Running through a cool sprinkler, hearing the sizzle of a burger on the grill, seeing the faint outline of a flip flop tan: Of the summer traditions, there's none quite like biting into the perfect pickle.
That summer staple -- which uses fermentation to preserve the cucumber crop -- has a peculiar pleasure all its own: the crunch, the sour scent, the vinegary bite. Done right, a pickle can elevate a sandwich, burger, salad or wrap. Some even merit being eaten on their own. And yet, if executed poorly, pickles can easily leave a sour taste in your mouth.
We did the legwork for you, surveying the best pickles this Texas summer has to offer.
Our pickle consortium, made up of interns Connie Lee, Wynne Davis and me, tasted 12 kinds, sourced from high-end restaurants (Front Room Tavern) to farmers markets (T-Rex Pickles, Taste This Pickle) to gas stations (Buc-ee's).
See which we relished and which were no big dill.
Spicy Chicken Pickle, Taste This Pickle, $12
Of the 12 we tasted, these were the fan favorite. Spicy, with a surprisingly strong chicken flavor and a powerful pickled taste, Davis described them as "so good." I could easily eat a whole jar in a day; my colleagues agreed.
House Pickles (Giardiniera), Front Room Tavern, Dallas, $10.83
This pickled mixture included various vegetables (although no cucumbers) and was one of the better pickled items we tasted, with a mild spicy edge and an enjoyable crunch factor. "Good" was the adjective of choice around the tasting table. But they were not life-changing.
Garlic Pickles, T-Rex Pickles, $7
A pickle by any other name would taste more garlicky. Our tasters said the garlic flavor was really only present in the aftertaste, though they did like the pickle's crunch. Maybe they'd be better in a sandwich, I mused. Lee and Davis, however, were unimpressed. Davis said the pickle was "too much like a cucumber." (And yes, we know pickles are made of cucumbers.)
Spicy Garlic Pickles, Jimmy's Food Store, Dallas, $5.99
Confusing: That's this pickle. Despite the name, and although there was a spicy presence, this pickle was surprisingly sweet. Everyone agreed that the texture was "weird." Even so, Lee pronounced the pickles "good."
Habanero Chunk Pickles, Jimmy's Food Store, Dallas, $6.99
Living up to their name, these pickles were unilaterally pronounced both spicy and "so good." They were crunchy, vinegar-y, tangy and had spice, Lee said. Two of us would buy them again.
Jamaican Sour Gherkins, T-Rex Pickles, $10
Even still in the jar, these pickles provoked strong reactions, including comparisons to "alien babies." Though the primary objections to the pickles seemed to be the gherkins themselves -- baby cucumbers, which had the texture, though not the taste, of cherry tomatoes -- the tasters also thought the gherkins weren't pickled enough. Lee called them "soggy." Then Davis: "Nope."
Gourmet Cucumber Salad, Taste This Pickle, $10
Our tasters enjoyed these ones, which had mild pickled flavor and a little spice on thicker cucumber slices. They might be a good addition to a salad, Davis suggested. Lee wanted more crunch.
Habanero Pickles, Oma's Choice, $6
Living up to its name, this pickle was incredibly spicy. "Good but super sour and spicy. Pretty intense," Lee said. "I like it but I wouldn't buy it."
Whole Baby Dill Pickles, Slovacek's West, West, $10
Purchased from a place known best for its kolaches, these pickles were mediocre, our tasters decided. I described them as "your standard dill." Lee found them bland and soggy.
Dill Pickles, T-Rex Pickles, $7
We expected a normal dill pickle flavor, from the name, but these had an "odd, herb-y flavor," Lee said. I found them to be too sour.
Hot Dill Pickles, T-Rex Pickles, $7
Though these were spicier than the T-Rex Dill Pickles, our tasters had similar reactions: "not good," Lee said, despite the spice. As with the regular dills, she liked the crunch and texture, but it wasn't enough.
Dill Pickles, Buc-ee's, $6.69
Ambivalence is the best way to sum up the reaction to these pickles: "They're not offensive but not enjoyable," I said. Maybe that's a sign: Don't buy pickles at a gas station.