by Danielle Centoni
Danielle Centoni is a James Beard Award-winning food writer, editor, recipe developer, and cookbook author based in Portland, Oregon. Her latest cookbook is "Fried Rice: 50 Ways to Stir Up The World's Favorite Grain."
updated Jun 7, 2022
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I usually don’t give too much thought to potato chips. After all, aren’t they all pretty much the same? Nope! Although all potato chips are good (I mean, they’re salt, fat, and carbs in crispy form, how could they not be?), some brands have figured out how to achieve greatness. I should know because I recently spent a week tasting more than three-dozen different bags.
You see, with summer picnics and backyard barbecues on the horizon, my family and I decided it was high time to find out if there was truly one particular potato chip that was better than all the rest. So I rounded up nearly every brand I could find, in a wide range of categories, and set myself and a group of (socially distanced) discerning tasters to the important task of eating every single one.Turns out there are many, many brands of potato chips out there, even when you’re looking at just plain ol’ salted chips.
How We Selected and Tested the Potato Chips
There are also tons of different textural potato chip iterations — we’re talking wavy, kettle-cooked, stacked, puffed, baked, and classic. I bought every single bag of plain potato chips I could find (at a few different stores, which I was headed to anyway). I then divided them into categories that made sense: baked, classic, kettle, etc.
We had so many chips, it took several days for my official team of testers to taste through them all. Palate fatigue is a very real issue when consuming high quantities of salt and fat. To combat this, we’d taste through one category, pick the top three, and taste those again the next day to confirm the winner.It’ll probably be a while before I crave potato chips again, but for the rest of you, here are the stand-outs.
Best Classic Potato Chip: Better Made Original
We’re not sure what their secret is, but this 90-year-old Detroit brand makes potato chips that are so incredibly thin and light, that it’s almost like eating crisped air. And yet, somehow, the flavor of these chips is more potato-y than some thicker-cut brands we tried. They’re magic, and definitely worth seeking out online, as they’re not available in all parts of the country. Luckily our runnerup in the Classic category is more widely available: Trader Joe’s Ode to the Classic Chip was perfectly seasoned, wonderfully thin and crisp, and a really solid choice.Of course, iconic Lay’s didn’t disappoint, but they were much saltier than the other options (which you may like, depending on your tastebuds!).
Buy: Better Made Original, $3.19 for 10 ounces at Target
Best Kettle-Style Potato Chip: Kettle Brand Potato Chips Sea Salt
Clearly, the U.S. loves its kettle potato chips. (This was the biggest category we tasted, with 13 options in the mix.) Some brands we tried were either too thick, too hard, too greasy, or lacking flavor, but Kettle Brand offered the kettle-chip platonic ideal. The chips were robust but with a great shattering crispness. The flavor was robust and potato-y and they were well-salted but not over-the-top and not overly greasy. Trader Joe’s Dark Russet Kettle Cooked Potato Chips were also a fave, but in a class by themselves. These chips are cooked for so long they turn brown, which seems to enhance the earthy flavor and caramelize the natural sugars, resulting in something akin to sweet potato chips, but not.
Buy: Kettle Chips Sea Salt, $2.47 for 5 ounces at Thrive Market
The Best Wavy Potato Chip: Better Made Krinkle Cut
When you think of wavy chips you probably think of Ruffles. At least I do. But from now on I’ll be thinking about these magical chips from Detroit, Michigan. They’re not available everywhere, but they should be. These chips offered a deeper, hearty, russet potato flavor that none of the other chips had. But as earthy as they tasted, the texture was incredibly light and airy. And the aftertaste was reminiscent of mashed potatoes, rather than grease. What’s not to love? Our second choice was the more easily available Boulder Canyon, made with avocado oil, which gave the chips a rich, buttery flavor.
Buy: Better Made Special Krinkle Cut Potato Chips, $3.19 for 10 ounces at Target
Best Baked Potato Chips: Ruffles Baked Original
Baked chips have that “better for you” health halo and, sadly, a slight “something delicious is missing” kind of flavor. While I’m usually not a fan, I can see their purpose. Ruffles Baked Original chips have 70 percent less fat than regular chips — clocking in at 120 calories and 3 grams of fat per 1 ounce, compared to 10 grams of fat in their regular counterpart. But the fat content isn’t the only thing that’s different. Among all the baked chips we tried, we couldn’t help but notice a slight “cereal-like” taste. With this in mind, if you want a salty, thin, and crispy chip analog without all the fat content, Baked Ruffles should hit the spot. These had a good crunch and slightly more savory flavor profile than other baked versions we tasted.
Buy: Ruffles Baked Original, $3.99 for 6.25 ounces at Target
Best Low-Salt Potato Chips: Lay’s Lightly Salted
With 50 percent less salt than regular chips, we expected to be underwhelmed by this category. Turns out, the chips we tried were all deliciously seasoned, which goes to show just how aggressively salty most regular potato chips can be. The Lay’s Lightly Salted (with 65 milligrams of sodium versus 170) were a standout for their classic, well-seasoned potato chip flavor and thin, light crunch. If you love Classic Lay’s, you’ll love these. In fact, I now prefer these to Classic Lay’s because they were plenty salty as is. However, if you have to follow a no-salt diet, look for Better Made brand No-Salt-Added chips. They were too under-seasoned for us, but their super-thin, light and crispy texture was exceptional.
Buy: Lay’s Lightly Salted, $3.99 for 7.75 ounces at Target
Best Puffed Potato Chip: Lay’s Poppables Sea Salt
If you’re craving a potato chip that has a little more dimension to it, a puffed version is the way to go. Lay’s Poppables hit the spot for their fun, toss-in-your-mouth shape, akin to Chex Mix. The best way to describe this innovation is imagine that your favorite potato chip grew up and married popcorn. The flavor reminded us a bit of Funyuns, but without the onion powder — a glorious mash-up of salty, savory, and a little bit sweet.
Buy: Lay’s Poppables Sea Salt, $3.99 for 5 ounces at Target
Best Tube of Potato Chips: The Good Crisp Classic Original
Stacked chips, with their robust yet airy crunch and forever interesting processed flavor and texture, are their own special beast. Pringles owns the category, but we couldn’t help but fall for the underdog here. The Good Crisp chips capture the depth and earthiness of baked potatoes and potato skins, which made them a fan favorite. They have a satisfying crunch, thanks to palm oil (which the company sources sustainably).
Buy: The Good Crisp Original, $6.98 for 5.6 ounces at Thrive Market
Did your favorite potato chip make the list? Tell us about it in the comments below.