Food & Drink

The Ultimate Guide to Flamin’ Hot Snacks

flamin' hot snacks
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

There’s nothing quite like the artificial red powder that coats fingertips and stains tongues while delivering tingles of heat. Yes, I’m talking about zesty magic that is Flamin’ Hot Cheetos -- a chip that was invented by a Frito-Lay janitor in the ‘90s who was inspired by the Mexican elotes he ate growing up. Since the chip’s ideation, Hot Cheetos have gone on to become one of the most beloved hot chips in the world, and have amassed a large portfolio of other delectable Flamin’ Hot snacks.

Despite the diversity of Flamin’ Hot products available today, including bags of popcorn and rings of Funyun, not all Flamin’ Hot snacks are created equal. Some we barely consider hot, while others lack the mouth-puckering notes of limón. Some are more crunchy than others. And some are actually hot enough to proudly hold the title “Flamin’ Hot.” 

Because there are so many Flamin’ Hot snacks to choose from, we decided to taste every chip available to us -- alongside about 25 Thrillist’s staffers -- and discover which are the most mellow, which have the best crunch, which are most likely to make you salivate, which is the most balanced in flavor, and which holds the title of spiciest. As a staff writer at Thrillist primarily covering food for the past year, including spicy chili oils and every flavor of Talenti ice cream, it only seemed natural to do an overview of my favorite type of chip. Here are our findings so you can find the perfect hot snack that suits you:

flamin' hot products
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Baby steps

This category might as well be named Flamin’ Not because out of all the Flamin’ Hot snacks we tried, these were the lightest in terms of spice level. That doesn’t detract from their greatness; it just means that the snacks in this category are for those who are hesitant about indulging in a chile-fueled chip -- and that’s OK! Baby steps, people. We’ve ordered them from least spicy to mild heat, so indulge in what’s right for your heat tolerance level.

Smartfood Flamin’ Hot
The Smartfood White Cheddar Flamin’ Hot Popcorn is certainly less spicy than the other popcorn, and if that piques your interest then great. Cheese is the forward note here -- spice is an afterthought. White cheddar is a pretty strong flavor in itself, so the dust that you’re accumulating on your fingertips is mostly of the cheese variety, not the cardinal red Flamin’ Hot powder.
 
Doritos Flamin’ Hot Nacho
Similar to the Lay’s Flamin’ Hot, these chips kind of taste like their original form, Nacho Cheese Doritos, but perhaps a bit dustier and redder. They’re certainly cheesy, if that’s what you’re going for, but most comments from our tasters noted that they weren’t different enough from their predecessor. 
 
Ruffles Flamin’ Hot
I was hoping with all the ridges Ruffles have, as they like to remind us, that this variation would pack a lot more heat. Unfortunately for us spice enthusiasts, the tongue-tingling is lacking. One taster noted that it “tastes like sour cream and onion and also bad breath” while another commented that it’s “not hot at all.” The crunch of Ruffles is familiar and present, but if you’re looking for Flamin’ Hot you won’t find it here. Instead, expect a salty ridged potato chip and not much else.
 
Lay’s Flamin’ Hot
These might as well have been regular Lay’s that were sneakily sprinkled with red dye or paprika. The heat level is so low that one taster said, “they just taste like normal Lay’s with a tiny bit of spice.” The key word here is tiny; if you’re obsessed with that oily, potato-flavor that original Lay’s has and want the most miniscule amount of heat, these are for you.
 
Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Popcorn
I genuinely enjoy this Flamin’ Hot Popcorn, which launched earlier this year. It’s one of those snacks that I just keep reaching for, handful after handful. Maybe it’s because the spice is so light; it makes it easier to devour without regrets because I’m not burning my tongue off. “I appreciate the effort here,” one taste tester stated, acknowledging that innovation is important. The popcorn is airy -- not stale -- and has just a touch of that classic Flamin’ Hot flavor. I’d swap these out for movie theater popcorn any day.

flamin' hot cheetos, doritos, and lays
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Most mouth-puckering and best flavor balance

If you’re craving a spicy chip that will truly make you salivate, you’ve come to the right section. These chips have heat, sure, but they also provide more nuanced flavors: bright hits of lime, vinegar from pickles, and measured saltiness. These are the chips for people who don’t want to annihilate their taste buds, but do want to pucker up. 

Lay’s Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle
If you love pickles you’ll love these chips. They’re tart and the scent of dill is fragrant and present. One taste tester referred to these as the “pickleback version of a chip,” which is a great compliment if you love pickleback shots (I do). Although the flavor of vinegar is prominent, it doesn’t overshadow the heat; these chips are equal parts spicy and flavorful. Buy this for the pickle fiend in your life, even if that pickle fiend is you.
 
Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Limón
These are a classic twist on the original Hot Cheetos and one of the earliest spin-offs. The limón flavor is acidic, but partners with the spice well; it’s definitely not as sour as other hot chips on the market (specifically Takis Feugo). Even so, the lime flavor is prominent -- this chip feels like it’s equal parts salty, spicy, and sour.
 
Doritos Flamin’ Hot Limón
If you prefer a triangle of tortilla to the curly corn of Cheetos, then these are the preferable option over the Flamin’ Hot Limón Cheetos. The flavors are almost the same -- bright, sour, salty, spicy -- but the Flamin’ Hot Limon Doritos certainly taste the slightest bit cheesier and have the appealing snap of a typical tortilla chip.

Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch
This is kind of a bonus category. Though these chips didn’t necessarily make our mouths pucker, there was nuance to its flavor -- layers of smoky chipotle, creamy and cooling ranch, and garlicky herbs. It wasn’t overly spicy or too pungent with sour cream; instead, the flavors worked in tandem to provide a surprisingly complex chip. Our taste testers gave it a 10/10. We dug it, too.

flamin' hot funyuns and kettle cooked chips
Cole Saladino/Thrillit

Best crunch

The crunch of a classic bag of cheetos is satisfying, sure. Those gnarled puffs of corn are classic, but sometimes the best things come from innovation and new iterations. Enter Flamin’ Hot Funyuns and Kettle Cooked Lays: two entirely different textures with crunch way more satisfying than the original. These are the chips for people who want to have subtitles turned on while they watch TV and devour a bag of snacks because they can’t hear over the sound of their own munching.

Funyuns Flamin’ Hot
Funyuns remind me of being a kid again. The pale yellow circles reminiscent of onion rings are fun and packed with a sharp onion flavor, but the addition of Flamin’ Hot powder is joyously welcomed. Above all of that, they are favorably crunchy while also being simultaneously airy and light. Call it witchcraft, call it smart chip engineering, but these loops are a lot of a good thing in a small infinite package. They aren’t too spicy -- the onion flavor is definitely more forward here -- but you’ll find yourself continuously reaching for more with their crispy texture.
 
Lay’s Kettle Cooked Flamin’ Hot
These chips got the award for being “the one to take to a desert island” by one of our taste testers -- and it’s easy to see why. They are enjoyably hot, much hotter than the majority of this list, but even more notable is the kettle-cooked, crunchy perfection. You can’t hear your own thoughts when you’re eating these chips -- they’re that crunchy -- and you’ll find plenty of folded chips in your batch (arguably the best kind of chip). If you’ve ever had kettle-cooked Lays, you know that these make the regular version look like limp noodles.

flamin' hot cheetos
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Hottest

These are the spiciest offerings within the world of Flamin’ Hot. Depending on your spice tolerance, these could be life-threatening or a gentle warming, but either way they’ve got plenty of cardinal red dust to tickle your tongue or send you gasping for water. We’ve ranked them from the least spicy to the spiciest, but all of them pack more of a punch than the other chips. You’ve been warned.

Cheetos Puffs Flamin’ Hot
I feel like there are two camps within the Cheetos fan base: fans of the OG chips and fans of the puffs. Neither is wrong -- both are delicious but offer completely varying textures. The puff is light and airy, but maintains good heat because the powder is generously dispersed. One of our tasters said these reminded them of “classic cheese doodles, but make it adult.” We’d be inclined to agree. I’d say the Flamin’ Hot puffs are less spicy than the original, but still pack a punch; expect to find your finger tips well-coated in chile-laced cheeto dust while enjoying the springy bite akin to packing peanuts.
 
Cheetos Flamin’ Hot
If you’ve come to this list, I assume you know about the wonders of the original Flamin’ Hot Cheeto -- the chip that started this Flamin’ Hot renaissance. If not, here’s all about it in brief: it’s crunchy, it’s spicy, it’s good smothered in nacho cheese or eaten by the handful. These chips are deemed “the venerable OG hot snack” by our eaters, and considered a “top three for sure.” They’re spicier than almost all the chips on this list, only losing out to the XXtra Flamin’ Hot (which, to be honest, only tastes marginally hotter). This is a classic flavor, and if you’re new to the world of Flamin’ Hot snacks, maybe start here.
 
Cheetos XXtra Flamin’ Hot
Here they are: the spiciest chips in the Flamin’ Hot lineup. Does that mean they are the spiciest chips ever? Far from it for me, a Thai girl with a spice tolerance on the higher end of the spectrum, but I’ll admit that they do have enough heat to be enjoyable without being overpowering or unpleasant. They’re my favorite chip within the Flamin’ Hot canon because I always crave more spice--and these do the trick while providing that classic crunch of a regular cheeto. 
 
Some eaters noted that it doesn’t taste that much spicier than the regular Hot Cheetos, which I agree with to some extent. The bag claims to be twice as hot; the main difference I note is that the heat tastes more direct whereas with a regular bag of Hot Cheetos, the heat slowly builds over time. If you want the spiciest Flamin’ Hot you can handle, you’ve found it in this crinkly bag -- but if you’re a real spice enthusiast, these may be too gentle. Either way, I’m still devouring them.

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Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.