We Ate and Ranked Every Hot Pocket
Hot Pockets are a lot of things to a lot of people. They're a college food staple, after-school delight, Jim Gaffigan punchline, late-night lifesaver, and sleepover essential. At some point, almost everybody's eaten a Hot Pocket -- even people who currently only eat kale for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But which kind is the best? Well, that's a matter of opinion. Luckily, I'm a man of many opinions, so I filled my freezer with every Hot Pocket in a quest to try them all.
But first, a caveatThis taste-test excludes breakfast Hot Pockets, Lean Pockets, Croissant Pockets, and limited-run varieties, sticking only to lunch/dinner options. This was in an effort to provide consistency. All Hot Pockets were prepared exactly according to the directions on the box.
16. BBQ Recipe Beef with Crispy Buttery Seasoned CrustConfession: I'm not into BBQ sauce, so that certainly affects the ranking here. Its thinly sliced beef and sweet, runny BBQ sauce makes a McRib seem like Franklin BBQ. And be careful -- because the beef is so thin and there's no cheese or veggies to hold it together, biting into it could send an arterial spray of hot and tangy/sweet sauce out the back of the crust.
15. Beef Taco with Seasoned CrustThe taste here reminds me of taco-flavored chips, albeit with big chunks of beef. There’s a little spice, but it's all overwhelmed by the seasoning, which tastes like you accidentally dumped a whole spice packet on top of a taco, then shrugged and said "screw it." This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your feelings about taco seasoning.
14. Cheeseburger with Crispy Buttery Seasoned CrustOk, I’m confused here, because I taste ketchup, and there’s a tomato on the box, but it’s all orange and full of meatballs. It tastes like what I'd imagine a person who has never had a cheeseburger might think a cheeseburger tastes like, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But I'm a little sad, because Hot Pockets also makes these little round burger bites that -- one time, after a long bar night -- reminded me of White Castle in all the best ways. The onion chunks are nice, though!
13. Meatballs & Mozzarella with Garlic Buttery Seasoned CrustThe sauce is super sweet and tangy, but the balls are rubbery little wads of danger if you're too impatient to let things cool, which I am. Basically, when you bite down on the crust, the meatballs shoot, fully formed, into your mouth. Yipes. This tastes like pizza, but make you miss pepperoni.
12. Pepperoni & Sausage Pizza with Garlic Buttery Seasoned CrustThe addition of the sausage means less pepperoni, and that means less happiness in my life. Also, these little chunks of sausage have a pretty lopsided spice/seeds-to-meat ratio, which changes the dynamic of the sauce/cheese into something much more breakfast-ish.
11. Five Cheese Pizza with Crispy CrustThe old-school crust is welcome -- and almost croissant-like -- but for some reason this isn't as good as the Four Cheese. It makes no sense, because the same cheeses (Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, and provolone) are simply joined by Romano. But it changes the flavor dynamic drastically, proving that not everybody loves Raymond after all.
10. Pepperoni Pizza with Garlic Buttery Seasoned CrustIt’s the basic Hot Pocket pepperoni you love, but with a different crust! On the downside, the pepperoni flavor and sauce overwhelm it, so you can’t quite taste the garlic. Plus, it’s more dense and less flaky than the OG pocket. Stick with the original (see below).
9. Chicken, Broccoli & Cheddar with Crispy Buttery Seasoned CrustThe broccoli is actually slightly crunchy, and I’ll be honest, it’s nice to have a little veggie action right now. The chicken suffers a bit from blandness. But it’s not a salt overload, so I’m pretty cool with this one.
8. Four Meat & Four Cheese Pizza with Garlic Buttery Seasoned CrustHamburger is the filler on any carnivore pizza. But Canadian bacon is the unsung hero, and it gives balance here, taming the sausage and transforming it into the most unique of all the pizza offerings. The cheese mix helps it out here, too, but it’s the meats that make each bite taste different, and make you wonder if a Hawaiian pizza Hot Pocket could ever be a reality.
7. Steak & Cheddar with Garlic Buttery Seasoned CrustLike an aggressive Steak-umm hit with cheese sauce. And also quite tasty, with a hint of beef broth in the cheese. But, as with the BBQ Beef, the ultra-thin meat and saucy cheese rob this of structural integrity. Basically, biting it turns the crust into the sandwich equivalent of a tube of toothpaste, pushing the filling to the back before exploding it out. On the other hand, beef and cheese toothpaste would really help me remember to brush my teeth more often.
6. Chicken Bacon Cheddar Cheese Melt with Crispy Buttery Seasoned CrustIf chicken cordon bleu were made with cheddar, this is what it would taste like. The bacon adds a nice burst of salt and smoke, and the chicken goes a long way toward mellowing it out. The chicken still lacks in flavor, but here it functions well in balancing everything out, while also adding some much-needed structural integrity. Well played, chicken. Well played.
5. Four Cheese Pizza with Garlic Buttery Seasoned CrustI’m all about a gigantic infusion of cheese, and this saucy bastard delivers on that front, but it also suffers from the same toothpaste effect as the Steak & Cheddar. The first bites are pretty tame, but as you eat it, it pushes all the good stuff to the back, which tends to send cheese squirting all over the place. Still, that last mega-cheese bite is a pretty happy one.
4. Philly Steak & Cheese with Seasoned CrustAll the important elements of a cheesesteak are present. Peppers and onions? Yep. Perfectly artificial-tasting runny cheese, as a Philly's cheese should be? Sure. And the super-thin and salty beef finally has a place that makes sense. Does it taste authentic? No. Does it taste good? Yep.
3. Pepperoni Pizza with Crispy CrustYou thought it was gonna be #1, didn't you? But just because it's #3 doesn't mean the classic isn't still a winner (unless you still operate under the philosophies of No Fear shirts). It brings back memories like a kick to the face. It’s the Hot Pocket version of taking frozen party pizzas and rolling them up like burritos, and it brings me a weird sense of joy to eat it. It gets better and meatier as you go, which is always a good thing.
2. Ham & Cheese with Crispy Buttery Seasoned CrustWhen I was 13 and sleeping over at Charlie Dietrich's place watching Dazed and Confused for the first time, I was introduced to the Hot Pocket in the form of Ham & Cheese, and it's remained a clear favorite ever since. The key here is those huge chunks of ham, which are glued together by this goopy cheese in a perfect symphony of salty indulgence. Alright alright!
1. Bacon Cheddar Cheese Melt with Pretzel BreadWait, what? What the hell?! I didn't even know these existed, and I'm on record as saying that I'm sick of pretzel-crust everything. But huzzah! The pretzel crust here is the perfect vessel for Hot Pocket filling (especially if you put it in the oven, which you should always do if you can wait a half-hour). There's a minimal amount of that trademark Hot Pocket leakage here. The bacon acts as a saltier, less giant version of the ham. It’s like somebody stuffed a Super Pretzel with cheese sauce and bacon bits, and that’s a great thing. The salt was pre-applied, so it’s soggy on top. But I don’t care. It’s like a pretzel full of bar cheese. Who knew?!
The takeawayNot all Hot Pockets are created equal, and even slight variations of crust or cheese can make a world of difference when it comes to picking favorites. That said, all of these should absolutely come in a pretzel variety, which was a revelation and completely changed the game. Pretzel pizza? Yes, please. Pretzel cheesesteak? Seriously, yes. Pretzel BBQ Beef? Actually, maybe not.
Andy Kryza is a senior editor on Thrillist's Food & Drink team, and would like to thank Charlie Dietrich's Mom for always keeping a well-stocked freezer full of Hot Pockets, and for having cable. Follow him to repressed Skinemax memories: @apkryza.