Chicken in a Burger Suit

Chicken Grillables

By: Barber Foods

I Paid: $6.99 for four 4-ounce patties (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 4stars

The concept behind Chicken Grillables: a chicken version of the standard American frozen burger patty. The Grillables are less fatty (140 calories each), and are conveniently sized and shaped for a hamburger bun. And yes, indeed, they’re a good way to vary your backyard barbecue options. However, you may want to keep your guests away from the grill to shield them from the unsavory visuals.

When cooking, the Grillables have a tendency to exude a white, runny substance. This turns out to be a solution of rice starch and water injected into each of these breast- and rib-meat chicken patties to keep them moist. Yes, it sounds terrible, and nobody likes to think about stuff he’s planning to eat being injected with anything. However, the cooked patties don’t taste half bad. They’re tender and well seasoned with a surprisingly natural assortment of herbs and spices (according to the label, they contain salt, onion and garlic powder, parsley, black pepper, paprika, and natural smoke flavor).

So, Chicken Grillables are actually not that gnarly; it’s just that they emit this slightly foamy white stuff that looks vaguely like melted cheese. It’s the darnedest thing. My take on it: If this water–rice starch injection gives the patties a nice texture and keeps them moist, hell, go for it. But maybe someone should work on the leakage problem down the road.

Wheat Thins Artisan Cheese Crackers

By: Nabisco

I Paid: $3.19 for an 8-ounce box (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 4stars

Can a major corporation mass-produce a snack food and put the word artisan on it? Why not? We’re living in a brave new world of branding, where everything is “artisanal,” “premium,” or “gourmet.” With Nabisco’s new Wheat Thins Artisan Cheese Crackers, the consumer can choose between Vermont White Cheddar (a.k.a. white cheese) and Wisconsin Colby (a.k.a. yellow cheese). As far as I can tell, the crackers are “artisan” simply because they use actual cheese, and they taste like it, too.

(A bit of trivia about Colby: Along with brick cheese, it’s an original Wisconsin variety that, thanks to some very poorly thought-through deregulation in the 1980s, has become a watered-down version of itself. If you want real Colby, there are some master makers—Joe Widmer near Milwaukee, for one—who can give you a sense of its old soulful flavor and pleasingly latticelike texture. But typically, it’s indistinguishable from commodity cheddar.)

Taste-wise, the Wisconsin Colby cracker has more umami and flavor than the Vermont White Cheddar, which has a nice initial bite of sharpness, but one that quickly recedes into the surrounding taste of sweetened wheat; the Colby variety is more committed to its cheesy taste. Both, however, do a nice job of paying tribute to real cheese flavor.

So, did an actual artisan labor over these things by hand? Almost certainly not. Would I eat them? Yes.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.