Over the last year and change, my family has gotten used to the fact that when we go to the grocery store, at some point I’m going to veer off to search a random aisle for new products to review. Sometimes there’s nothing, but last week turned up a variety of options to choose from. That is, until I came across Ruffles Smokehouse Style BBQ chips… then there was no choice at all. Railroads in Monopoly don’t get purchased as quickly as I bought that bag.
The fact is, I love ribs, and I used to have a favorite rib joint that my in-laws introduced me to. (Not the only reason they’re the best in-laws in the world, but certainly top three.) This place had more styles of ribs than you can imagine — baby back, St. Louis style spare ribs, Bourbon Street, South Carolina honey, Cajun, Texas beef short ribs, sesame garlic — and they were all excellent. Worth every inch of the 15 mile drive. But then last year they suddenly closed when the government bought out the land they were situated on, with no plans to reopen elsewhere. Damn the Man!
So I’ve been deprived of good ribs for over a year now. New Year’s Eve came and went without our traditional feast, and it hurt. And when it’s been that long, well… sometimes anything even vaguely associated with what you’re missing starts to look good. Veronica Mars may be gone forever, but Kristen Bell’s latest romantic comedy can’t be that bad, right? (Right?) I knew no potato chip could ever replace our departed rib joint, but like a lonely man in Amsterdam, I was easy prey for the chips’ siren call. Part of that is the packaging, which prominently displays a succulent, well-seasoned rack of ribs, but the rest is my innate suggestibility, because apparently some tiny part of me truly believed there were actual ribs in there. (P.S.- There are not.)
Still, that doesn’t mean the product is doomed to failure. As you might expect, opening the package wafts a strong smell toward your nostrils. Even after having consumed most of the bag, there’s still a noticeable but not overpowering scent. It’s a slightly spicy aroma, though you’d never mistake it for the smell from an actual order of ribs. (Shame, because I would absolutely buy rib-scented air freshener, and you know you would too.) Appearance-wise, they just look like regular Ruffles that someone has coated in typical barbecue chip spices. I’m considering writing to Ruffles and suggesting they include one actual cow bone in every bag, because you just like to have something to gnaw on when you’re done eating, you know? But that’s another story.
But when you actually taste one, it’s hard to get past the fact that it tastes like: a barbecue chip. No less and not much more. There’s perhaps some minor variation from your “average” barbecue chip — these just might be a shade smoother with not quite as much sharp aftertaste, and at times I thought I detected a hint of smokiness — but then again, maybe not. It would take a more discerning palate than mine to draw a clear distinction between these and any other BBQ chips you’ve eaten. Naming them “smokehouse style” is a good marketing tool, as is the picture of ribs on the bag, but a more honest name might’ve been “Basically Just Some Barbecue Chips (with ridges).” Now I happen to like barbecue chips, so that’s not the end of the world. But if you entertained a vague hope that these would in some way approximate a true rib-eating experience, well… sorry that you’re as naive or desperate as me.
In the end, it’s as true of rib joints as it is of life: something great, once lost, can never be recaptured. You can wander around New Jersey all you want (and I have), you’re never going to find Wellsville. But of course, you never really expected to — your brain knew all along what your heart won’t accept. So you can either content yourself with the journey and your ridged barbecue chips, or you can keep looking for another fantastic rib shack. Me, I’m going to continue the search. But in the meantime, Ruffles Smokehouse Style BBQ flavored potato chips are an unremarkable but steadfast companion to have along for the ride.
(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz/about 11 chips – 160 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 170 milligrams of sodium, 210 milligrams of potassium, 15 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 2 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)
Item: Ruffles Smokehouse Style BBQ Potato Chips
Size: 9 ounces
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Ridged for your pleasure. Tantalizing packaging. Smell is appealing but not overly spicy. Rib-scented air freshener. As far as BBQ chips go, they’re pretty good ones. Obscure Pete & Pete references for the mf’ing WIN.
Cons: Be honest, they’re just barbecue chips. The government stealing the rib man’s land. Deceptive packaging. Hard to tell if they’re actually any smokier than any other barbecue chip. Why is Kristen Bell not out there solving crimes? That’s a lot of calories and fat per chip.