I'd like to apologize in advance: I'm going to upset a few of you right now. I'd also like to say, right out of the gate, that the brand mentioned in this post did not sponsor this post. They don't even know how much I appreciate their work. But I've made a discovery and now there's now going back -- the truth is that Utz's Carolina BBQ chips are the world's most perfect potato chip.
Until I discovered them, my favorite potato chip flavor was a tie between sour cream & onion and salt & vinegar. I had no particular brand allegiance, although I will say that there is a very soft spot in my heart for Lay's Cheddar & Sour Cream Ruffles. I drifted along in this world for decades eating chip after chip, feeling pleased but never quite satisfied. That is, until I took a road trip to North Carolina. I've waxed (probably a little too) poetic about my particular affinity for Southern food before, but this trip, in February of 2011 really solidified things. We drove the long way, down the coast from New Jersey through Delaware, under and over the Chesapeake Bay and down into Virginia. We hit a certain point and things... changed.
The air was warmer. The cashiers were friendlier. The word "Dixie" made appearances on signs (which, yikes) and we saw our first "Boiled Peanuts Here" advertisement. This was not the Northeast, we had made it somewhere else. We stopped for a Slurpee in a 7-11, a treat I only indulge in during the warmest parts of spring and summer. But here, in the South, in February, it felt kind of like spring. I perused the chip aisle hoping to find something we'd never eaten before, and there they were. Powder blue bag, bright red chips, Utz Carolina BBQ.
Carolina-style barbecue is vinegar-based. There is no sweet Kansas City-style BBQ sauce, no Memphis mustard relish, none of whatever they put on their beef barbecue in Texas. Vinegar, smoke, the occasional chile. In that spirit, Carolina BBQ chips taste like what I expect would happen if the salt & vinegar flavor powder and the BBQ flavor powder accidentally got mixed up in the Utz factory. (Dear Utz, if that is how this happened, please tell me. I really want to know.) The chips themselves, in Utz tradition are crispy but not oily, light but substantial. These chips marry sweet, salty and sour. They are perfect, they should never change and they should never go away.
Upon our return from the Carolinas, we all panicked -- where would we find Carolina BBQ chips? We'd never seen them before. Were they so regionally specific that they were only carried in the south? I discovered, with great pleasure, that a few delis in New York carried them. Also, if you've never seen them and are starting to panic that you never will, you can order them directly from Utz. I'm sure other potato chip makers must be disappointed to hear that they will never be better than second place. To those chip-makers I will say this: invent a chip that actually tastes like a grilled cheese and tomato soup, and maybe things will look up for you.