunch which saved it in Sean’s mind, but he too felt it was overly greasy with “little” potato flavor. Carol said she admired the crunch but “because it doesn’t taste like anything” she would not buy it. Maria (who is usually very thorough in her analysis) said that it simply tasted “gross and old.”
Individual Scores: 2, 4, 5, 2, 6 (Kyle), 4
Average Score: 4.33 (Poor)
Sample 4: As you probably notice, this is the one chip which actually “looks” different from the others. Likewise it was fairly distinct, and we struggled to even define it as a “Regular” chip because it had almost Kettle-cooked properties. Sean liked how it was “crunchy” but thought it was a little too “oily,” while I appreciated the sturdy and thick crunch but couldn’t handle the total and complete lack of sodium. Carol said she’s “eat it, but not regularly,” although she did like that it had a strong and distinct aftertaste. Maria said it did not taste “like a chip” and that it was “overshadowed by grease,” but she did appreciate the lack of salt. Katie said there wasn’t enough salt but Kyle loved the crunch and flavor, so much so that I gave him that he ended up taking the entire bag home once the results were released.
Individual Scores: 7, 6, 6, 5, 8, 5
Average Score: 6.16 (Average)
Sample 5: This chip had a very good showing and we all agreed it was “what a chip should be.” It was however fairly divisive because of its salt content, which bothered Sean, Carol, and Maria. I liked how salty the chip was and felt like it had the “cleanest” flavor and a good “crispy” crunch, although felt that it lacked a “wow” potato factor. Maria liked how it was not overpowered by grease while Kyle seemed in awe of its ability to “melt in my mouth” (leave it to an 11 year old to describe a chip that way.) Katie felt that the chip had the best flavor of any other chip sampled, and liked the thin, crispiness of the chip.
Individual Scores: 7, 7, 7, 5, 10 (Kyle), 9
Average Score: 7.50 (Good)
The Final Verdict
The Winner: Sample #1. By a hair. And do we ever mean by a hair. So which chip was Sample #1? I guess you’ll just have to wait until Friday, when we match numbers to chip makers and give our final thoughts as to which potato chip reigns supreme!