For all its brats, cheese curds, and fish frys, the Upper Midwest misses out on some of the nation’s culinary keystones. Waffle House is barely a thing in this area of the country, and the rivalry between Wawa and Sheetz amounts to little more than rumors of distant conflict. But when it comes to the 24/7 convenience of gas station dining, we’ve got our own king of the road: the beloved icon of Kwik Trip.
And let me tell you, these stores are everywhere. According to the company’s website, there are over 800 units operating under the Kwik Trip/Kwik Star banner. Its reach spans three states—Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin—and while its success can be attributed to many things (good fuel offerings, nice car washes, and legitimately clean bathrooms), I’d argue it’s the food that has vaulted Kwik Trip to the top of the heap.
Kwik Trip has offered breakfast sandwiches and doughnuts for as long as I can remember. The bakery and coffee selections have always been strong, with a reputation as the best of the gas station options. You can even buy bags of “Cafe Karuba” signature beans to brew at home, and new machines for iced drinks and smoothies have sprung up next to the urns in recent years.
Around the time I learned to drive, Kwik Trip started serving quarter-pound cheeseburgers as well. Things expanded from there, with the hot bars progressively taking up more of the retail space. Now, you can walk into a Kwik Trip and choose from breakfast burgers, burritos, ribs sandwiches, and a wealth of fresh fruit and veggies. And while Casey’s is arguably the pinnacle of gas station pizza, Kwik Trip is no slouch. You can get your pie in three forms: whole, by the slice, or take-and-bake. There’s even a breakfast pizza, which is usually legit.
The shop also has coolers stocked with meats and a variety of produce. This might be a commonplace thing in other parts of the country, but when the thermometer drops below zero, it’s pretty neat to be able to grab fresh avocados along with those bags of driveway salt.
But the latest Kwik Trip menu initiative is perhaps the most interesting. In addition to mashed potatoes, fried tenders, and multi-piece meals, you can now buy whole, roasted chickens. At a gas station!
So, full disclosure, I’ve never tried one of Costco’s famous chickens. But between years of food service and home cooking, several farms’ worth of poultry has passed through my kitchen. I know my way around a bird, and Kwik Trip has a pretty good one.
The company offers daily specials, but Mondays are for chicken: $4.99 per head. The packaging clearly states that these roasters come in around 2 pounds, 12 ounces, and my kitchen scale showed this to be more or less true. I actually prefer a smaller chicken, as I find the meat to be a bit more tender. They also make sense from a business standpoint, as they’re easier to get up to temp when you’re aiming to feed the masses. True, each chicken might not feed a family of four, but not many $5 meals will.
I’d estimate that my test sample had probably been in the warmer for around an hour. The skin was tasty, the dark meat was succulent, and the breasts were flavorful, if not overly juicy. That’s pretty much what I expect from these, as the internal juices tend to drain to the bottom of the clamshell. But that’s fine, as you can dip the meat there if you so desire. My example was also a touch under-salted, which honestly, I prefer in a chicken I didn’t prepare myself.
Was it worth $5? Oh, you betcha. Heck, mine also came with a free package of dinner rolls. All in all, these chickens represent another win for Kwik Trip and its ever-expanding menu. It’s a magical store for practical land, and I look forward to whatever this gas station convenience store is planning next.