Serious Eats

Will Gordon Tries the New Slim Jim Flavors

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Despite being a professional editorial type, I consider myself a language libertarian. You want to misuse "literally," overuse "epic," or say the f-word in church? Fine by me. I'm easy. Hell, some of my closest friends "curate" "artisanal" cocktail "programs," so I obviously don't hold obnoxious talk against a body.

But just because I don't make hard and fast word rules doesn't mean I don't have a few strong preferences. One phrase I abhor is "guilty pleasure." I think people are either misusing it or have way too much self-loathing. If you really feel downright guilty about eating Junior Mints for breakfast or watching trashy TV, what emotion do you call upon when you do something legitimately dastardly? But lack of guilt does not have to equal excessive pride, which is to say that while I don't hate myself for loving Slim Jims, I also recognize it's not a particularly strong character trait.

A dear, dear friend gave me a box of 100 in mid-October and they were gone well before the mini-Snickers started rolling in at the end of the month. Then, when feeling returned to my feet in the middle of December, I went to 7-Eleven to see what's up with the new Slim Jim flavors everyone keeps talking about.

I started my testing by reacquainting myself with the Original flavor and comparing it to the 7-Eleven private label version. I don't mind paying $1.19 for a Giant Slim (the nom de meat for the foot-long .97-ouncer), but if I could save a fifth of a buck at a time on the generic rendition I'd be able to buy the Internet and give myself a raise by the end of March.

But no dice there, as the 7-Eleven knockoff isn't half as good. There's none of the satisfying snap you earn by penetrating a Slim Jim (though the Slim Jim's snap isn't what it used to be, either); your teeth meet no resistance before sinking straight into the disconcertingly gray interior.

The 7 Select Snack Stick is no great shakes in the taste department either. Whereas the Original Slim Jim offers a piquant blend of paprika and real animal flesh, the generic one tastes like a bland lunchmeat that I can't quite place. I bet it's pimiento loaf. Yup. I've never had pimiento loaf, but I'm certain it tastes like a 7 Select Snack Stick.

SJ supremacy established and hopes of Internet ownership dashed, I turned next to the Mild, which, as it happens, has no reason to exist. It's not bad by any means, but if the base model Slim Jim's too spicy for you, you have no place in the smoked meat snack game. The mild tastes a bit like a better version of the 7-Eleven joint. I'd never turn down a free one, but I won't pay for it again.

Honey BBQ was up next. This was only available in the 1.94-ounce Monster size, of which I heartily approve, as doubling the foot-long's girth did no disservice to the texture. The Honey BBQ flavor was a disappointment, though. The honey sweetness was very faint and there was no flavor I'd identify as barbecue, just an unpleasant heat in the back of my throat.

Tabasco flavor was much better. I tasted honest-to-goodness hot sauce, and for whatever alchemic reason, the addition of Tabasco makes for a very firm Slim Jim.

Zesty Garlic also displayed an unorthodox texture; it required an almost jerky-like tearing to separate a bite from the stick. The flavor was more garlicky than zesty, so if that's your thing, this is your Jim.

Nacho, sadly, isn't any thinking man's Jim. The cheese flavor is unpleasantly Whizzy and completely lacking in verve. It's like ballpark nacho cheese that's been engineered to reach a specific viscosity, taste be damned, and there's no place for that in the smoked meat snack canon. It's been a week and I'm still pissed. Let's move on.

The Jamaican Style Jerk was a close runner-up to Tabasco. It was complex and spicy, with a strong clove character that makes it an ideal holiday Slim Jim.

Did I miss any flavors? Has anyone tried the Matador brand competition? Am I fired? Talk to me, meat snackers.

About the author: Will Gordon loves life and has made peace with mayonnaise. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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