MREs do what they can to bring a little taste of home to deployed troops. How successful they are or have been in the past — and how tasty those attempts were — is open for debate.
For decades, we’ve seen dozens of flavors come and go. Some we remember fondly. Many we are happy to toss into the literal and figurative dumpster of history.
Also read: Army food will make you feel the feels
America is big place! Someone tell the people who make MREs to scour the best regions of the United States for our regional flavors! We could get some better food while learning a little bit about the different regional cuisines of our own country.
1. A better Buffalo Chicken.
What is more ‘Merica than adding butter to hot sauce and then pouring it over chicken wings? The answer is “not much.” But the MRE wizards decided to make it a “pulled” version of the dish, which ended up looking like an electric orange glop.
They gave us whole pieces of meat when it came to the Western Burger and the Frankfurters. Why they decided not to use actual wings (or even boneless wings) is beyond comprehension. And don’t get us started on the lack of Bleu Cheese.
2. Baltimore Crab Cakes.
I know asking for crab from the military is asking a lot. But I’d rather have it processed into MREs than eat what I tasted as it was steamed into a rubbery oblivion at the DFAC on Camp Victory.
Besides the delicious crab cake, a little packet of Old Bay seasoning could totally replace the hot sauce packet as the go-to flavor enhancer.
3. Southern-Style Biscuits and Gravy.
This one isn’t such a great idea for being on-the-go, but if you have time to sit and eat, this would be a great idea. We all know the Elf snack bread can also be used for hammering nails so why not have the MRE people create a buttermilk snack bread that is designed to be moistened up in the field. With gravy.
The end product will look nothing like the photo above, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Civilian rations already made this – and relatively well. Besides, it will show that the MRE people put some thought into texture and mouthfeel.
4. South Dakota’s Chislic.
Chislic is simple. It’s grilled or fried chunks of meat – usually game or lamb, but can also be beef – topped with seasoned salt or garlic salt. It’s eaten via toothpick and served with saltines. It’s like shish kebab.
So it would be one MRE our Middle Eastern allies could eat with us. We all know MRE makers are fans of crackers and chunked meat. This one sells itself.
5. Hawaiian Spam Musubi.
Bear with me here. Spam gets a bad rap but this Hawaiian snack is pretty great. In Hawaii, Spam is even getting a gourmet makeover. Musubi is fried or grilled Spam on a bed of rice and held together with nori seaweed.
The best part about Spam Musubi is that it tastes great hot or cold and is designed to be eaten on the run.
6. Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits.
The coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina, especially Charleston, are culinary heaven. Grits are a boiled ground hominy, a corn product. How it’s made isn’t important, but how it’s prepared definitely is. My first breakfast with locals in Charleston had them each prep their grits in a different way. Some add cheese, some add grape jelly, and the chefs add shrimp, tomatoes, sausage, peppers, bacon, spices…
7. West Virginia’s Pepperoni Rolls.
Just like it sounds, the Pepperoni Roll is a bready roll baked with pepperoni in the middle. The idea is to heat the bread and let the pepperoni oils soak into it as the entire thing gets softer. It can also be eaten cold, which is a boon to troops on the move.
For those of you asking if we should really be taking nutrition tips from Appalachia, my response to you is that if we really cared that much about it in the field, we wouldn’t be eating MREs.
8. New Mexico’s Green Chile Stew.
If you’ve eaten MREs for long enough, you’ve come to realize they all taste the same after a while. Why not make one that was prepared the way it was intended, with a sh*tton of green chiles in it?
It can also be a vegetarian option, but the best part about having Green Chile Stew in an MRE is that it can be poured over every other MRE, instantly making even the worst meal edible. Chicken chunks and veggie crumbles aren’t just for lining the reject box anymore!
9. Upstate NY’s Utica Greens.
There are always a lot of complaints that MREs don’t have a lot of vegetable matter in them. Here’s our chance to appease those people while teaching the rest of America that New York State is large and there’s a lot to see between NYC and Buffalo.
Utica Greens are any kind of leafy green sautéed in chicken broth and mixed with bread crumbs, cheese, prosciutto, and hot peppers (and sometimes other things). Serve the bread crumbs in a separate packet, MRE wizards. Ideally, this is downed with a Utica Club Beer.
10. Alaskan Akutuq
Sometimes known as “Eskimo Ice Cream,” Akutuq is an Inuit dish of hard fat whipped with berries or meat. Originally meant to be a dessert, the dish has been modified dozens of times over and now includes savory variations.
The use of hard fats and lean meats (usually game meat) means a high-protein, high fat MRE meal perfect for troops who want that kind of diet and don’t mind where they get it.
11. Cincinnati Chili
Cincy’s chili features finely-ground meat in a thin sauce that includes ingredients like cocoa powder and cinnamon. Three-way, four-way, and five-way variants add onions, kidney beans, or both. It’s served over spaghetti and then covered with so much cheese, it looks like a plate of cheese.
Cincinnati Chili has its detractors (aka everyone outside of the Ohio-Kentucky area) but people in Chicago pour tomato soup in a bread bowl and call it pizza and Californians think In-n-Out is the pinnacle of burgers. E pluribus unum. This sort of exists for backpackers, but it’s probably not the same.
I haven’t been to every place in America. What regional foods would make a good MRE? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestion, a recipe, and maybe even the best restaurant to find it.