I'll just come right out and say it: Lay's messed up on their BLT chips. They are perennial overachievers in chip flavoring class (we all know the magic they work with Nacho Cheese Doritos), but they goofed. It happens to the best of us. What promised to taste like this:
...actually tastes like bacon, mayonnaise, and little else*. Big deal, right? It's a just a chip, you say. Well, the big deal is that they screwed the pooch on replicating one of the best tasting sandwiches known to man.
According to official polls, a BLT is the favorite sandwich of 4 out of 5 people who have a mouth. If you're like me, tasting a Lay's BLT for the first time left you reeling from a mix of raw emotions. I had questions. Should I be angry? Was it something I said? Wait, is Lay's mad at me? When my head finally stopped spinning, I took pause and reflected on all of the times that I'd hit a bump in the road or a low point and Lay's chips had been there for me.
*They list Natural Lettuce Type Flavor and Tomato Powder in the ingredients but they were lost on my tongue.
Where did I turn during that grade school summer vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine, when I decided to wear jean shorts (Top Gun-style) to the beach and got badly chafed? Lay's. My source of comfort in eighth grade when my lack of singing, dancing, and acting ability held me back from the seminal role of Daddy Warbucks in Annie? Lay's. When I got invasive jaw surgery and braces during college? Lay's*.
*Reality Check: The whole jaw being wired shut/liquid diet sort of precluded chip eating, but I know they were in the wings.
Dear Lays: through disappointments, broken hearts and bones, and lost jobs, you've been a friend. I've got you got covered on this one...I will fix your BLT chips.
Mission in hand, I jumped into action. I wrangled up two of my favorite hipsters, Rebeccah Marsters and Ashley Moore (both of America's Test Kitchen fame):
And set about finding a combination of other snack chips and crackers that could be consumed in tandem with a Lay's BLT chip to make them truly taste like their namesake. Crazy? Yes. Just crazy enough to work? Um, probably not. Important research that would benefit generations to come? Absolutely.
In a real BLT, lettuce provides a lot of obvious texture and moisture, but take it out of the equation and you also lose a fresh, green flavor. Tomato provides both sweetness and acidity, and is key to balancing the richness of bacon and mayonnaise. Bread tastes like bread and let's you know it's a sandwich, not a salad you're chowing on.
If these calculations were correct I needed lettuce, tomato, and bread flavors to bring these chips into balance. With this in mind, I bought chips and crackers in three main categories: tomato/lettuce/veggie, wheat/grain, and crossover (chips that displayed characteristics of both categories).
Lays Garden Tomato & Basil
Nature's Promise Veggie Sticks (Tomato, Spinach, and Potato)
Kettle Brand Parmesan and Sundried Tomato
Rice Works Salsa Fresca
The Wheat Ones
Sun Chips Original
Snyder's Pretzel Sticks
Carr's Table Water Crackers
Wheat Thin's Original
Sun Chips Garden Salsa
Roasted Vegetable Ritz
Wheat Thins Garden Valley Veggie
Wheat Thins Sundried Tomato and Basil
Triscuit Fire-Roasted Tomato and Olive Oil
Tasting and Testing
We first tasted every chip on its own and made tasting notes. Was the tomato flavor fresh enough? Was the wheaty flavor clean and sweet like white bread, or hearty like multigrain? Any hints of fresh green flavor that could mimic lettuce? We then sampled a BLT chip with each option, and then finally combinations of up to four chips. A lot of the tomato-y chips and crackers promised fresh, tangy flavor but turned out to be more marinara than caprese.
Equally challenging was finding a wheat based snack that provided that familiar white-bread sweetness we want from a good BLT. We persevered, and now, without further ado, I present to you the winning combination.
Real BLT Chips
2 Lay's BLT chips
1/2 Sun Chips Garden Salsa
1/2 Nature's Promise Spinach Veggie Stick
1/2 Ritz Cracker
So, as you can see it's a bit of a mouthful.
And you'll need to buy a few different chips to make it. And you'll probably never try it. But I'm okay with that. Today on my porch I gathered with friends around an unhealthy quantity of chips and crackers and, in my own small way, paid tribute to one of the chip greats. This one's for you Lay's.
About the author: Dan is an associate editor of Cook's Illustrated and an on-screen test cook for America's Test Kitchen. Dan cut his culinary teeth as a young apprentice in rural Hungary, and has the paprika-stained gut to prove it. He likes food, he likes science, and he likes you. Follow him on Twitter @testcook.