Even at their worst, kettle chips are a near-perfect snack. It's hard to go wrong with thin slices of potato fried to a crisp and doused in salt, and kettle chips, which are fried in small batches to facilitate greater control of oil temperature to optimize texture and flavor. The kettle cooking approach takes these perfect guilty treats to a new level of, um, perfection and guilt.
Perhaps because there's so much to like about potato chips in general, it was difficult to pick a favorite variety out of 17 brands, a task made harder by the wide variety of salt, texture, and flavor preferences among tasters.
The Brands We Tried
* Special thanks to JerzeeTomato who sent us a box full of Gibble's chips all the way from Pennsylvania, and Nasty Bits columnist Chichi Wang, who proved her love of lard by searching high and low for Grandma Utz's.
A panel of nine Serious Eaters participated in a double-blind taste test, ranking each chip on a scale of one to five in three categories:
A score of five didn't indicate that a chip was extremely salty or extremely potatoey, but rather that it was perfectly seasoned with a well-calibrated potato flavor. Space was also provided for comments next to each ranking.
After the tasting, the brands were revealed and the panel debated their relative strengths and merits. Scores were tallied in a spreadsheet, and comments were analyzed in a totally expert and scientific manner (read: I picked the pithiest).
Most Classic Kettle Chip
Due to the high degree of variance in scoring among the tasting panel and the polarizing nature of some brands, it was impossible to pick an overall favorite. One chip, however, stood out as a crowd-pleaser, with few detractors and many comments that noted its classic, pleasing taste and texture. This brand of chip, which wins the coveted title of "Most Classic Kettle Chip", is Madhouse Munchies, a small, Vermont-based company founded in 1996.
Tasters praised this chip's "good balance" and "clean potato finish." One taster called it "the conventional pick." While this was our most popular chip, It didn't win as many raves as some more unusual options.