There are potential Taste Test items that barely get to my desk before they’re torn open and consumed, and then there are Taste Test items that sit there for weeks or months, for various reasons. There’s bacon fatigue (bacon gumballs and jellybeans), potential for boredom (Sex Drive energy drink), inability to reconcile with the “tasting” concept (Burger King perfume), and then the most obvious reason: Do we really want to eat that?
I’m not sure what reason Lowrey’s microwave pork rinds sat here for so long. I think it’s because they didn’t register the complete disgust that other things (canned bacon, pickled pig lips) did, but also didn’t seem appealing at all. I’ll say one thing—nobody came in here and said, “Hey, let’s eat that now!” (Or even “Let’s see if we can get Chang to eat that right now!”) Mostly we didn’t really have any experience with or opinion about pork rinds, much less pork rinds of the microwave variety. (Which isn’t to say pork rinds aren’t omnipresent around here—my Mom used to eat them when I was a kid.)
Before we continue, I must send good vibrations to reader Ben S., who found these in a Stevens Point, WI store and mailed them to us. He wrote to us: “Keep up the great work, brave testers. Your bacon vodka test inspired me to put meat into alcohol, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend.” Taste Test: Breaking Up Relationships Since 2007.
So here we go: Microwave pork rinds look exactly like microwave popcorn, at least when packaged. Same plastic outer wrap, same paper bag folded into thirds. You can even hear the unpopped rinds rattling around in the bag. The instructions, though, are slightly different. (I didn’t read them carefully before we started, as you’ll hear in the video.) You’re supposed to shake the bag to “spread the pork rinds.” You microwave the bag for just 1-2 minutes, and you have to “WATCH!!!” according to the bag. Pork rinds don’t pop exactly, and you’re supposed to stop the microwave once the bag is inflated.
It inflated fairly quickly, and also started smelling pretty terrible right away. And though the instructions clearly said “open away from face and body,” I sorta opened the bag right near Chang’s face. He didn’t like the smell, nor did anybody else.
But guess what? These little fuckers didn’t taste too bad. They promised to be “hot and spicy,” but there wasn’t really much taste at all. The texture is presumably like normal pork rinds, which is crunchy and slightly chewy, like Funyuns. (Quoth Seth Galifianakis: “That’s all we had, Fugees and Funyuns…”) Nobody was outright disgusted, and A.V. Club web producer Jesse actually seemed to enjoy them.
But to keep things interesting, we had to get a couple of bonus rounds in. The first was a bag of Grandpa John’s pork cracklins, which is happy to tell you right on the front that it’s “rendered pork fat with attached skin.” (Also: “U.S. inspected and passed by department of agriculture.”) I checked Wikipedia (which is my source not only for all fact-checking, but for all news and culture), to determine how cracklins differ from rinds, and I’m still not entirely sure. I’ll tell you two things: These little fuckers were much harder and denser than the comparatively fluffy rinds, and the bag we had said “sell by Jan. 30.” But Chang and Koski each tried one anyway. Aren’t they brave? Their report: hard and terrible. Warning: multiple “that’s what she said” jokes ahead.
But here’s what everybody really wanted to know: What did the microwave pork rinds look like before they were popped? We poured some onto a plate so you could all look along with us. In short: They look like tiny, rock hard pieces of jerky or bacon, and they don’t smell like much. Since Chang had abandoned the Taste Test at this point, we bum-rushed his desk and dared him to try one unpopped. He obliged, gagged, and claims to nearly have broken a tooth. Needless to say, he was the only one who dared try unpopped microwave pork rinds. He is truly a pioneer.
-- “They’re fine. Not great, but not bad. They taste like a fatty, salty snack, which I guess it what they are.”
-- “They’re not as good as bacon, but they’re much better than canned bacon.”
-- “Some of these are grosser than others, and the bad ones taste kinda like cleaning supplies, with a kick.”
-- “If you just hold one in your mouth, it pops. Like Pop Rocks!”
-- “They sat on my desk for five minutes and then started popping again. Weird.”
-- “These have the exact same consistency as packing peanuts, but like they’ve been rolled in a bed of bacon dust.”
-- “It’s kind of magical, really.”
-- “If there was no other food in the house, I would eat this. I just wouldn't want to be seen eating this.”
-- “The fact that these cracklins are freshly rendered and warm actually adds to the palatability. Those ones from the bag looked pretty gnarly.”
-- “Out of the microwave they smell like old grease. I would have preferred a more buttery aroma.”
-- “It’s just like air. Really unhealthy, fattening air.”