When I first saw the display of these two limited edition Doritos flavors at my local store, I was quite confused. Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ and Black Pepper Jack, both with a mysterious message on the front. What did the two have to do with each other? Why were they back to begin with? Mystified, I picked up the Black Pepper Jack and went about my business.
When I got home, I took a closer look at the bag and its mysterious message.
Okay, Doritos. I will do your bidding and see back panel for details.
If this is their idea of “details”, I’m glad Doritos is in the chip-making business and not writing furniture assembly instructions for Ikea. Mostly blank, with a couple of words urging me to commit myself, and a shadowy dude opening a door at the top. The big black box with the Doritos logo in it looks like I should be able to scratch it off to reveal something, but it’s the same material as the rest of the bag. I said whatever to these chips and tossed them in the cupboard.
It wasn’t until I was at the checkout at the same store the next day that I looked at the chip display from further away. Hmmm…orange bag, black bag, some kind of cardboard creepy something-or-other on the top of the display…
Oh fucking duh. It’s Halloween time!
Disturbed by my own complete lack of cognitive ability, I picked up a smaller bag of the Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ at a convenience store a few days later and tried to piece together this mystery. “They’re back…” is an obviously spooky saying, used prodigiously in horror movies, usually said by a small child to make it as creepy as possible (because small children are inherently creepy). After extensive Internet research of about 30 seconds, I discovered that Black Pepper Jack existed on store shelves sometime between 2004 and 2008, and Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ sometime around 2007. The latter was part of one of those “the public chooses what flavor wins” competitions. I don’t know who won. I did not have a website that caused me to care so much about flavor competitions in 2007. I am sorry.
So what’s with this asylum626.com bullshit? Again using my incredible powers of deduction, I put the name of the website and the phrase “commit yourself” together and figured that Snack Strong Productions had put together some sort of creepy interactive Halloweeny thing involving a mental asylum that had gone craaaazy, so to speak. And I was right!
I won’t go too much into it, but Asylum 626 is apparently a sequel to Hotel 626, and if you’re reading this and click that link at any time that isn’t between 6pm, and 6am, Doritos hates you and won’t let you play the game. Actually, it sounds like a pretty cool concept, and you can read a rather informative review of the game here, which is where I found out what that enigmatic black box on the back of the bag is for – apparently, it’s an “augmented reality marker”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that you need to have a bag of either Black Pepper Jack or Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ to play the game. Very clever, Doritos, but you haven’t tricked me. I bought BOTH bags.
After putting it all together, having two Halloween-colored bags of flavors that have come “back from the dead” to tie in with your scare-inducing interactive online game during the Halloween season makes a lot more sense now. Dammit. I hate it when Doritos makes sense.
But what of the flavor of these chips? Are they actually tasty, or just a shitty front for a Halloween gimmick? Let’s find out.
Black Pepper Jack – These chips smell pretty similar to Spicy Nacho Cheese Doritos. I couldn’t really detect any black pepper smell – it was more of a spicy pepper smell. Unlike Spicy Nacho Cheese, however, these chips lack the neon orange flavor powder, instead being lighter orange with little black flecks that I’m assuming are the black pepper and little red flecks that I suppose are the peppers in pepper jack cheese.
The cheese flavor is milder in these chips than regular Nacho Cheese Doritos. It has less of the twang of most of the cheese-flavored Doritos. I almost want to describe the cheese flavor as “creamy”, but calling artificially flavored chip powder creamy would be madness. Instead, I’ll call it “crammy”. Crammy cheese flavor. Yes.
There is no real black pepper taste as you’re eating the chip, but after you’ve swallowed, it hits you right in the back of the throat, along with that classic generic Doritos “spicy” flavor. If you’ve ever been the new and inexperienced owner of a pepper grinder, you’ve probably over-peppered something at some point, tasted it, and almost choked on the pepper. That’s what the aftertaste of this chip is like, but less intense and unpleasant. It’s nice that the cheese flavor has a chance to shine through, because I feel that if the pepper flavor was any stronger, it would be too powerful and overwhelm the cheese flavor. Besides, if you’ve ever eaten one of those Bertie Bott’s pepper-flavored jelly beans, you know that black pepper belongs as a seasoning, not a main flavor. And yes, I have eaten one of those jelly beans. I couldn’t tell if I was choking on the taste, or my own shame.
Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ – I stuck my nose in this bag of chips and was overwhelmed by the smell of fake BBQ seasoning, just like the smell you find on Lay’s Barbecue chips, except stronger. There’s a subtle undercurrent of cheesy smell, and even that smells smoky, like the BBQ has infected the cheese, but in a good way.
The coating on these chips is different from the Black Pepper Jack variety – the latter had a fine dusting of powder with speckles, while the former has a thick, sticky coating of what I guess you would call flavor paste. It’s like when you’ve eaten a bunch of chips and all the flavor comes off on your fingers and when you’re done, the oil from your hands has combined with the powder, causing a thick gunk that takes you several licks and sucks to get off. That’s disgusting. You’re disgusting.
The flavor is strikingly similar to the smell – overwhelmingly barbecue with a hint of smoky cheddar. Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ Doritos really deliver on the name this time. Two complaints – first, the hint of cheddar is nice, but I’d like to see it shine through a little more. Second, the BBQ taste is just…so…barbecuey. My palate is being assaulted by liquid smoke, which is not actually on the ingredients list, but I’m convinced they just dumped a whole bottle into the bag.
This is the first tortilla chip I’ve ever encountered that was BBQ-flavored, and maybe there’s a reason for that. Potato chips like Lay’s lend themselves well to the flavor, but there’s something disagreeable about it on a tortilla chip. Maybe Doritos should stick to the more Mexican-inspired flavors. Okay, so three complaints, I guess. (I’m just kidding, Doritos; never stop being insane.)
After I’d solved the mystery of these resurrected (and zombified, I’m assuming) chips, they charmed me before I’d even tasted them. During this time of the year you can’t throw a Jack O’ Lantern without hitting a Halloween-themed candy, but the other junk foods fail miserably at creating spoooky gimmicks for this holiday. For that reason, I have to admire Doritos for having the only porch light on in the curmudgeonly cul-de-sac of savory snacks. Black Pepper Jack Doritos are like a fun-sized Snickers bar, Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ is a box of raisins, but hey, at least you’re trying. I won’t egg your house, but you may be cleaning up toilet paper tomorrow. I promise to only hit the bushes and leave the tree alone.
Black Pepper Jack Doritos
- Score: 2.5 out of 5 bottles of Witch’s brew
- Price: $3.99
- Size: 11 1/2 oz. bag
- Purchased at: Fry’s Foods
- Nutritional Quirks: Makes me think of Bertie Bott’s jelly beans
Smokin Cheddar BBQ Doritos
- Score: 1.5 out of 5 sad, smashed Jack O’Lanterns
- Price: 99 cents
- Size: 2 1/8 oz. bag
- Purchased at: Circle K
- Nutritional Quirks: Liquid smoke not listed in the ingredients, but they’re LYING