A lot changes when you leave the place where you grew up. You’re suddenly far from family. You’re adjusting to a new city. Your mom no longer does your laundry. But perhaps most jarring is finding out that your favorite snack is no longer readily available. The 16 snack brands below are so prevalent in their regions, it’s hard to imagine life without them -- until you’re suddenly faced with a world lacking in cheddar popcorn or impossibly crunchy pork fat. Luckily, unlike your mom's patented folding technique, most of them can be shipped anywhere.
These thick kettle chips pack some serious NOLA flavor and come in such addictive varieties as Spicy Cajun Crawtators (which thankfully have zero crawdads), Mesquite Bar-B-Que, Hotter N Hot Jalapeño, and Cajun Dill Gator-Tators.
A creamy, extra-sharp Cheddar spread with the distinctive color of Tang, Schuler's cheese spread is a Michigan favorite that has slowly seeped into neighboring states the way its delicious cheese flavor seeps into anything it touches. It's perfect on the brand’s incredible rye chips, but also works well on pretzels and as a toothpaste substitute.
The Utz empire has managed a slight infiltration of national big-box stores like Costco, though people on the left side of the country are limited to cheese balls and the glorious Pub Mix, which represent about 3% of the sprawling product line that includes popcorn, chips, knockoff Doritos, and salsa. Utz can be found in bags or as gigantic buckets of party mix that include pretty much everything.
These mega-crispy, ultra-salty chips transitioned from a favorite local snack in a small mountain town to the corn-based equivalent of crack to Oregonians, and now they've transitioned to the flavored chip game with the launch of the spicy chilipeño and jalapeño chips and the addictive sweet chili, which have destroyed all hope of a Juanita's detox in the immediate future.
Chicago takes its regional food rabidly seriously, meaning that something as simple as popcorn also has to undergo a serious transformation. The resulting kernels from Garrett are sold in iconic tins in flavors ranging from cheese to Cashew CaramelCrisp, macadamia nut, and butter. Or you can create your own special tin: rest assured, cheese and sugary almonds somehow make absolute sense together.
Detroit's answer to pretty much any chip imaginable -- salty potato chips, cheesy corn pops, curls, puffs, and everything in between -- has a fierce loyalty among the faithful, joining the ranks of amazing hot dogs and enormous pasties as the thing Michigan expats miss most when they leave. The flagship chips are like a blue-collar answer to Lay's, and are best consumed by the handful while stubbornly tailgating in subzero temperatures at 8am.
Apparently developed by somebody named Sassy Henry -- who is a woman, and not Henry VIII after drinking Champagne -- this tailgate-favorite brand of pimento cheese exploded out of South Carolina and comes in regular, jalapeño, and bacon flavors. It's best spread on crackers, but don't be surprised if you see somebody dipping their hands in a bowl of it pre-Gamecocks.
Like some half-developed popcorn fetus, these delicious, crunchy delights bridge the gap between full-blown popcorn and the crunchy, slightly exploded ones you seek out at the bottom of the bag. They'd be good enough on their own. That they're coated in stuff like butter and aged Cheddar makes them amazing.
Hostess may have taken the nation, but Tastykakes beat the Twinkie overlord to the snack-cake game by two years in 1917 and continues to pop out a huge variety, including butterscotch sponge cakes called Krimpets, cookie bars, brownies, and cream-filled Dreamies. The brand has expanded considerably of late, showing up across the East Coast, South, and Southwest, and can sometimes be spotted in delis and specialty shops elsewhere (though they go pretty quick). Still, we dream of a day when every grocery store, bodega, and pantry in America is overflowing with Krimpets.
For the past 100 years, the good people of Philadelphia have been mainlining these molasses and chocolate-covered peanut bars, which are about the size of fun-sized bars. Consider them nougat-less Snickers. So, um, basically chocolate-covered Payday (RIP), but better.
When our intrepid writer Tanner Saunders revealed that Texas convenience store chain Buc-ee’s might be America’s best roadside destination, he extolled the virtues of Beaver Nuggets thusly: “These glorious bags of Cap’n Crunch-like treats are just sugary enough to get you through the next hundred miles and just addictive enough that you’re guaranteed to stop at the next Buc-ee’s you come across. Like George Strait and the Alamo, Beaver Nuggets are God’s gift to Texas.”
Consider the MoonPie a s’mores sandwich, with marshmallow sandwiched between two graham cracker cookies, then dunked in chocolate. It’s simple. It’s decadent. And it might just be the greatest gas station snack in the US.
Grippo’s is perhaps most famous for inventing the loop pretzel, which is basically a teardrop-shaped pretzel ring that is super common... in bags of Grippo’s pretzels. But it's most beloved for its addictive, zippy BBQ chips, which have been hitting shelves for nearly 100 years, and paved the way for other varieties like sweet Maui onion and Cheddar & horseradish, plus pork rinds and BBQ rings. It’s basically Ohio's answer to Frito-Lay.
Every southerner worth his or her (extremely elevated level of) salt has a special recipe for cheese straws, which are wavy, spicy, cracker-like strips of baked wonder that look like they were made in a Play-Doh factory. For the lazy of the world, that recipe is simply “open a package of Mississippi Cheese Straws and pour them in a bowl.” It’s a great recipe!
A relative newcomer to the kettle chips tradition at a mere 25 years old, Route 11's making the biggest push for national dominance, The beloved, impossibly crunchy chips come plain or in flavors like barbecue, dill pickle, and the habanero-kicked Mama Zuma’s Revenge. Still, the real deal here is the Chesapeake Crab, which is loaded with the same spices you’d find at lauded restaurants around the country. But don’t worry, shellfish-averse snackers: The chips don’t actually bring crabs to the party.
In the Lowcountry, pig is king. And on snack shelves across the region, Carolina Country Snacks’ like of cracklings, pork rinds, skin strips, and back-fat rinds are the go-to option if you don’t have time to sit down to a big-ass chopped-pig dinner. The snacks even come in different varieties of crunchiness, from “tender” to “jaw buster,” which require the jaw strength of Bruce Campbell and the dental fortitude of a Bond villain. Vegetarians, this is a hard pass.
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Thrillist senior editor Andy Kryza is currently dreaming of dipping some Better Made chips in Schuler's cheese. Follow his snacking dream journal @apkryza.