I Drive Across State Lines for the Perfect $2 Potato Chips
Despite being a longtime food writer and daughter of a chef, I’m typically hesitant to call myself an “expert” on any particular food. Experienced, yes, but an ultimate authority? Oof — that sounds like a lot.
However, there’s one category of food I know I’m an unquestionable connoisseur of: potato chips. More specifically, sour cream and onion potato chips.
For years, I’ve been on an active quest for the perfect sour cream and onion chip. My favorites have changed over time. I remember sneaking pricey bags of tangy, ultra-thin chips into my room, like Claudia Kishi and her candy stash. In college, back before they distributed to the Deep South, my mom would ship me cases of a Pennsylvanian sweet chip with a powdery finish. I’ve had my flings with sturdy and too salty ridged chips, and even invented a grease-drying technique for a beloved kettle chip so I could savor its deep potato flavor and skull-echoing crunch.
On top of the national brands, I’ve eaten hundreds of bags of local, regional, and international formulas and have journaled and rated my findings simply for posterity.
I continue my research now (for science, of course!), and in 2019, thanks to a 99-cent special to support a regional supermarket’s store-brand launch, I found ShopRite’s Bowl & Basket Sour Cream & Onion Potato Chips. This absolutely near-perfect sour cream and onion potato chip is so consistently good that I drive 900 miles each way to hoard them in my home in Atlanta. Allow me to explain.
What’s So Great About Bowl & Basket Sour Cream & Onion Potato Chips?
No amount of superlatives can accurately describe the joy I find in the perfection these chips have honed literally down to the millimeter. To start, they’re a smidge thicker than the average thin-cut potato chip. This detail is incredibly important, as it creates a heartier crunch and a deeper potato flavor that shines through the seasoning. It also means a stronger resistance to breakage, resulting in the highest consistently full-sized chips-to-bits ratio I’ve ever encountered.
Yet they’re not too thick.
I’ve had chips before where I actually feared for my teeth, but these are not hard to bite through at all. They obligingly snap off with crisp edges and minimal crumb for tidy bites.
This is due to the potato slices also being properly dried before frying, and sealed with (based on the ingredients list) cornstarch to pull out any excess liquid. (You can tell because bubbles in french fries or, in this case, potato chips are caused by water evaporation in the tuber itself. Meanwhile, the striking majority of these chips are smooth, wide, and flat.)
They’re also gorgeously golden, pointing to a consistently flawless fry. It’s immediately apparent that these sliced taters are cooked in a well-rotated blend of canola, corn, and sunflower oil, which are naturally light and neutral in both hue and taste. Never have they ever had any trace of rancidity, but the more immediate giveaway is the perfect butter-yellow coloring of every chip. Overly reused (aka “broken”) oil creates darker coloring, as particles from earlier batches latch on to the next.
Sure, some Bowl & Basket chips may have hints of caramel color, adding subtle, pleasant roasted hints; those are due to the product of the natural sugar distribution of the potato, which forces a faster Maillard reaction in applicable areas or rings. What I rarely see, though, are eyes, green spots, or any other irregularities that some might consider eyesores.
It’s also clear they’re dropped into fryers with extreme timing precision — not a minute too soon, nor late. The telltale sign? They’re never, ever oil-logged. You know that icky feeling when cold oil gets released across your tongue as you crunch into a chip? That’s what happens when crisps are thrown in too early, before the oil gets hot enough. But if you wait too long and the oil gets too hot, they burn. These are always just right: dry to the touch, covered in flavorful powder, but not powdery or gummy, as can happen with other brands’ chips. This occurs when molecular structures break down due to absorbed grease, which equals a softer, less pleasant texture. Bowl & Basket’s, however, stay snappy longer.
Then there’s the flavor itself, which is *chef’s kiss.* It is the absolute pinnacle, which is not a universal truth across all the brand’s chip varieties. These chips practically sparkle with green flecks of parsley and possibly scallion, glittering salt, and umami-enhancing MSG.
Together, it’s a fine dusting of big, bold seasoning, a proprietary blend that truly commits fearlessly to the sour and tangy flavor one hopes for in sour cream and onion chips. The acid hits you hard, a knockout when one-twoed with the sassy pungency of its titular ingredients. It then soothes you nicely with the slightly sweet finish of raw onion and the creamy richness of nonfat dry milk, whey, and sour cream. However, it’s easy to go back for a concentrated flavor burst — you’ll find it on your fingers, but not excessively.
The only thing excessive about them is the quantity I buy when I visit family in my native New York, just to drive them nearly a thousand miles south to my home in Georgia.
Because, as I’d mentioned, Bowl & Basket is the recently launched store brand of Edison, NJ-based ShopRite. It’s from this state that the products are distributed to 280 locations. But they don’t go far enough; ShopRite stores are only found in six states: New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.
Why can’t I find them at a different retailer, under a different store brand closer to home, you might ask? Here’s the kicker: The chips themselves are products of Canada, which means they’re processed and produced there, leaving no comparable, guessable American brand manufacturer. There’s no telling at all what company is churning out this sunbeam yellow perfection. And that’s why you won’t find any junk in my car’s trunk — just bags and bags of these chips, lovingly packed to travel.
What’s the Best Way to Use Bowl & Basket Sour Cream & Onion Potato Chips?
A lot of people are into the viral omelet hack seen on The Bear. Other smart folks, including Bobby Flay, like to put chips directly into their burgers. This also translates well to sandwiches; I find it an especially good addition to tuna salad sandwiches — the sour cream and onion flavor complements the dill I mix in with my mayo, and offers an extra layer of crunch to the salad’s celery and red onion.
But ultimately, my favorite way to savor them is poured into an enormous bowl meant for salad (potatoes and onions are vegetables!), working my way up from smaller pieces to the perfection of the oversized whole chips, all while I stay up entirely too late binge-watching whatever show is my flavor of the month. No matter what the latter is, Bowl & Basket Sour Cream & Onion potato chips is always on my “Saved Favorites” list.
Buy: Bowl & Basket Sour Cream & Onion Potato Chips, $2.14 for 8 ounces at ShopRite
What groceries are you going to great lengths to get? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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