Gas Station Gourmet: Fried Chicken Gizzards and Livers

Disclosure: you can deep fry pretty much any quasi-edible-thing and dare me to eat it and I’ll do it (or at least try to). That may seem like an overstatement, but last year when I was traveling through Cambodia, I astounded and disgusted a small gathering of strangers by consuming ¾ of a fried tarantula.

What was on the line? My pride.

(I didn’t manage to swallow the last ¼ of the spider. I’d already eaten the head and legs, which were similar to extra-crispy French fries, just a tad hairier. All that was left was the abdomen. I took a bite of that rounded area and, as I did, bravely glanced at my food for the first time. The insides were the color of egg whites. As I begin to chew, the thickness of the body, soft but firm, like Gumdrops, stuck to my teeth. I found the nearest wastebin, spat it all out, and chugged a beer.)

Alas, a failure. But this episode provided me the courage to take on many a deep-fried mammal meat with elegance and grace. Or so I’d like to think.

The deep frier is the great neutralizer of the weird-eats world. Not only is deep fried food usually a safe bet (what bacteria can survive those high temperatures?) but, to be Gas Station Gourmet candid; what doesn’t batter and oil immediately make tastier?


Some of my favorite mouthgasm-inducing-masterpieces include fish-n-chips, fried oreos, fried crocodile, fried chicken, and corn dogs. So when I wandered through a gas station in backcountry Illinois and noticed a particularly-greasy smelling selection of hot foods, I couldn’t resist. And when I found out that I could purchase a paper baggie of deep fried chicken gizzards and livers for only $2.50 (and it came with a free dipping sauce), I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Not only did this dish meet my standards of gross and questionable, but a side sauce like jalapeño mustard can make any bad decision, at the very least, tolerable.

(And after my rendezvous with the tarantula, fried chicken gizzards and livers felt like mere child’s play.)

I paid for the goods, grinning maniacally, and hopped back into the passenger side of the car. Here, I unwrapped my prize.

I’d eaten plenty of liver, so I was prepared for the soft-but-thick texture that juxtaposed with the nuggety-crunch of the outside crisp. It was salty, with an earthy, musty flavor and smell. The insides were the predictable gray-purple hue. Nothing outlandishly gross, nothing special. But once dipped into the jalapeño mustard, the liver bite was delightfully creamy and spicy. The sauce, as expected, both enhanced the crisp and masked the chew.

I could already feel my snack lying heavy in my stomach after a single nugget and my fingers were slimy with grease. I wiped them down on a napkin, and shook the bag, attempting to distinguish livers from gizzards. They were all pretty nugget-like.

I can’t say with certainty that after my long, convoluted street food history, I hadn’t eaten a gizzard before that moment. But I was still surprised by the intense, never ending chewiness of my first bite, like ripping into a chunk of the fattie grizzle of a steak. It took all my perseverance to keep going at it. And some bits were harder than others, with a consistency and crunch similar to that of cartilage. I tore at the flesh, which was much drier than the liver. As I did, I re-evaluated my assumption that animal organs were mostly soft. And I realized I had no idea what a gizzard was.

(I’m kind of glad I found this definition after my encounter with fried chicken gizzards.)

Fast Forward Two Hours Later. I can’t stop. Every ten minutes or so I find myself digging back into the crinkly paper bag, my fingertips desperately reaching for those golden bits of texture-and-flavor-explosion. However, I don’t know how much longer I can do it. I’m almost out of jalapeño mustard, which is key to this experiment.

I’m also beginning to feel nauseous and sleepy. Like when I binge drink and go way past my limit and my body starts shutting down, forcing me to pass out and stop consuming alcohol before I hurt myself.

Can’t write more. Must sleep. When I wake up, I may regret this.

  • Cost: $2.50
  • Tastiness: ***
  • Weirdness (Sights, Smells, & Texture): *****
  • Car-Safety: ***
  • Digestion: **
  • Overall Edibility: ***
  • Value: ****

Conclusion: It’s a great deal if you’re looking for a meal that’s a bang-for-your-buck and a taste of grease-heaven. But keep in mind that a power so mighty as that of the deep frier must be respected by us mere mortals. If you order a bag of these organ-nibbles, make sure to share them with an equally-curious-and-courageous friend. Otherwise you may fall victim to the tryptophan-nap, like myself.

Gas Station Gourmet: The Discount Burrito

Somewhere in South Dakota

by Cassia Reynolds

I like to think of myself as the apex predator of the cheap eats ecosystem. My collective experiences as a college student in Manhattan, a minimum-wage worker in Australia, and a backpacker have gifted me with a spidey-sense-esque ability to spot “marked-down” and “clearance” stickers at grocery stores. I have the patience and precision of a lion huntress going in for the kill when scanning the aisles. If there’s a good food deal out there, I will find it. And if it’s cheap and edible-looking enough (my parameters here are quite wide), I will buy it and I will eat it. 

I noticed (with the all-seeing gaze of a hawk that catches the movement of a mouse while flying over an open field) $1.00 scrawled in permanent marker behind the rural gas station’s hot food display window. Hello bacon burrito.

I reached into the warm, moist air of the case. My fingers curled around the wrinkled aluminum wrapper of the burrito. It felt just slightly above room temperature. I hesitated.

It’s not even ten o’clock in the morning. Why is this breakfast burrito 67% off? Unless it’s yesterday’s-

I shook the bad thoughts from my head. The discount outweighed the possible safety hazards. I bought it with my spare change, grinning and wondering if the disinterested-looking cashier was judging me as he rang it up.

I returned triumphantly to my two friends who were waiting in the car. When I slapped my prize on the dashboard, they both stared at it in horror.

“Are you really going to eat that?” One asked.

“Yeah, dude. It’s bacon. You can’t mess up bacon. And it was only $1!”

“But why was it only $1?”

I ignored that ridiculous question, unwrapping my breakfast prize and holding it before me. I couldn’t tell if the pale, flour tortilla wrap was cooked.

My first bite was mostly chewy tortilla. It wasn’t bad. Just very plain. My next mouthful revealed the intricate textures of the dish: half-melted strings of cheddar cheese; crispy, bite-sized microwaveable bacon bits (and yes I can tell if it’s microwavable or freshly fried); the mushed tomato liquid of Tostitos Mild Salsa; and a mostly flavorless, soft, crumbly substance that I couldn’t identify.

If anything, the burrito was true to its name; the thing was stuffed with bacon. Entirely enjoyable for a (sometimes excessive) carnivore like myself. The flavor was so bacon-y that it wasn’t until the third bite that I realized the soft crumbly chunks were overcooked scrambled eggs.

As we drove away from the gas station, I continued to munch. A well-packed burrito is a nearly perfect car food; it’s easy to hold and drive, every bite is an even distribution of flavor, and the wrapper usually makes an excellent impromptu napkin. And this bacon-laden pocket was no exception to that rule.

Fast Forward Two Hours Later. I’m in good shape; there are no unwanted aftereffects from my breakfast burrito! This has been a successful bargain meal adventure.

  • Cost: $1.00
  • Tastiness: **
  • Weirdness (Sights, Smells, & Texture): ***
  • Car-Safety: *****
  • Digestion: *****
  • Overall Edibility: **
  • Value: ***** 

Conclusion: Totally worth your $1. But not more. The original price of $2.99 was damn extortion. There’s just not enough flavor to merit more than a bargain hunt - because as we all know, it just tastes better when it’s an awesome deal. 

Gas Station Gourmet: Cajun Style Hot Boiled Peanuts

Somewhere in Wisconsin

by Cassia Reynolds

You’ve spent the last eight hours locked in a car. Everything has begun to bleed together into that endless interstate continuum. When the fuel indicator flashes an insistent red, a wave of relief passes through you. You pull under the neon awning of the next gas station and as you open the car door, you flop out onto the cement.

Your body is heavy with that special lazy kind of soreness. Your mind is completely fizzled, half-stoned with that long distance driving daze. And as you fuel up, a tender pinging flutters through your stomach, soft but tugging. Feed me, it whines.

When you enter the gas station you’re assaulted by an artillery of smells: preservatives, grease, freeze-dried eggs, and tile cleaner. But in your weakened state you can’t tell if your nose is tingling because it’s warning you of possible poison or if it’s lusting for the source of those sterile-but-greasy fumes.

Are you hallucinating or do those grayish sausages on that open grill smell really good?

And suddenly you’re standing in front of that bacteria-infested grill, a set of plastic tongs in one hand and a paper sausage holder in another. Your mind snaps awake and you drop the tongs, stepping back in horror.

The sausages taunt you, bulbous and speckled unnatural colors. Several are oozing a pus-like yellow liquid onto the grill. Fuck no. Then you take in another deep whiff of hot, meaty goodness. Your stomach is growling. But the fear is too much. Your mind is lost, your decision is unmade, and you leave with just a packet of chips in hand, your true hunger unquenched.

If this sounds familiar, don’t be ashamed; we’ve all had our moment in the gas station, weighing the pros and cons of a questionable food product. And it’s time for someone to take a stand against the uncertainty!

This food pioneer has embarked on a noble quest for the betterment of mankind: to venture into the unknown hazards and test the smelliest, the most mysterious, and the least appealing of all the pre-packaged and quasi-edible. Just for you. And for science, of course.

Cajun Style Hot Boiled Peanuts

At first glance, the mini-cauldron filled with steaming peanut soup confused me. I’m Southern and I’ve eaten boiled peanuts plenty, but they’ve never been soaked in some strange, glowing orange broth. Seriously, this stuff radiated the kind of alluring glow that gold coins did in that old cartoon, Ducktales.

As if to counter the inedible-like ambiance, it also emitted a pleasant, spicy-salty scent that reminded me of gumbo. I attributed it to the cajun seasoning.

I picked out the smallest foam cup and dipped the soup ladle deep into the pot, stirring up the layers of orange-speckled, peanut lumps. Before I dumped a spoonful into my cup, I drained a bit of the hot liquid out. That just seemed damned unsafe for a car snack; I envisioned burnt thighs, stained seats, and a forever lingering smell of cajun seasoning.

Back in my car, I placed the cup in the drink holder beside me. I knew I couldn’t eat this snack and drive; it was way too messy. The first peanut I picked out of the bunch burned hot between my fingertips and I had to drop it and wait a moment before digging in. When I did, I wasn’t sure how to eat these things; I know you don’t normally consume the shell of a boiled peanut, but this one was particularly soft. I decided against it, peeling it open. I dug one meaty half out of a shell and popped it in my mouth.

It was hot, with a smooth, thick texture just a degree away from mushy. It fell apart without resistance between my teeth. As it did, the juices burst across my tongue. The flavor was intense and on the saltier side, but held heavy overtones of pepper and creamy nuttiness that came in waves as I chewed and swallowed. This was no snack to take lightly; it had an explosive, fiery zest.

I only made it through a few peanuts before I had to stop and take a break, fearing a sodium-overdose. The aftertaste held strong and didn’t fade until several sips of coffee later.

The peanuts came with a major downside: every bite meant wiping my fingers on napkins. I couldn’t possibly drive and eat these things at the same time. The smell also lingered forever, even after I closed the lid on the cup and wrapped it up in a trash bag.

Fast Forward Two Hours Later. My stomach is feeling fine, no problematic after effects, except for a slight salty taste in my mouth. 

  • Cost: (for a small) $2.86
  • Tastiness: ***
  • Weirdness (Sights, Smells, & Texture): ***
  • Car-Safety: *
  • Digestion: *****
  • Overall Edibility: ***
  • Value: **

Conclusion: This is an offensive, awesome visual and olfactory experience. It’s also quite tasty, with a distinct cajun spiciness. However, if you’re the one in the driver seat, it’s just not a viable snack. You will get cajun peanut drip all over you and it will smell up the whole car. It’s also not very filling for the price.