What are kettle chips and what makes them different from regular potato chips? I wish the answer was that kettle chips are made from secretly-grown government potatoes deep in an underground bunker. But the reality is that just a few changes in the cooking process turns that light crisp of your run-of-the-mill chip into a Kettle Chip Power Crunch (actual scientific description).
What does “kettle cooked” mean?
The term kettle cooked refers to the vessel in which the chips are fried. Long ago, before the invention of mass production, if you wanted potato chips you’d have to go out in the yard, dig up a few spuds, slice them up, and then toss them in a kettle of hot oil. Then, you’d take them out, let them drain, and do it again.
Every time you add a new batch of sliced potatoes to the oil, the temperature drops, which results in a longer cook time than non-kettle-cooked potato chips (more on that later). More time cooking means the starch in the potatoes has more time to break down, which results in that crunchy chip that’s thick as a brick—apologies for using all these science terms. The extra time in the oil also creates a caramelized flavor which famed scientist Carl Sagan once called “the good brown taste.” (Please don’t fact check me on this.)
While kettle-cooked chips harken back to the old-timey days of Gram-Gram cooking on a wood-burning stove, they have only been commercially produced since the mid-20th century. There’s a strong tradition of kettle-cooked chips in Maui—unfortunately the O.G. producer of chips from the island closed at the end of 2022. However, mainland snack producers took inspiration from these pioneers and now most major snack brands have a kettle chip variety.
Don’t be fooled by the name though; the quaint idea of “small batch” cooking doesn’t have the same meaning for Frito-Lay as it does for the at-home chip maker. They are still producing on a massive scale; they just happen to maintain that distinct kettle taste and texture.
Kettle chips vs potato chips—what’s the difference?
Even at first glance, the difference between kettle chips and potato chips is obvious; classic potato chips can barely stand up to a strong wind, while some kettle chips can drive a nail into drywall. Some of this is due to how thin the potato is cut, but a lot of that difference in density comes from the style of cooking.
Kettle chips, as we spoke about earlier, are cooked in batches. Conversely, traditional potato chips are made using “continuous process” cooking. In the spirit of capitalism, some potato scientist said, “Hey, why don’t we figure out how to keep our potato chip machines on for 24-hours?” So he did it by ratcheting up the heat of the oil and giving the chips an equivalent of a two-minute military shower, followed by a quickend drying process. Less cooking equals lighter crisp and more chips produced and boatloads of more money. The name of that potato scientist who figured this out? Carl Sagan. (Seriously, don’t fact check me.)
What are the best kettle chips?
Today, your local chip aisle is overwhelmed with choices and the kettle chip varieties often outnumber the regular chips. So it might be hard to distinguish which ones are the right ones for you. Well, Sporked is here to rescue you. Check out “The 10 Best Kettle Chip Flavors, an Extra Crunchy Ranking” on the website. Or, you can even get recommendations from our very own internet daddies, Rhett & Link. And just remember: When you’re saying your prayers at night, look up into the stars and be grateful for Carl Sagan and his wonderful contributions to Potato Science. He absolutely will respond to you. (Did you fact check me? You can’t trust what you don’t see on the internet.)
Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!
I found this article very interesting and informative, especially the part about how kettle chips have a longer cook time, resulting in a unique texture and flavor. I’m wondering what other types of potato chips are out there?