Popular Gas Station Foods Ranked Worst To Best

The cornerstone of any good road trip is not the journey or the destination. It's the snacks.

We've all been there: just about at that one hour into the drive mark, and someone inevitably either has to go to the bathroom or needs some water. You swerve into the nearest gas station, throw the car into park, and very suddenly realize you're hungry. Or, even if you're not, given the proximity of what is arguably the greatest snack collection of all time, you could work up an appetite. So, you grab your wallet and head through those magical gas station doors, which almost always have little bells that ring like they are announcing the start of an uber-important mission.

But where to begin on this snack crusade? Although gas stations undoubtedly have some of the best of the best treats on their shelves, there are also a few avoid-at-all-costs food options lining those linoleum-floored aisles. We took the liberty of rounding up the popular foods you can get at any given gas station and ranking them from grossest to greatest. Read on, check out, and enjoy the rest of your ride.

16. Hot dogs

There is not that much inherently offensive about meat rotating on a roller tray, glistening under fluorescent lighting, and radiating mystery. Even if it's not your favorite sight in the world, at the very least it's not shocking. Odds are, anyone who's been in a gas station more than once in their life has caught sight of the station hot dog in their periphery. But when you stop — we mean, really stop — and examine the hot dog, things get a little more vivid. And no, not in a good way.

What is going on with this hunk of protein? Upon closer inspection, calling it "meat" might be generous. How long has it been spinning, turning over and over through endless cycles of rejection by previous gas station patrons? Does the contraption that it's caged in actually keep it heated at an edible temperature, or would this dog qualify as more "lukewarm"?

With so many unanswered variables, there's simply no way we can recommend springing for this gas station "meat." Play it safe and pick something else.

15. Nachos

There is something endearing about gas station nachos. They're trying so hard to be what they're destined to be, but the logistics of a gas station itself do not set these bad boys up for success. How could the nacho cheese ever be anything but the pre-packaged, blatantly chemical soup it is? With no kitchen and certainly no stove top anywhere in sight, the conditions will never be in place to make it anything more. As for the chips, there was never any hope for them to be freshly made or even especially crunchy. Instead they exist in a somewhat sad, rounded, and vaguely stale state, cramped together inside a clunky plastic container. 

While these nachos aren't quite as frightening as the hot dogs, there is still absolutely nothing natural about them. That, considered alongside the fact that they almost always end up tasting staggeringly bland, places these nachos squarely in a low spot.

14. Fountain soda

Okay, here you at least have options. And while not all options are horrific, no soda filled to the brim and capped with the plastic lid and straw combo is going to leave you feeling particularly great. Best case scenario, you'll slug the final sip of the soft drink and end up with a full bladder and will soon need to pull over at the next gas station. This isn't bad but definitely isn't ideal, either. Worst case, you will end up completely loaded on sugar, too hyper to be cramped in the car on a road trip, and more dehydrated than you were, to begin with.

The other problem with fountain soda? Not only is it unhealthy on its own, but it is practically begging to be paired with an additionally unhealthy snack. You'd never walk out of a station with a single fountain soda and no sugary treat to wash things down. We get it, to be fair. But the truth is, the lack of nutritional value can easily compound itself here.

13. Pizza

This pizza is a far cry from the streets of New York City — literally, seeing as gas station pizza exists on the streets of everywhere and nowhere in the U.S. — but we aren't even expecting that level of quality. We don't demand much when it comes to pizza: just some decent bread, cheese, and any variety of toppings. We're here for even the most basic not-made-in-New-York slice. However, that open-mindedness to the 'za ends when it comes to gas station slices. The general rule of thumb we've coined for fuel-side food is that if it's made there, leave it there. 

Pizza, as food made and left in the open air of the store, is no exception. In fact, it may be the rule (alongside hot dogs). There is simply no need, in the middle of your road trip or ever, to grab a potentially germy lukewarm slice from the station. Odds are, a quick Google could get you to a less-questionable pie just as quickly. 

12. Slurpee

Here's a pit stop option that takes a lot of the unique concerns we had about the lower-ranking items on this list, mixes them together, and spits them out as one flavorful and potentially gross frozen drink. 

First of all, there's the sugar. Slurpees are packed with this sweet stuff, while their liquid nature makes them just as impractical as soda for a road trip. Drinking one of these will just mean you need to stop at another gas station down the line to use their bathroom. 

And then there's the "if it's made there, leave it there" rule. Slurpees walk an interesting line on this one, as they are technically made in the gas station store. But, given how unnatural their ingredients are, they don't feel as offensive as the meat or pizza that are just left out all day in the open air. We aren't fans of drinking our desserts, so we can't recommend this regardless. But even if we were, given the factors against Slurpees, why not just opt for a higher-ranking snack?

11. Salt & vinegar chips

We know we may be stoking some serious debate here, but when it comes to car ride snacks, salt and vinegar chips just aren't it. In some ways, this goes for almost any chip with a notable amount of flavoring on it. After all, who has the time or patience to cover your hands in salty flavoring and then have to deal with the way it coats the steering wheel, car door handle, seat buckle? Not us. 

But the real problem here is not actually the messiness of the greased-up chip, but rather the lack of payoff. This flavor is simply not good enough to validate any hassle. From the first bite, salt and vinegar chips taste like a bitter, oddly-seasoned salad, and the pungent after-taste doesn't do much to help their case. When consumed in a small space (like, oh, a car) we have qualms with the strength of their smell, too. If you indulge in these at the station, your entire vehicle will soon reek of their stench. 

10. Combos

Can you get Combos at places other than gas stations? These stuffed baked pretzels are more or less the station staple, always proudly hanging in a neat row ready to be snagged and consumed for the rest of the car ride. The iconic snack has a few factors working in its favor. First off, unlike other sometimes under-filled bags, this pack lasts. The pretzel bites are ideal for sharing and feel made to just pop into your mouth while staring out onto the unfolding highway. 

However, even given their benefits, we still feel that Combos are a snack that over-promises and under-delivers. The bags all quite literally read "stuffed snacks," which in our book conjures up images of stuffed breads, stuffed olives — food items that actually have a notably different flavor and consistency on the inside than on the out. Combos do not fit this bill. What are they even stuffed with, flavored powder? It's hard to divine the exact nature of the filling, which knocks it a few spots down the ranking.

9. Pop-Tarts

We're crossing into neutral territory on our ranking now, and Pop-Tarts are the perfect snack to bring us there. Look, there's nothing healthy about a Pop-Tart, and as long as we establish that we can speak openly about the snack's other strengths and weaknesses. First of all, this snack is always pre-packaged. As previously discussed, that's a must for gas station food. No questionable cooking methods to fear, here. Secondly, despite having a good amount of flavor and texture, Pop-Tarts are actually a fairly neat food to consume. They generally won't leave a residue on your hands and barely even crumble when bitten. The gooey center stays fairly self-contained, and the sprinkles are much too caked on to ever fall off. 

Why not rank Pop-Tarts higher? The fact of the matter is that they're still pretty basic. There's not that much wrong, but there also isn't that much right. There is a slew of more fun gas station foods to consider instead, anyway.

8. Coffee

The final almost-exception to the "if it's made there, leave it there" gas station rule, coffee is less of a health concern in terms of cleanliness. Perhaps that's an ill-founded belief since there are plenty of opportunities for germs to throve on the cold metal surfaces, handles, and spouts involved in this contraption. However, at the end of the day, the hot beverage just needs to make it from inside a machine to your cup. That's not a long way to go, so perhaps we're being naive, but we're optimistic about the entire process being clean enough. Though some hand sanitizer wouldn't hurt you. 

And consider having a long drive ahead. Are you're already fading? Grab a gas station java and return the pedal to the metal. The flavor might not be anything to write home about, sure. We're not here to say gas station coffee is better than any local coffee joint, Starbucks, or that it's even independently good-tasting. However, given the potentially intense need and the overall health benefits when you drink it completely black, gas station coffee isn't the worst of the worst. It'll do. 

7. Little Debbie's Cosmic Brownies

Little Debbie has the gas station snack aisle on lock, from Oatmeal Creme Pies to Zebra Rolls to Mini Muffins to, of course, the crown jewel of the processed snack treasury: the Cosmic Brownie. Similar to Combos, we're actually not convinced it is possible to get these pre-packaged, candy-decked brownies anywhere but a gas station, and we don't even want to try. The experience of wandering into a station convenience store and deciding to make any given afternoon a Cosmic Brownie afternoon is too pure to even consider looking for it elsewhere.

But it's not just nostalgia or the experience of buying them that makes Cosmic Brownies great. They're iconic for a reason. Consider that the flavor is unmatched. Somehow moist despite being pre-packaged, the icing is delightfully sugary atop the decadent, dense brownie bottom layer. The bits of colored candy add a dynamic crunch, making for an ideal dessert flavor profile. It is intensely fudgy and sweet, however, and so may not satisfy everyone's gas station snack needs.

6. Peanut M&M's

We know what you might be thinking: Peanut M&M's are a pretty nondescript snack, all things considered. Anyone who has lived on planet Earth long enough to happen across a vending machine at least once knows exactly what they're getting into when peeling open this instantly recognizable yellow bag.

However, here's our case for what is quite possibly one of the most popular flavors of M&M's. Remember that, when you walk into a gas station, there are many options. That can be fun, but there's also something to be said for an easily recognizable, reliable item that you already know and love. Peanut M&M's make what could be a long decision process much easier. Plus, you can even kid yourself into thinking that they aren't as unhealthy as other candy options because of the (albeit small) protein factor provided by that little legume at the center. 

5. Trail mix

While trail mix is far from the most interesting snack on this list, it is realistically the most consistent gas station snack purchase we make. Why? In many ways, a nondescript bag of store-brand trail mix has everything you need in a gas station snack: it's sweet, salty, easy to eat, and delivers enough nutrition to keep you going throughout the rest of your drive. 

From a health perspective, we love the lack of anything fried, glazed, or carb-loaded going on here. We also appreciate that often (at gas stations especially) trail mix comes in a single serving size bag. This helps quell the classic issue of mindless driving and eating. That's where, suddenly and without even realizing it, you've consumed an entire family-sized bag of Smartfood popcorn (that's obviously a completely hypothetical situation).

Due to their store brand nature, trail mixes vary greatly from one gas station to another. But give us one with dried cranberries and pistachio bits and we don't care about the rest. This dependable though decidedly un-flashy snack bag is up there in terms of good gas station snacks.

4. Honey Buns

Little Debbie makes her return even higher up on the list with what could be her most timeless treat: the Honey Bun. As was the case with the Cosmic Brownies, the Honey Bun is a gas station delicacy that tastes surprisingly fresh considering it has been wrapped in plastic for who knows how long. This glorious, golden, glazed hunk of bread is so expertly constructed that it could almost pass for an item that came from an actual bakery, and not just a corner shelf. The pastry is remarkably airy and moist, while the glaze is cakey, thick, and extremely sweet. 

Given its artificial nature, it's surprising the complementary flavors of honey and butter are each so strong that the Honey Bun might as well be drizzled in both. Although this is not a snack for the health-conscious, it is such an essential gas station find that we had to include it near the top of this list. Plus, check out that price. In our opinion, there's no better way to spend less than a dollar than on a Little Debbie delicacy. 

3. Flamin' Hot Cheetos

Full disclosure: many of the same issues we discussed for lower-ranking foods are also a problem when it comes to Flamin' Hot Cheetos. This snack will absolutely coat your fingers in that signature neon orange Cheeto dust, making it impossible to munch and drive without coating your steering wheel in the stuff. They also have next to no nutritional value. Furthermore, the bags are usually packed to underwhelming levels (that is, they're usually half Cheeto and half air). 

However, despite all of these potential drawbacks, Flamin' Hot Cheetos are still able to rank astonishingly high in the ranks of gas station food. How? They're hot Cheetos. Their flavor is not only creative and distinct, but it's also completely unmatched in the world of snacks. From the next-level branding (a cartoon tiger in sunglasses atop flames? Okay!) to the very construction of each individual Flamin' Hot Cheeto itself, this snack is an absolutely essential gas station option. Just grab some napkins.

2. Chex Mix

Chex Mix is hardly a gas station-specific snack, but we couldn't create a list of foods you can get at a gas station and not include this gem ranked right up at the top. Even though Chex Mix may seem like a fairly basic snack that's available in so many places that you might take it for granted, when you really stop and think about which gas station option would spark the most joy when brought back to the car, there's no way Chex Mix isn't at the very top of that list. The snack mix is just too good. 

From the diversity of its components to the combined super-salty flavor profile of all those separate parts taken together, Chex Mix has nailed this timeless icon. And, while it's possible to grab a bag at the grocery store, corner shop, and even the movie theater, there is no place Chex Mix exists with as many different flavor options as in gas station aisles. The gas station's array of Chex renditions, from Traditional to Cheddar to Hot & Spicy all the way across the spectrum to Strawberry, is simply staggering and undeniably fun. 

1. Honey Roasted Peanuts

This winning gas station snack is most often spotted in this perfectly shaped tin, but the benefits don't end in the shape of the container. Everything about this snack is ideal, from its somewhat credible nutritional value to its flavor to the very method by which you consume it. Let's start with the most important draw: the flavor of honey roasted peanuts is second to none They are sweet, salty, and delightfully caramelized. And while each individual peanut packs its own sugary punch, they are great when eaten by the handful as well. 

Unlike other items on this list, though, honey roasted peanuts are not just a treat for those with an inveterate sweet tooth. They actually do contain a non-negligible amount of protein and fewer carbs than any other option in the snack-dessert space that you can buy off gas station shelves. This means you are free to indulge without fearing that you're throwing back a bunch of completely empty calories. Also, there's a higher chance the peanuts will keep you fuller for longer on that road trip. Make sure to grab some water alongside this tin, though, as these bad boys can leave you parched. Then, just enjoy.