I just ate $30 worth of hot food at a Sheetz convenience store, and I have no idea how to begin writing about the experience.
As a Western Pennsylvania native, I grew up on Sheetz. Back in the early 2000s, the now pervasive gas station chain and food stop served as an alternative to Subway or McDonald’s. Using the touchscreen M.T.O. (made-to-order) system, I would often get a turkey sub or a breakfast muffin called a Shmuffin, an item very much like an Egg McMuffin. But since then, the Sheetz menu has expanded far past sandwiches. It has grown into a tangle of hot food offerings that can be overwhelming to navigate.
It’s no secret that gas station food is peaking right now. The reputation of Casey’s breakfast pizza precedes itself; the Buc-ee’s beaver of Texas is worshiped like a pagan deity; and Wawa has seemingly always enjoyed a zealot-like following along the East Coast. Then there’s Sheetz, which has nearly 700 locations across six states, yet remains relatively unsung outside its sphere of influence (mostly Pennsylvania).
So what is Sheetz’s contribution to American food culture? In a word, it’s madness.
This gas station seriously has everything. Burgers, hot dogs, salad, subs, wraps, french fries, taco salads, french toast sticks, quesaritos—the list drones on and on and on. There are over 400 made-to-order items available at Sheetz, and maybe 5% of them are worth your time.
That’s because virtually everything at Sheetz comes straight out of a microwave. It’s the kind of smooshed, pale, lightly steamed food a never-been-kissed pre-teen makes at home. As a customer, the appeal of ordering this stuff at a counter is clear: Nuking one’s own burger patty topped with cheese sticks is a harrowing experience that could very well induce a mental break. Let Sheetz do it for you for a few bucks instead.
The microwave bit isn’t hyperbole, either. This is just how Sheetz operates (and Wawa, for that matter). There are no deep fryers on site. No range ovens. Some poor sap in this Reddit thread asked what kind of oil Sheetz uses on its grill, and the replies are hilariously biting. Scour enough of these threads and you’ll find employees of both Sheetz and Wawa explaining how the food is really made.
Still, the offerings at Sheetz range from practical to fun to absolutely insane. Sheetz does certain things very, very well, but there are some foods you’ll want to avoid. Let’s go over the biggest hits and misses on the menu.
This is good sauce by every measurable standard of sauce, and you should be putting it on everything. That’s why we’re talking about Boom Boom Sauce first—it can fix a lot of Sheetz’s problems, of which there are many.
Boom Boom Sauce basically tastes like a spicy special sauce, but man, it packs a kick. It’s mayonnaise, ketchup, and sriracha, but also probably garlic powder and onion powder. It’s way better than most of the fry sauce I’ve tasted in Utah, which usually lacks both spice and flavor. Boom Boom Sauce also has the power to enhance almost any breakfast sandwich, but sadly not this one:
Here’s a thought: If an egg sandwich is sloppy and altogether deranged, don’t try to tie it all together by adding thick slices of raw red onion.
The Walker Breakfast Ranger consists of limp bacon, cream cheese, red onion, guacamole, fire roasted tomato sauce, and a fried egg on a bagel. It’s an unconscionable mess. The sauce oozes from the bagel’s blowhole, staining your fingers with tomato and avocado. This tastes exactly like a breakfast sandwich whose elements have all been microwaved when they should have been cooked on a skillet, which is at least consistent with the rest of the Sheetz menu.
Unwrap the Big Mozz (pictured up at the top), and the first thing you’ll notice is just how bleakly gray the burger patty is—the color of a goddamn storm cloud. It’s also dry as hell, but it has one thing working for it: sodium.
Against all odds, this burger delivers on flavor. And when I say “against all odds,” I mean all of them. The mozzarella sticks are damp and microwaved, not hot enough to offer satisfying cheese pull. The bun is cheap, smooshed, and crumbly. The burger patty falls short of any reasonable standard for ground beef. But goddamnit, the seasoning is there, working hard to pull it all together.
As a result, it tastes okay. It hits the same way that school cafeteria lunch food does. And the fact that the burger is smooshed works in its favor, because the whole thing is so flattened that each bite gives you everything all at once. Nothing slips out.
The Big Mozz should be awful, and it probably is, but it has undeniable flavor and structure. Thrillist ranks it as the best Sheetz item, which seems bonkers, but maybe it’s true. If nothing else, The Big Mozz proves that food of any quality can be saved by the right seasoning.
If you miss the pepperoni-filled school cafeteria food of the ’90s, then the Sheetz pepperoni roll is for you. It’s one of the few things on the menu that has some crunchy texture to bite into, and while the rolls almost certainly arrive at the store pre-baked, it’s at least evident they were once baked. There are even some crispy, cheesy edges on the bottom reminiscent of the crust on a Detroit-style pizza.
The middle of this Italian-style roll is filled with Hormel-ass pepperoni and some sharp cheese, and it’s not bad. The fat from the pepperoni seeps into the bread, creating a soft, dense interior. I’ll write more about pepperoni rolls soon, but for now, I’ll say that Sheetz really does make a passable one.
Don’t order the fries. Just don’t do it. They’re gummy and microwaved. My fries all came slimy and clumped together. I was so shocked by their quality that I forgot to take a picture.
If want a crispy, salty snack, you need to head in a different direction. Namely, potato chips.
Sheetz has an awesome selection of Herr’s potato chip flavors. Just peep what’s on this rack alone: ketchup, cheddar horseradish, dark russet, dill pickle, and honey sriracha. Plus, Herr’s salt & vinegar chips are some of the best I’ve encountered. If you’re stopping at Sheetz, a bag of chips is pivotal to the experience. Pennsylvania, after all, is chip country.
The number-one item to order at Sheetz is the Shmagel. If you’re missing/craving a good, mostly discontinued McDonald’s breakfast bagel, this item has you covered.
The bagel itself is of low quality, but then again, so are Thomas’ bagels, and those have always gotten the job done. The Shmagel is all doughy and cheesy with a sweet, maply disc of sausage. This particular breakfast bagel is one I customized to include Sheetz’s signature Boom Boom Sauce, which injects some creamy texture and spicy flavor.
Everything is cohesive here, and microwaving actually does cheap bagels and mass-produced sausage patties a surprising number of favors. No joke, this is one of the better breakfast sandwiches I’ve had all year.
Though Sheetz positions itself as a family business, the quality of most of its food betrays the massive scale on which it operates.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Good local gas station food can and does exist. Oklahoma Joe’s barbecue, The Market at Bellair, the 7-Elevens in Hawaii with allegedly great sushi. Maverik, with almost 400 gas station locations, has a very limited menu of breakfast sandwiches and a few cold cuts, and because of that restraint, I would endorse Maverik over both Sheetz and Wawa as a destination when you really want to eat. Unfortunately, they’re located on opposite sides of the country from one another.
With so many items on the Sheetz menu, it becomes understandably difficult to serve uniformly high-quality products. There are some standouts on the Sheetz menu—chiefly the Shmagel and the Pepperoni Roll—but the menu could afford to shrink by about 350 items and stick to the core offerings that make it a success.