In the northeastern corner of South Dakota sits a small city, bisected by US Highway 212, called Clark. It's home to about a thousand people and appears on satellite maps as a postage stamp-size grid of streets set against an expansive green and tan quilt. There in Clark, amongst fertile potato fields and prized hunting grounds, 12 dedicated people make some of the best potato chips I've ever tasted, under a brand called Dakota Style. They've been doing God's chip work since 1985 but I tried them for the first time this past weekend. And I'm very upset about the lost time.
If not for my good buddy (and real South Dakotan) Nick Iverson, I'd still be ignorant of Dakota Style chips. Thank you, Nick. Now, I wish to be your Nick Iverson and introduce you to the charming world of Dakota Style.
The company advertises the chips as "Industrial Strength" and goes on to explain their production process:
"Dakota Style potato chips are sliced extra thick. Then we open kettle cook them in cottonseed oil to toughen 'em up. By the time we're through, you could shingle your roof with these son-of-a-guns."
The running joke on the Dakota Style website is that the chips are tough. Really tough. Fans are even encouraged to send in testimonials about other uses they've found for the sturdy spuds. Some current anecdotes liken them to ice scrapers, poker chips, and indoor mini frisbees.
So, are they thick as cardboard and hard as nails? Not even close. They are, in my mind, just perfectly executed kettle chips: hard at first blush but quick to shatter, never giving the impression of toughness. In fact, they register as a bit more delicate than Kettle Brand chips, which I find to be more resilient, with a harder crunch. Dakota Style chips retain a thin layer of fry oil (a good thing) which acts like glue for the maker's liberal use of salt and seasonings.
Aggressively seasoned, attractively gnarled, and perfectly fried. I love these chips.
Salt and Vinegar
These are brash, salty, and easily in the top 5 percent of their chip class.
I'm starting to think that I might just not be a big BBQ chip guy. These are arguably a nice example of the genre, featuring a balance of sweet, spice, and clear mesquite smoke, but for me they land squarely at the bottom of this (albeit stellar) group.
You don't see a ton of honey mustard chips and one bite of these really makes you wonder why that is. We're not talking spicy Dijon here, but rather the yellow hot dog stuff plus a touch of sweetness.
Easily the best jalapeño chip I've ever had (true, I haven't tried all that many) with lots of grassy green pepper flavor up front and subtle heat on the back end.
I didn't get to try their Salt & Pepper, Spicy Ranch, Sour Cream & Cheddar Cheese, or Dill Pickle flavors but based on this experience I'm just going to assume they are all good to absolutely delicious. Dakota Style sell their chips online and seem to ship to most any place that there are people. These are real chips that you can eat, folks. Make it so.
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.