Thick and crunchy kettle chips versus the traditional thin and crispy variety: We held a potato chip battle royale to find the best products on the market.
Published Aug. 1, 2018. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 12: Aloha State Favorites
Potato chips were invented in America and remain one of the country's favorite snacks. Last year, we spent $7.3 billion on them—considerably more than we spent on pretzels, corn chips, or popcorn. So which potato chip is the best? A few years ago, we decided that it was thick, salty kettle-cooked chips, but behind the scenes, the debate raged on. We decided to settle it the only way we know how: Resurvey the options and hold a new blind tasting. Using data from a market research firm, we identified nine top-selling, nationally available potato chips and purchased each in its simplest salted flavor. Our lineup included four “regular” chips and five thick “kettle-style” chips, priced from $0.31 to $0.61 per ounce. We focused on one core evaluation: sampling the chips plain. Our tasters rated each chip's flavor, texture, and saltiness, as well as its overall appeal. After forming our rankings, we held an additional test, asking participants to drag the chips through creamy French onion dip and eat them. This helped us gauge the chips' sturdiness and compatibility with thick, flavorful dips.
All the products in our lineup contain just potatoes, oil, and salt, yet there were noticeable flavor and texture differences among them. We knew that processing played a role; to find out more, we spoke with Molly Mancini, the innovation manager for Utz, a Pennsylvania-based snack company that manufactures potato chips in a variety of styles under several brand names, such as Zapp's and Dirty Chips. Like us, she identified two main styles: thin, delicate chips (which she calls “regular”) and thick kettle-style chips.
Making regular potato chips is a fully automated, nonstop process called a “continuous fry.” The potatoes essentially “go from raw to finished chips in one fell swoop,” Mancini said. Raw potatoes are placed on conveyor belts and quickly washed, peeled, sliced, fried, and packaged. Belts even propel the potatoes through the fryers, and there's no stopping to change the oil, which is automatically replenished.
Kettle chips are made similarly, with one big difference: They're fried in batches in big vats. Because they're not propelled through the oil, they must be agitated, either with a rake-like device or with an automatic stirrer, to ensure that they cook evenly and don't clump.
When we looked at our tasting results, we saw a clear pattern. Again and again, tasters described kettle chips as “crunchy” and regular chips as “crispy.” Both terms refer to the sound foods make when you bite into and chew them. Some experts argue that they refer to the same textural ...
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Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.