Potatoes are delicious pretty much any way you cut them, but few potato dishes are quite as fun and tasty as tater tots. After all, these small spuds are delicious, golden, crispy, poppable, and the perfect vehicle for a range of dipping sauces when they're executed right.
There are plenty of restaurants across the United States that serve tater tots (or some version of them). However, the original tot came from your grocer's freezer over a half-century ago. To this day, the frozen supermarket version gives tot lovers everywhere the golden opportunity to enjoy them anytime they please at home
But which frozen tater tots are the best that money can buy? I recently set out on a mission to answer that question by trying four of the most well-known and widely available brands sold in grocery stores: Ore-Ida, McCain, Lamb Weston, and Great Value (Walmart's house brand).
I baked the tots from each brand in a conventional oven according to the package instructions, but tacked on a couple of extra minutes on each of their cooking times because I prefer them extra crispy. Ore-Ida's packaging instructed me to season the tots to taste once they came out of the oven, so I also did the same with the other brands for consistency.
I judged each brand's tots on whether they were seasoned enough, not just on the outside but all the way through. I also heavily scrutinized the texture, which can be the difference between a great tot and one that's just meh. I think that the absolute best tots are shatteringly crispy on the outside, sturdy enough to stay intact, and cooked through in the middle without getting too soft.
One of the brands I tried not only met all of these criteria, but completely blew me away. In fact, I couldn't stop myself from eating copious amounts of the winning tots (which is saying something considering that the tot fatigue was high at that point).
Here's what I thought of each brand, starting with my least favorite and ending with my new go-to tot brand for life!
McCain's Quick Cook Tasti Taters are made from seasoned shredded potatoes and called for the shortest cooking time out of all the brands (12 to 15 minutes at 425 degrees). A 20-ounce bag cost me $2.99.
The look: I'll say this right off the bat—the visual differences between all of these tots were pretty marginal. They all came in those classic, cylindrical shapes and were pretty much the same size. If anything, the differences really came down to color. McCain's tots, for example, looked pretty well-browned, but not as crispy as some of the other tot brands I tried.
The taste: I'm a pretty devoted tater tot fan, so I think even a subpar tot is still a good tot. But while McCain's tots were tasty and enjoyable enough, they couldn't really compete with the higher-ranking brands in this taste test. The tots came out barely crispy even though I baked them for a few extra minutes. They were also way too delicate for my preferences—one of the tots broke in half as I gently dipped it in a pool of ketchup. To top it all off, the inside of the tots were pretty bland, especially in comparison to the other brands. Between the inadequate seasoning and disappointing texture, ranking these at the bottom was a no-brainer.
Ore-Ida's Golden Tater Tots are made from seasoned, shredded Grade A potatoes. The packaging instructed me to cook them for 20 to 25 minutes at 450 degrees until they turned a "light golden color." A 32-ounce package cost me $6.29.
The look: Weirdly enough, Ore-Ida's tots were the palest out of all the bunch despite being cooked at a higher temperature. I did spot a few well-browned spots from direct contact with the cookie sheet, though.
The taste: Ore-Ida is always the first brand that comes to mind when I think of tater tots, which is only fitting. The frozen food company actually invented them back in the 1950s and even trademarked the name "Tater Tots." The originators still make a tasty version of the snack. However, these tots were far from perfect. On the positive side, these were very well seasoned and salty all the way through, while the potato on the inside was cooked well and not too soft. On the negative side, the outside texture wasn't crispy enough for me. Don't get me wrong, I had no qualms about eating these. They would have just needed a much longer time in the oven than the packaging says to get the texture I really wanted.
Great Value's Taters are also made with seasoned, shredded potatoes that, according to the package instructions, should be cooked for 24 to 26 minutes at 425 degrees. I got a 32-ounce bag for $3.42.
The look: Great Value's tots are proof that you can achieve impressive crispiness on an oven-baked tot. While they weren't golden and crispy all the way around, they developed some deeply browned spots where they came in direct contact with the hot pan.
The taste: Putting these ahead of Ore-Ida's tots was a tough decision. I thought that Ore-Ida's version was slightly better seasoned in the middle than Great Value's. However, the taste differences weren't that extreme and the texture of the Great Value's tots was far superior to Ore-Ida. They were pretty darn crispy, held together well, and had so much more visual appeal than Ore-Ida's. For the second-lowest priced tots from this whole taste test, I think these are a steal.
Lamb Weston Grown In Idaho
Lamb Weston's Grown In Idaho Super Crispy Tots are made with 100% certified Idaho potatoes. The package called for a 24 to 26 minute cook time at 425 degrees for a full bag (18 to 20 minutes for a half bag). A 28-ounce bag cost me $4.32.
The look: If it wasn't obvious from the photo, every millimeter of these tots was remarkably golden brown. I actually gasped in excitement when I pulled them out of the oven.
The taste: Boy oh boy, do these live up to their "Super Crispy" name. You probably could have heard the crunch from these tots from 20 feet away. I have rarely gotten tots with such an excellent texture from an actual restaurant, let alone a plastic bag from my freezer. That crunchy crust around the outside was thick and encased perfectly cooked, shredded potatoes. The tots were also so well seasoned from the inside out that I didn't even want to dunk them in ketchup, which is rare for me.
Before this taste test, I figured that a frozen tater tot could never match the ones you get from a restaurant or make yourself. But Lamb Weston has changed my perception of how good a frozen tot can be. As long as they're available, these are the only frozen tots I'll eat for the rest of my life.