Once again it’s time for Munch Madness—that competitive time of year when snacks from the frozen food aisle are hand-picked for a tournament-style smackdown. It’s time-honored favorites pitted against cocky newcomers; scrappy underdogs squaring off with unmatched dynasties; and awkward perennial losers who you feel really bad for because it’s clear they don’t belong versus literally any other challenger.
A field of 16 was chosen by a seasoned professional in the snack food game—namely, me. Your food writer, Steve Mosco. As a frozen food enthusiast who was raised in the frigid end of the local supermarket, I have an intimate knowledge of every product to grace those sub-zero shelves. A firm believer that frozen vegetables take up far too much real estate in the freezer and that anyone who spends their money on frozen breakfast foods ought to be barred from the aisle indefinitely, I take this cuisine more seriously than any so-called five-star meal.
With my credentials laid out before you, I present to you the Munch Madness Tournament. Keep in mind that this list was whittled down from a much larger field that I do not have the space to list here, and the first-round matchups were chosen completely at random.
Super Pretzels vs. Bagel Bites
The first matchup seems like a no-brainer, and it is. Super Pretzels, though soft and warm, do not stand a chance against Bagel Bites. For starers the salt is far too sparse on these pretzels. Secondly, Super Pretzels are only really good with some spicy mustard or cheese sauce on the side. And since neither mustard nor cheese is included, Super Pretzels have no shot. Bagel Bites on the other hand, which is essentially pizza on a bagel, can be eaten anytime.
Hot Pockets (all products) vs. Jamaican Beef Patties
Hot Pockets have come a long way. From humble beginnings of ham and cheese to an ever-growing array of fancier products, Hot Pockets have grown confident in its own abilities—but perhaps too confident? Hot Pockets suffer from serious mission drift, with the core values of a simple, lava-hot interior wrapped in a crust that is somehow both crunchy and rubbery, completely lost. Meanwhile, Jamaican Beef Patties have remained true to the core values it was founded upon. It’s spicy beef in a crust. Enough said. Ladies and gentleman, we have our first upset—Jamaican Beef Patties are moving to the second round.
Smucker’s Uncrustables vs. State Fair Corn Dogs
How someone thought peanut butter and jelly needed to simplified, I’ll never quite understand, but Uncrustables have a loyal following of rabid supporters—possibly people without the pantry space for a jar of peanut butter. State Fair Corn Dogs come in as a hot dog covered in corn batter served on a stick. Side note: I scorched my mouth on a frozen corn dog that I failed to let cool long enough, and I still have the scar. Be that as it may, Uncrustables has no shot. It doesn’t even have crust. Corn Dogs, moving on.
Morning Star Farms Chik’n Nuggets vs. Totino’s Pizza Rolls
Chik’n Nuggets? Uh, no. In what will be the most lopsided victory of the entire tournament, it’s Totino’s Pizza Rolls by a mile-wide margin.
Gorton’s Fish Sticks vs. El Monterey Chicken Taquitos
First of all, who else grew up thinking it was Gordon’s and not Gorton’s? Am I living in a parallel universe? Be that as it may, Fish Sticks are a classic treat that stands as the lone ocean entry, winning points for originality and crispiness. El Monterey Chicken Taquitos are essentially rolled up tacos without wilted garbage lettuce or flavorless tomatoes. That said, it works. The cheesy, smoky chicken devastates with flavor, while the bad reputation of fish sticks alone is enough to sink Gorton’s.
Frozen Pizza (various brands) vs. El Monterey Beef and Cheese Burritos
Under the frozen pizza tent is included Red Baron, Mama Celeste, Newman’s Own, Ellio’s, Tombstone and numerous others. Here’s the problem with frozen pizza—this is Long Island. Chances are there’s a fine pizzeria sharing the same shopping center as the supermarket. Just get a pizza there. El Monterey Burritos wins.
Tyson Any’tizers Hot ‘N Spicy Chicken Wings vs. Hebrew National Beef Franks in a Puff Pastry Blanket (pigs in a blanket)
To me, Pigs in a Blanket takes this easily, and here’s why—there has never been and there will never be a frozen chicken wing that can compete with a tiny hot dog rolled in buttery pastry dough. Frozen wings are flavorless bastardizations of actual chicken wings. They are fine in a pinch, but crumble against all challengers.
White Castle Cheeseburgers vs. Stouffer’s Macaroni & Cheese
Here’s why Frozen White Castle Cheeseburgers are so great—they taste exactly like the burgers from an actual White Castle. It’s as if the quality of the burgers from actual White Castle is somehow less than ideal. Stouffer’s Mac & Cheese is warm, comforting and a meal in itself. All it really needs is a little touch of meat protein to put it over the top. And anytime a competitor needs something that wasn’t included in order to win, it’s an automatic loss. White Castle takes it.
Bagel Bites vs. Jamaican Beef Patties
The first match in the second round sees Bagel Bites riding high—the combination of pizza ingredients on a mini-bagel are a bite-sized slam dunk when the munchies take hold. And yet, somehow the allure of island life draws me back to thoughts of Jamaican Beef Patties. The spicy beef hidden within that impossibly golden crust is actually well-seasoned with eye-opening jerk flavors. Meanwhile, by comparison, Bagel Bites are far more shallow in overall taste. Yes, this is happening. I’m going to the jerk store. Jamaican Beef Patties are on to the next round.
State Fair Corn Dogs vs. Totino’s Pizza Rolls
Who doesn’t love food on a stick? With frozen corn dogs, the heavy hot dog essence isn’t relegated to the tubed meat, as that singular flavor also seeps well into the corn bread casing. And folks, that is not a bad thing. The only downside to a corn dog is that the stick itself is not edible. Meanwhile, Pizza Rolls are also a singular food item. The thing is, they are called Pizza Rolls, but they don’t necessarily taste like pizza. And somehow, that makes Pizza Rolls better. The flavor within the crust is something that exists precisely nowhere else in the culinary world. It’s as unique as the Pizza Roll itself, and it is carrying Totino’s to the next round.
El Monterey Chicken Taquitos vs. El Monterey Beef Burritos
It’s the battle of El Monterey! This showdown is exactly what makes Munch Madness so special. A completely random drawing leads to these two Munch Mavens of Mexico in a heated face-off. Taquitos with the ulta-crispy exterior and stringy chicken on the inside are up against the big beefiness of the burritos. And that’s what ends up deciding this—the big beefiness of these burritos isn’t quite big enough. Taquitos takes this match- up of crosstown rivals.
Pigs in a Blanket vs. White Castle Cheeseburgers
Teeny-tiny hot dogs in their warm flaky crust—it’s buttery, salty, doughy and downright fun to eat. Then there’s frozen White Castle, which as we established before is just as good as the burgers from an actual White Castle. But in round two, that is not a good thing. White Castle is just too soggy, too limp and too weak to make this a close one. It’s Pigs in a Blanket moving on.
Jamaican Beef Patties vs. Totino’s Pizza Rolls
In any other situation, these two champions of munchie time would be great friends. They share similar strengths—enticing exteriors and a surprisingly well-established inner flavor. They also share similar shortcomings—you have to let them cool before eating or suffer the consequences of third-degree burns in your mouth. The one quality that Pizza Rolls has over Beef Patties is their strength in numbers. You can sit down with 20 Pizza Rolls and never tire of popping them into your waiting maw. Unfortunately for Beef Patties, this is the deciding factor. Pizza Rolls move on to the finals!
El Monterey Taquitos vs. Pigs in a Blanket
Much like the previous contest, these two combatants share similar constructs: an outer vessel with hot meatiness on the inside. What it comes down to is consistency. Are you a fan of a tortilla crunch or a pastry doughiness? My mouth makes the call—Pigs in a Blanket wins by the slimmest of margins!
Totino’s Pizza Rolls vs. Pigs in a Blanket
First, a standing ovation for our two deserving finalists. If it were up to me, we would call this a draw and go home to eat fistfuls of both. But the Munchie gods must be satisfied. Both snacks are well-suited for snack time, whether that happens at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. Both offer texture, as well as taste. But only one stands as the complete package of crunch, heat, saltiness, and…cheesiness.
That’s right, after a long journey to the top of the mountain, Totino’s Pizza Rolls is the winner of Munch Madness 2019. See ya next year!