#114 – Gas Station Meat Sticks

#114 – Gas Station Meat Sticks

This is Recipe Roundup, Episode 114. This week I am introducing a new series where I focus on one of my favorite food topics – convenience foods. I’ll talk a little bit about fast food and a little bit about gas station foods. While there is nothing that compares to sharing fresh homemade recipes with you – I feel that convenience foods are a hugely unexplored aspect of any culture. 


Let go ahead and dismiss the elephant in the room – these foods are NOT healthy. Most things that you can buy in a shelf stable environment are so processed and so jam-packed with salt, sugar, preservatives, and food additives that talking about their nutritional value is a bit of a dubious area for me. However, that doesn’t stop them from being consumed everyday! And as a self-proclaimed convenience food connoisseur, I will insist that there are still flavor profiles to discuss. I hope this series may help you find a convenience snack that fits your needs. 


I’d also like to mention that my opinions do not represent those of Allegheny Mountain Radio, and that neither myself nor the radio network have any relationship with any of the brands that may be mentioned in this segment. 


Without further ado, lets talk about my personal go-to convenience food – cured meat sticks. You can find them in just about any dollar store or gas station in the United States. They come in both refrigerated and shelf stable forms. Their packaging is typically sleek and  vacuum sealed or in resealable  bags if sold in the multiple.  I will not be including jerky in this – all though they are a similar product, it is a whole cut meat rather than a processed sausage. I’ll also give a shoutout to pickled sausages, which definitely will get their own episode. 


The most popular brand of meat stick I am talking about is Slim Jim. Unlike other lesser known brands, Slim Jim has had a strong commercial presence on television for as long as I can remember. The 1990s and the 2000s ad campaigns presented the slim jim as the snack that would stir things up – make life exciting, some featuring Pro wrestler Macho Man Randy Savage, others presenting the imp like “spicy side” of each consumer which would be driven into a frenzy upon eating the meat stick. The brand even used a slim-jim headed mascot who would essentially end up in people’s stomachs and seemingly wreak havoc on their digestion. Despite this seemingly honest admission, Slim Jim has endured and now is sold in at least 21 varieties. 


My take on this brand: It’s a classic, but unless you are going or a specific flavor, you might find a less processed version from a different brand. Slim Jim’s, especially the original size, seem to dry out in their packaging a lot more quickly than other brands – then you’re just left with a weird papery textured stick that seems to be more casing than meat. However, no spicy stick beats their Tabasco flavored variety – and if you go with the monster size, you can be sure it won’t be dry. 


Jack Link’s is best known for their jerky varieties but they make one of my favorite sticks – the XXL Wild sticks. These aren’t as widely available in gas stations, but they are always in Dollar General – On average, these are less dried out than other brands. They come in three spice levels – Mild, Original, and Hot. However, unlike the tabasco flavored slim jim, the Hot Variety lacks any delicious pepper flavor – it’s spice is purely chemical. I would recommend the milder varieties if you see it in your store. Bridgford is a good option if you want a bag to share. 


Two newer brands on the convenience meat scene are Duke’s and Tillamook. You can find these both in resealable bags and as single sticks. Tillamook has become an industry leader in offering all natural, sugar free options and they certainly deserve mention. However, my heart is with dukes – delicious flavor options that include hatch, serrano, and fresno chile options. Unfortunately, these are harder to find, but if you are ever in a Sheetz gas station you may be able to find them! 


To summarize: If you are looking for a specific flavor, especially tabasco – Slim Jim is the move. If you are looking for a middle of the line stick that is rarely too dry, Jack Links XXL in the mild or original option OR a bag of Bridgford

And if you are looking to treat yourself to the good stuff with obvious chili pepper flavor or are avoiding sugar and additives, Duke’s or Tillamook respectively are great options. 


As a final note – if you happen to be in a gas station that has a refrigerated meat stick – these are typically awesome. Usually from smaller, more regional brands, these sticks will be much more akin to a summer sausage and feel more like real food than the other rations. One of those, a slice of cheese, and crackers – you’ll be set for whatever adventure you are on.


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