At SE World HQ there are invariably any number of snacking choices available any time day or night. A couple of weeks ago I came bounding up to the big butcher-block island that sits in the middle of the editors' room and came across these:
There were two tubes of the recently released Lay's Stax All-American Cheeseburger potato crisps. One had been opened, but when I asked around nobody but Robyn would admit to having tried them. Robyn, in fact, sheepishly confessed to liking them, though she wasn't sure why. I invited Carey to join me in my All-American Cheeseburger crisp repast, and she demurred.
Yup, I was on my own, so I fearlessly opened the tube and proceeded where no man (at least) in the office had gone before me: to eating an All-American Cheeseburger crisp. And damn it, what a fine All-American Cheeseburger crisp it was: salty, crunchy, well-seasoned with a reddish-orange tinned array of dried spices. I had one, then another, and finally a third before it hit me like a ton of bricks—or perhaps I should say a ton of Big Macs or Quarter Pounders—that these crisps tasted exactly like a regular single McDonald's cheeseburger. The more I ate (and yes, I finished the rest of that first tube in a matter of minutes), the more clear the flavor comparison was. There was mustard, ketchup or tomato, dill pickle, something cheese-y, onion, and somewhere, buried deep in this surprisingly felicitous flavor combination, something resembling beef.
Armed with this cosmic realization and the second tube of All-American Cheeseburger crisps, Robyn and I set out for the nearest McDonald's to test my thesis.
Five minutes later we arrived at the McDonald's in Manhattan's Chinatown, tube of said crisps in hand. I wanted to put a trail of All-American Cheeseburger crisps on the sidewalk leading to the McDonald's, but Robyn convinced me they would be stepped on and turned to dust before she could snap a photo.
We ordered six McDonald's single cheeseburgers and found an empty table with enough room to conduct our experiment in peace. We discussed which I should eat first, the crisp or the cheeseburger itself. It was sort of a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" moment. But in this case there was no doubt the McDonald's cheeseburger came first, so that's what my initial bite came from. Then I had an All-American Cheeseburger Crisp. The flavor profiles were identical. It was as if I were eating a dehydrated McDonald's cheeseburger from an Army ration. I alternated between bites of the cheeseburger and eating crisps until the cheeseburger was all gone, just to make sure my taste buds weren't playing tricks on me.
We took the rest of the crisps and the five cheeseburgers back to the office and had a couple of staffers conduct the same experiment. They all agreed with me, but maybe they were just agreeing with the overlord because they thought it was smart office politics to do so.
Two questions remained:
Did the folks creating the All-American Cheeseburger crisps just say to their flavor scientists, "Here's a McDonald's cheeseburger. I want you to replicate it in crisp form?" I realized that even if they did, they wouldn't fess up. So I leave it up to you, Serious Eaters, to conduct your own tasting experiment to draw your own conclusions. And please do let me know the results, as I am more than a little curious.
Which did I prefer? I can't decide. One is crunchy and crisp, the other is (comparatively) moist and tender. Maybe the answer lies in using the crisps as another topping for the cheeseburger. Ahh, that's my next experiment.
Note: Lay's Stax All-American Cheeseburger Potato Crisps are currently only available at Walmart, suggested retail price of $1.25.
About the author: Ed Levine is the founder of Serious Eats.