Every Flavor of Lay's Potato Chips, Ranked
Pass the French onion dip.
The world is blessed with hundreds of potato-chip options, but those options would probably be reduced to dozens were it not for Lay's, which generally take up an entire grocery store aisle thanks to their ridiculous number of flavors. They're the undisputed king of the potato-chip realm. But with so many to choose from, which is the best, and which constitutes wasted space on the picnic table? We grabbed them all and, with extreme bias in full force, ranked them from worst to best.
A quick note on selection: The ranking here focuses exclusively on Original, Wavy, and Kettle Cooked, and lest the words "Kettle Cooked" or "Wavy" appear on the name, it's safe to assume we're talking the thin Original variety. We've ditched the Stax, since those are basically Pringles and a completely different category. While we included Lightly Salted variations on the Original flavors, we decided to skip the lightly salted and reduced-fat version of the Kettle Cooked, which taste remarkably similar to the full-salt, full-fat versions. Finally, we're skipping the Do Us a Flavor limited-time releases, though if they make it to the permanent roster -- please make it, Chile Con Queso! -- look to this list to see where they stack up.
31. Original Limón
This doesn't make sense. I love the lime Tostitos, and I find it hard to believe the lime-powder innovation division of Frito-Lay is so stacked that they’ve got drastically different lime flavors to swap between potato and corn chips. Maybe the potato isn’t the preferred vessel for citrus. These taste like my mouth used to when I’d wake up after cheap margarita night in college with an empty bag of potato chips next to me. Solid memories. But I’ll pass on these.
30. Original Chile Limón
See above, but less mellow and more “somebody accidentally stored an open bag underneath a Tex-Mex restaurant’s spice rack during an earthquake, and none of the spices had lids on them, which is kind of concerning from a health-code standpoint, but also tastes slightly better than the normal version.”
29. Wavy Ranch
These are among the least ranch-y ranch chips out there. It's kind of a tease: the flavor’s so mellow that it makes me want to dunk them in Lay’s delicious ranch dip. That makes these less a go-to flavor and more a sneaky subliminal suggestion to manipulate me into going to the store to buy ranch dip. That’s not cool, Lay’s.
28. Flamin’ Hot
You’re either a Flamin’ Hot person, or you’re a person who feels like they’ve been pepper sprayed when you eat them. Clearly, I am the latter. But these ones are somehow even tougher, because unlike Cheetos or Doritos, there’s no thick corn core to mellow out the heat. The thin potato crisp offers no barrier. You might as well be licking the powder up. If that’s your jam, move this sucker up to the top 10. And if you have GERD, you’re an idiot for getting these in the first place.
27. Original BBQ
Before you get mad, remember that Lay's has a whole arsenal of BBQ chips. Consider the original the foundation upon which all that BBQ greatness and innovation was built. The master has been surpassed by the pupil. Also, the master just kind of tastes like sweet ketchup kissed with liquid smoke, so it wasn't too hard to surpass.
26. Fiery Habanero
Flamin’ Hot is still the undisputed king of Lay’s for spice heads and the most effective torture device in a bag for the weak of tongue. Still, the newest flavor in the Lay’s spice rack has a kick that should satisfy masochists. What makes it superior, though, is the actual flavor. Mostly because there is some: It’s smoky, and definitely has the habanero flavor it promises. Sure, it’s powdered habanero, but at least it tastes like pepper and not a crowd-dispersal agent.
25. Baked Original
The baked Lay's are actually a perfectly delicious healthy-ish snacking option, with a whopping 65% less fat than their crunchier, fried brethren. They’re still super crunchy, and while there’s some flavor lost in the baking process -- which weirdly seems to make them all slightly hexagonal -- they’re plenty serviceable. Bland, yes, but not enough that I’m about to stop eating them.
24. Flamin' Hot Dill Pickle
Where the straight-up Flamin’ Hot kind of feels like getting pepper-sprayed in the throat due to its fire-powder being unchecked, the presence of vinegar and dill here goes a long way in tempering things, making for a much more satisfying heat. Maybe the trick for Lay’s foray into the Flamin’ Hot realm is to take a cue from Cheetos and start blending flavors to counteract the spice, a la Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch.
23. Original Sour Cream & Onion
The chip world seems to be split into two camps: Those who think sour cream & onion chips are the (sour) cream of the crop, and those who think that they taste like somebody made powdered milk out of spoiled 2%, mixed it with onion powder, then blasted a bag of chips with it before going to have a picnic with Satan to celebrate. I’m on team not-delicious. But these are better than most brand’s version, and they paved the way to a much-better variation that you’ll see toward the top of this list. So it’s not all a wash. Eat up, Satan.
22. Wavy Hickory BBQ
Have you ever ordered an ill-advised BBQ-based sandwich at a place where you should know better than to get anything that's not pre-packaged, like a high-school sporting event or a raceway or out of some dude’s trunk off the highway? And the sauce-to-sandwich ratio is, like, 100:0, and it just leaks all over the place, and you’re left with questionably generic BBQ sauce all over everything you touch all day? The first victim is always the chips that inevitably come on the side. These taste like perfectly good potato chips that accidentally got smoky BBQ sauce all over them. They're good, just not the best.
21. Lightly Salted BBQ
If you're Canadian -- or, like me, have a totally real Canadian girlfriend -- it's likely you've extolled the virtues of ketchup-flavored chips. These taste a lot like those. Except they'll make you miss them less.
20. Dill Pickle Original
In case you were wondering, yes, they go well with whiskey. This is basically your standard sea salt & vinegar chip, but the dill pushes it into a different realm. Crunch these suckers up on a burger or snack on them after a shot.
19. Original Salt & Vinegar
See above, but with less dill and more crippling urge to get some authentic, English fish & chips. They may or may not burn your tongue and the sides of your mouth.
18. Kettle Cooked Jalapeño
These are unexpectedly sweet, which allows you to let your guard down and let the minor heat creep up on you. They don’t taste like jalapeños, really. They just taste like slightly sweet, regular Kettle Cooked Lay's with a bit of warmth.
17. Sweet Southern Heat BBQ
Honestly, the word “heat” prompted me to pour a glass of milk to counteract the Dixieland inferno I was expecting to set my weak-ass tongue ablaze. That heat didn't really cripple me. Nor did the southernness. But that's cool. These are the first of the BBQ batch to really stand out of the crowd: They're sweet, with a strong tomato blast that's balanced by just the right amount of smoke. Even better, they go great with milk... even if you don't need any dairy to cool off.
16. Original Honey BBQ
The BBQ chip for people who claim to hate BBQ. Slightly sweet, non-offensive… honestly, it just tastes like sweet ketchup, and that’s totally cool. My Canadian girlfriend would love these.
15. Kettle Cooked Mesquite BBQ
As with many of the Kettle Cooked chips, the texture is just a better vessel for the more aggressive flavors. This is a nice, slightly sweet, smoky BBQ chip that even non-BBQ fans can get behind. Nothing crazy. Just a chip that can stand up to a flavor that usually overwhelms.
14. Simply Sea Salted
I’ve always been puzzled about why all the Simply-branded Frito-Lay products -- the company’s non-GMO, no artificial flavors option -- are so bland. I guess it makes sense with Doritos, which relies on a mishmash of often alien flavors likely forged in a futuristic lab to make them the best snack on the market. But here, we’ve got three primary ingredients: potatoes, oil, and salt. None of these seem like they’d differ drastically from the normal Lay’s flavor profile when divorced from artificial flavors and GMOs. They do. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; they just kind of taste like knockoff Lay’s originals, with the extra thickness tamping the flavor down a little. These are like eating potatoes straight. That’s the point, I guess. I dunno. Sometimes boring is good.
13. Simply BBQ
Ok, so there’s a weird phenomenon going on here: The blander the chip, the better the BBQ flavor. The thicker chip just goes a long way in mellowing the sweetness and fake smoke that make the original flavor such a drag. This is a superior BBQ chip based on that. But there’s an unexpected champion for the same reasons, one that’s healthier and dangling right below this writeup.
12. Lightly Salted Original
Yup. That's an Original Lay's with less salt all right!
11. Baked BBQ
As a generally anti-BBQ chip man, I am frankly aghast at how much I like these things. The baked style of chips cuts the oil and actually lets the BBQ shine in a way most of the other flavors seem to miss. I don’t know that the sweet & smoky or honey version would work on this vessel, but the simple BBQ paired with the less-aggressive chips lets them dance beautifully. Plus, they’re way less heavy, so you won’t feel too bad about crushing the bag.
10. Kettle Cooked Sea Salt & Vinegar
My general gripe with this flavor of chip is that the salt gets trounced by the the overpowering vinegar, leaving you feeling like you just made out with a baking soda volcano at a science fair (what, it never happened to you?!). But the thicker and more flavorful kettle chips cut through that, allowing the vinegar to come out with an initial blast, then take a back seat. This is a flavor I usually dismiss or eat out of desperation. Yet this is a chip I keep going back to. Maybe that kettle belongs to a witch.
9. Original Lightly Salted Cheddar
You can do an awful lot worse if you’re about to cut 50% of the sodium out of a salty snack. The lightly salted version of this exemplary chip’s placement in the middle of the list is less a statement on its poor quality than a confirmation on how good the other flavors are -- and the difference a shitload of salt makes when it comes to kicking up processed cheese’s profile.
8. Kettle Cooked Original
Lay's was a little late to the kettle-cooked game, sure, but its line of ultra-crunchy and oil-shimmering chips have come into their own. The Kettle Cooked chips are a thicker, more flavorful vessel for the brand's many variations. It's such a good vessel, in fact, that the original is easy to overlook in favor of the more nuanced offerings. But the fact is, even with just a little salt, these are a best-in-show contender for the style. Even better, they're less prone to breaking apart under the pressure of French onion dip.
7. Kettle Cooked Salt and Pepper
There are many great potato chip mysteries. Why don’t we have those dope roast chicken “crisps” the British version of Lay’s makes? How the hell do they make Pringles (mystery solved!)? But, perhaps the most confusing of all: Why don’t more brands make salt & pepper chips? Sure, Kettle and some of the fancy brands do, but why is the idea of putting a little black pepper in the mix so exotic-seeming in a world where we have fruit and meat-flavored potato chips? Chips are already salty. They’re halfway there. And a little pepper adds the perfect balance. These are delicious.
6. Wavy Salt & Pepper
These are new. These are incredible. The little slats in the chips trap concentrations of pepper that just attack your mouth without any given notice, and it's wonderful. They only way to make these better would be to combine them with the Kettle Cooked version. The world might not be ready for this.
5. Kettle Cooked Olive Oil and Herbs
The crunch is excellent here, and the olive oil pairs beautifully with rosemary and basil. Moreover, it’s all just so mellow and balanced and pleasant. If a fancy Italian restaurant ever ran out of bread to dip in olive oil and herbs (god forbid), they could substitute Kettle Cooked Lay's and still be in good shape.
4. Wavy Original
These are the Lay’s equivalent of Fritos Scoops. Similarly flavored to the original, yet not as good. But they're the ultimate dipping chip. On their own, they’re perfectly stackable. Throw some French onion or ranch dip into the mix, and there’s no more formidable chip on the supermarket market.
3. Kettle Cooked Cream Cheese & Chive
Fun personal fact: I make fantastic mashed potatoes, which are lauded for being creamy and salty as hell. The latter happens because I have a heavy hand with my secret weapon, Lawry's seasoning salt. The former is because of my real ace in the hole, cream cheese, which I use in place of sour cream to make things richer, creamier, and more subtly balanced. I mention this because this unexpected flavor tweak works the same magic in potato chip form. Even a decent sour cream & onion chip still has the aftertaste of sour powdered milk, and it coats your mouth with a film of the stuff. But go with the cream cheese flavor instead? Well, the differences are subtle -- but given the double-digit chasm between this entry and Sour Cream & Onion, the subtlety makes a big difference. Now somebody pass the Lawry's.
2. Cheddar and Sour Cream
The cheese here could taste super fake, but thankfully the sour cream mellows it out. And, as you can see from the placement of the lightly salted, the extra sodium truly makes a massive difference. Here’s the thing with off-tasting cheese on chips: There’s a reason Nacho Cheese Doritos don’t taste off-putting despite the multitude of artificial ingredients. Salt makes everything better. And that applies to the Lay’s equivalent. The cheddar is sharp. The cream dulls its edges. This is a near-perfect chip -- cardiologist be damned.
They're great alone or with any number of dips. You can put them right on top of sandwiches and burgers. They soak up juices from pickles or hot dog toppings with the zeal of salt. They are a thing of savory simplicity. Thin, crispy, appropriately greasy, the original Lay's is still the best.
Like pizza, a chip flavor is only as good as its base. The simple Lay's has managed to become a sturdy vessel for everything from Sausage Gravy to Thai Chili. You couldn't really pull off that varying a degree of chip alchemy if you didn't have a sturdy base. But the real miracle is that even without any bold flavor experiments, they're still one of the best damn potato chips on the planet. Accept no substitute.