The Growler’s Tourism Guide 2020: Reinventing Road Trip Food

Illustration by Kelsey King

Illustration by Kelsey King

Find more great travel ideas in The Growler’s Tourism Guide 2020

If you find that the thrill of eating whatever fast-food garbage you want when traveling long distances fades after the first couple hundred miles, take heart. There are a number of really satisfying, entertaining, and even downright impressive ways to stock your own cooler and travel in culinary style.

Below are four tried-and-relied-upon styles of homemade snacking, organized by difficulty. Whether you’re a determined non-chef or a culinary pro, we’ve got a concept for you.

Finally: These foods require only a napkin (if that) in terms of flatware, so have no fear for your precious upholstery, traveler.

Gourmet Snack Sticks and/or Asian Jerky

Level: Elementary Snacker 

Looking for a satisfying, portable, enjoyable road trip snack but don’t want to do the work? With little effort, you can obtain lovely craft meats that make perfect travel companions. Our two favorites are artisan beef snack sticks and house-cured Southeast Asian-style jerky, both of which pop with flavor and quality.

There are plenty of places to pick up either of these delightful snackables, but our go-tos are 88 Oriental Foods on University Avenue, St. Paul for jerky and K’nack Homemade Sausage at Keg and Case Market (or K’nack’s parent store, RJ’s Meats in Hudson, WI) for beef sticks.

Homemade Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Level: Advanced Snacker

There’s a reason that fried chicken is a stereotypical picnic favorite—it travels without suffering much (if any) damage, and it’s at least as tasty cold as it is hot. We make a buttermilk fried chicken that is a reliable hit, but you can easily put your own spin on the genre. (Hot and spicy! Nuggets! Just drumsticks!)

We’ve eaten homemade fried chicken out of the fridge three days after making it, and it holds up—this is a road trip all-star.


Level: Snack Ninja

The “bold, delicious filling encased in a comforting buttery pocket” concept is a multicultural hit for a variety of reasons, but portability and shelf-life are at the top of that list. Two, three, or four homemade empanadas can be a snack, a light meal, or a substantial dinner respectively, and when you make a big batch you can vary the fillings to ensure that your empanadas never get boring no matter how many miles you log.

Added bonus: empanadas freeze beautifully and can be thawed in small groups for weekday meals. They’re delicious reheated, but also really tasty at room temperature, and they’re durable as hell.

Our favorite varieties are a North African–spiced ground lamb and raisin empanada, a roasted bananas and carnitas empanada, and a vegetarian goat cheese and spinach variety, but the format is so flexible that you can stuff your empanadas with just about anything flavorful and it’ll work beautifully.

Konbini-Style Onigiri Sushi

Level: Snack Master

Konbini-style onigiri sushi is the snack to make for a car of world-weary sophisticates who can’t be bothered with pedestrian food and simply must make every calorie they consume count, both in flavor and Instagrammable glamor moments.

Konbini (or “convenience store-style”) sushi are triangles of nori (seaweed) wrapped around  seasoned rice with a little bit of raw sushi-grade fish (or another such treat, like pickled plums) embedded in the center.

They’re substantial, they’re delicious, and… well, they’re futzy to make (here’s a tutorial to get you started: You’ll want to assemble them shortly before leaving and/or mix a little oil into your rice so it doesn’t set up if you’re storing them in the fridge for an extended period of time.