The 9 Chips That Should Be at Every Summer Barbecue

At long last, barbecue season has arrived. Out here in L.A., very few of us have yards, so we do park hangs. And I’m an absolute freak for park hangs: Friends, family, my dog (Fey), brats, beers, an impromptu Wiffle ball game, and, most of all, chips. Chips are the glue that binds together a good summer barbecue. They attract us like moths to a flame as we huddle around the food table, picking and snacking until Joe finishes grilling some burgers (there’s always a guy named Joe grilling burgers).

But not all chips belong at a barbecue. What are the iconic brands and flavors that must, without a shadow of doubt, be present at any summer outdoor gathering? ? In my opinion, we need some classics. Whether it’s a classic brand or a classic flavor, you have to bring the hits to an outdoor barbecue.

Quick note: My friends and I, while discussing this topic during a Wiffle ball game, agreed that salt and vinegar chips don’t belong. They don’t play well with other foods, monopolizing your taste buds in a way that doesn’t allow you to enjoy the other things you’re eating. Same goes for chips that are too spicy, like Taquis and Paquis and the like, which I love, but are best enjoyed by themselves. At a barbecue, we need team players.

This is my list. Please let me know in the comments if there are any essential summer chips you think I missed.

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Classic Lay’s

lay's classic
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

Starting off simple, but classic Lay’s need to be here. Not only do they carry a delightfully simple flavor and crunch, they also go great on a sandwich. If you’re serving up burgers or barbecue pork on a squishy bun (hopefully Martin’s), some nice, crunchy Lay’s add additional salt and texture. Plain Lay’s are quintessential for a reason.

Doritos Cool Ranch

cool ranch doritos
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Instacart

This may be surprising since I wrote an entire article about how Doritos are not the best ranch-flavored chip. But, look: Not everything is about me. I’m not a people pleaser, per se, but I do like seeing people satisfied and having a good time. That’s what I love about cooking and ranking things for this job. It gives me joy to discover products that I think you will like. Cool Ranch Doritos are a beloved chip, and while I do think plenty of brands sell a better ranch chip, they’re just so iconic. Not liking them puts me in the minority, and I’ll acknowledge that. Spread some joy by bringing these to a barbecue.

Kettle Brand Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper

kettle salt & pepper
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

I don’t think Kettle Salt & Pepper chips are the best flavor of Kettle chips. However, they’re one of the best compliments to barbecued food. They have a distinct, well-seasoned flavor that pairs well with a hot dog, burger, or grilled chicken. They fit perfectly on a compartmented paper plate along with pasta salad, beans, and the like. Sometimes, a chip is just oddly refreshing. That’s what these are. Plus, pretty much everything could use more salt and pepper.

Cape Cod Sweet Mesquite Barbecue

cape cod sweet mesquite
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Target

Insert your favorite BBQ-flavored chip brand here, but I love Cape Cod for their ideal blend of sweet, smoky, and salty. The crunch of a Cape Cod chip is supreme, and the flavor is unmatched. Back in 2017, Rhett & Link declared Lay’s Barbecue to be the best barbecue-flavored snack. I do love a Lay’s Barbecue chip, but the crunchiness of a Cape Cod is too good to pass up (I’m sure we’ll do a BBQ chip taste test soon and get to the bottom of this). Cape Cod Sweet Mesquite remains a solid, if not spectacular, option. Maybe it’s partially the lighthouse and the Cape Cod-ness of the package, but Cape Cod is a summer chip through and through.

Hawaiian Luau Barbecue

hawaiian luau barbecue
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

One of the best chips of all time right here. Mythical Kitchen’s Vianai Austin is always chowing down on these at work. They are the perfect blend of sweet and spicy, with a lasting heat that’s mellow and pleasant. They’re also crunchy, salty, and downright enjoyable. The flavor goes great with barbecue food, and these are best enjoyed outside on a hot summer day. 

Ruffles Cheddar & Sour Cream

ruffles cheddar & sour cream
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Instacart

The best chip for dipping, hands down, is a Ruffles. The sturdy, textured ridges are great at picking up creamy dips and spreads. Now, some people believe only plain chips are for dipping. I am not one of those people. A Cheddar & Sour Cream Ruffle dipped into some onion dip doubles down on flavor and it’s heavenly. I think this chip goes well with ranch and queso, too. Say yes to flavored chips paired with flavored dips.

On the Border Café Style Tortilla Chips

on the border tortilla chips
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Instacart

These ranked number one for us in our tortilla chip taste test. They’re salty, crispy, crunchy, have a mild corn taste, and feel like they came straight out of a deep fryer. These are a crowd pleaser, and the perfect chip for salsa, guacamole, and frankly whatever else you find yourself wanting to stick a chip in. If you haven’t been properly introduced to On the Border Cafe Style Tortilla Chips yet, now’s your chance to boogie. 

Kettle Brand Jalapeño

kettle brand jalapeno
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Instacart

Yeah, another Kettle brand chip. Look, they belong everywhere, and if you don’t believe me, Rhett & Link ranked them their favorite jalapeño snack in their own taste test. A little bit of heat belongs on the picnic table at an outdoor barbecue, and Kettle Jalapeño chips bring just the right amount of heat (with the bonus of fatty, crunchy kettle-cooked chips). I love spice, but for a barbecue, you don’t want to go overly spicy with the chips unless you and 12 of your friends are real freaks. This brand nails it. 

Herr’s Sour Cream & Onion

herr's sour cream & onion
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Target

I go hard for Herr’s chips, so maybe I’m a little biased, but the flavor of Herr’s Sour Cream & Onion chips is undeniable. They have such a strong potato taste, and the sour cream and onion flavor brings a pungent, creamy bite. These classic, tangy chips pair well with just about anything you serve at a barbecue. Plus, the formerly regional chip brand is now being sold all over the U.S., and is readily available here on the West Coast. Go Herr’s or go home (new slogan I came up with—what do you think?).


About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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