The open road requires two things: a free spirit and a full stomach, courtesy of the classic American gas station. But what comprises the perfect in-car care package? We bought out pretty much the whole stock, from salty to sweet, spread a picnic blanket out on the parking lot, and power ranked the top 31... well, the top 29. The two in last place didn't fare so well.
We considered three factors -- tastiness (looking at you honey buns), ability to keep you full, and portability. And also that intangible quality, when you and your best pals are crinkling bags, completely destroy your new car smell with jerky, and stuffing your face with half your days calories. Here’s how the cookie crumbled:
31. Register Fruit
“I could really go for a mealy Red Delicious from the basket right next to the scratch-offs,” said no one ever. If you’re lucky to find an apple or a banana that doesn’t look like it was picked during the Reagan administration, then it’s probably still poorly saran-wrapped and difficult to get to anyway. Dead last was an easy choice here.
30. Sad, no-name muffin
With all the fine examples of snack cake below, sad muffin only barely dodges last place by the sheer fact that it has some textural consistence from gas station to gas station.
29. Crunchy granola bars
For the record, these granola bars are pretty tasty. But their presence at every gas station register is treacherous because the second you try to break into one, it turns into a rockslide of oats and crumbles. For a clean, nutritious, road trip, plan accordingly with paper towels.
28. Tiny trail mix
While trail mix covers more food groups than the average road snack, it’s also pretty difficult to eat in those tiny, skinny packages. Plus, you’re always left hanging with way fewer tasty chocolate bits than your road appetite (road-ppetite?) requires.
27. Microwaveable cheesy pockets
If you’ve ever been brave enough to try the non-name-brand rollups and pockets that gas stations expect you to microwave onsite in their cellophane bags like some sort of nuclear log, then hats off to you. Questionable meat fillings aside, whether it’s a burrito, a pizza pocket, or whatever this weird “stuffed baguette” is that we got, they’re delicious.
26. Soft and chewy granola bars
These suckers make the list because of the protein and the nutritional value… and the fact that, with their gooey sugariness, they’re pretty much just candy bars. And let’s be honest, that’s really what you want rolling up to a gas station.
25. Grandma’s Cookies
When we ate Grandma’s Cookies for the first time in (admittedly) a long while, there were some real nostalgia points. The sweetness and texture were transportive, which is...100% what you're looking for while stuffing your face in the car.
24. Ho hos
Ho hos lose a point because getting these puppies out of the packets without leaving some chocolate coating behind is next to impossible. But, bonus points for being the perfect size to leave one hand on the wheel and the other to stuff a whole cake straight into your facehole.
23. Single serve, blue-pouch Pop-Tarts
There’s just something about that blue pouch that makes you feel like you got a special, VIP version of the thinner metallic silver pouches. They hold up better and let you break off chunks without ripping the packet to shreds, and that’s great because with the blue pouch, you aren’t effing with a toasty. You’re eating a Pop-tart how it’s meant to be eaten: cold and raw with the windows down.
Now that Twinkies have been re-upped on the production front, you can rest assured they’ll be at your local filling station from years to come… or in the glove box, for a rainy day. Either way, things that last for years are perfect for road trips, because hiding the good snacks from passengers sometimes means you forget where you hid them.
21. Mini Donuts
Plain and simple: mini powdered donuts are damn delicious. Only points against? Awkward powder lips and car seats.
20. Hot Fries
Somehow hot fries are the only snack food that legitimately sports the flavor of hot and nothing else. And they leave the fingers remarkably less cheesy than most orange-colored snacks, which is great when you have a dark-colored steering wheel.
19. Ice cream sandwiches
The novelty ice cream bin at the gas station is pure serenity on a hot summer drive, but the mess factor is a guaranteed argument starter when the driver gets wind that the back seaters bought a whole stack of them and waited 30 minutes to start eating them.
18. Chex Mix
It’s like trail mix, but saltier, crunchier, and more satisfying for your junk food tooth (that’s a thing, right?).
What are they made of? Not entirely clear. Does that make them any less satisfying? No. These lose a few points for greasiness and lack of protein, but earn those points back because you can thread a stack of them on your pinky for safe keeping while still keeping your hands and ten and two.
16. Machine cappuccino
This thing always amounts to a watery cup of marshmallow fluff, but somehow once you start sipping, you can’t stop. Whether it’s the sugar or the caffeine, they certainly help with the “we need to get through Iowa before we stop!” factor.
Chipwiches are like the packaged cookies and ice cream sandwiches combined, and therefore get double the points. But because it’s ice cream, there’s still a time limit on them.
14. Honey buns
The winner of the snack cakes? Honey buns. They seem the closest thing to “fresh baked” you can get inside a factory seal, and while they’re a sticky mess, you can use the wrapper to protect your hands and slide out the bun one bite at a time, which leaves the other hand to keep Kevin from incessantly switching the radio.
13. Roller hot dogs
Equal parts delicious and questionable, the roller dogs are only a good move if they don’t have that weird, crusty, scaly, “I’ve been hanging on this grill all day” look to them. But their tin foil package works very similarly to the honey bun’s wrapper. So, again Kevin, hands off.
12. Carmel Creams / Cow Tails
Whether they’re the bite-sized creams or the foot-long cow tails in the oddly too-small box by the register, these classic, chewy candies score a ton of nostalgia points and almost no sustenance points. But whatever that cream is, they should sell it by the jar.
11. Oversized Rice Krispies treats
Rice Kripies Treats are not, in and of themselves, gas station food. But the giant, extra-long versions are. Why? Because when the passenger asks for “come one, just a bite!” then you still get a decent portion all to yourself.
This is the best ice cream you can get for one key reason: it’s as delicious as the others, but well contained in a conical cardboard package (i.e. a mouth torpedo).
9. Single-serve Pringles
Yes, yes Pringles are just regular snack food, but where else can you find ‘em in tiny ten-chip cans that conveniently fit into a venter consul cup holder? Well, unless you want to buy the cans by the 500-count pallet, a gas station is pretty much the only place. And the crumbs stay in the can when you pop the lid back on. Though, who’s only eating half of one of these baby cannisters? It’s a road trip, and you’re hungry, after all. But it’s nice to know you have the option of portability.
The perfect combination of salty, satisfying, and silly monster claws. Bugles, you warm hearts and fingers. And again, ten and two.
Prepared taquitos were the real sleepers in our taste test. They edge out the dogs because these little meat missiles pack so much more flavor and don’t require fussing with steamed, crumbly buns like the dogs.
6. Clif Bars
At the top of the sustenance scale, Clif Bars manage to taste delicious and pack energy-bar levels of protein. Plus, everyone is too busy in the back fighting over the last Funyun to try to steal a chunk.
Obviously, the quintessential bagged gas station snacks are these tangy filled-pretzel numbers. Whether you go to bat for Pizza or Cheese flavor, everyone agrees on one simple fact: no other tiny morsel packs as much highway flavor as the Combo.
4. Slim Jims
Anything you can snap into is okay in our books: whether it’s a Slim Jim or a college auditorium during an A Capella sing-off. But eating Slims as a grown-ass adult is surprisingly satisfying, as they have just the right level of spice, salt, and meatiness. Plus, you can leave them hanging from your teeth if you need to make a quick “crap, that’s our exit!” move.
3. Sour Worms
Sour worms almost took top dog on the candy train because they’re so universal. Have you ever offered someone one of these bi-colored crawlers and received a “no” answer? Absolutely not. Because they’re delicious. And nothing tastes better in the car than neon (?).
While Slim Jims are tasty, sometimes by sheer virtue of flavor variety, the chunked jerky pouches are a better way to snag meal-level protein and get back on the road without taking too much time. It’s totally worth the toxic smell once someone breaks into the Teriyaki bag.
1. Choco-covered peanuts
This number one slot might be a surprise to funyun-lovers and jerky freaks, but here’s the bottom line: at a gas station you want the indulgence of candy, but you’re road-weary and need energy. Chocolate-covered peanuts are rich and sugary, but pack some serious belly-filling value. Plus, even though they’re always sold in that generic candy bag, they’re always the same, and so they’ll always be good when you toss a handful of 10 (or 30) into your mouth at the same time.