We recently tested an online meme that says you can turn an orange into a candle. That also led to testing a similar meme about using Doritos to start a fire.
- Doritos burn really well and slower than I would’ve expected — a single chip holds a decent flame for 30-60 seconds!
- Doritos light easily with a flame, but don’t take well to sparks from a ferro rod
- Stale chips from bags that had been open a few days still burned, but not as well as fresh chips
- Crushed Doritos burn as well as whole ones
- Other corn-based snacks like Cheetos and Fritos also burn well
However, if you’re on a hike or a campout, you might want to bring some Doritos or other oily corn-based snack as a dual-purpose survival item.
Why do Doritos and Cheetos burn?
We can’t find any scientific studies on the flammability of chips, but there are plenty of amateur explanations online. The chip itself is made from corn, which contains tons of energy in the form of carbohydrates, so much so that we can turn it into fuel. (Or high-proof moonshine. Same difference really.)
That corn chip is deep fried in oil, which completely penetrates the chip. If you’ve ever set a Dorito on a napkin, you’ve probably noticed a grease spot form. These chips are absolutely saturated with fuel. On top of that, they also have a generous dusting of fatty powder on the outside.
Another factor not often discussed in explanations for Doritos flammability is the salt content, which preserves the chips from moisture and helps keep them dry.
Doritos can make for some pretty impressive fires. A man in Spokane, Washington got into legal trouble in 2019 after lighting a convenience store on fire with Doritos (among other things), leading to a standoff with police.
Nick Uhas demonstrated using bags of Doritos to cook a steak. The resulting fire was so big that he had to wait for the Doritos to burn down to coals before throwing the steak on the grill.
A couple of years later, Nick used a truly impressive amount of Doritos to cook a chicken breast. This experiment revealed how gross Doritos are as a firestarter: the chicken was coated in a weird smokey layer and the grill dripped out black oil as the Doritos burned. I noticed this in my own tests. As the Doritos burned, grease seeped out of the chip. And the smell was horrible, like burnt hair.
We had plenty of lay hypotheses and YouTube experiments, but not much in the way of science, so I took matters into my own hands. I tested some other foodstuffs from my cabinet to see if they’d burn: a Cheeto, a Lay’s Stax (an imitation of a Pringle), and a bit of a ration block from previous experiments.
The Cheeto burned impressively well. The Stax readily caught fire but went out after a few seconds. The ration block did not burn at all despite being pretty much nothing but fat and sugar.
I was curious why the ration block didn’t burn, so I decided to try more tests. I started with taking a bit of a block and a pile of crumbled block and applying a lighter to them. No fire. I then broke out some stormproof matches, light one, and set it on the crumbles. No fire, just blackened ration bar crumbles.
I then decided to break out the big gun: a propane torch. I applied the torch to the ration bar chunk and the crumble. I eventually achieved a tiny flame from the crumble, but it only lasted seconds.
I then tried torching Cool Ranch Dorito, and it lit right up just as expected.
I decided to try a regular tortilla chip. It lit up just like the Dorito. Apparently, Fritos work especially well. A couple of Reddit users mentioned using Fritos to start fires while hiking.
What about a half of an Oreo? No fire, but I may have invented a new dessert.
I tried torching a crouton. Again, no fire.
I then tried an almond and a pistachio, thinking maybe the oils would ignite. No dice, but I did get a nice glow. You could maybe forge with almonds.
Based on these experiments, we can establish a few theories about flammable snack foods:
- A corn core seems essential. The non-corn snacks don’t burn as well.
- Fat also isn’t enough. The snack needs to be infused with oil.
- The effect of the powder coating is overstated since a regular tortilla chip burns as well. The real key is corn + oil.
- Moisture is a factor, possibly mitigated by salt
This is actually a pretty easy myth to test: just grab a Dorito and light it on fire.
I debated over the best way to test the flammability of Doritos. I decided to do the tests indoors to reduce variables like humidity and wind. I used an old neglected cast-iron pan to burn, in because it’s deep and has a lid that I could put on top to snuff out fires.
It takes a few seconds of applying a flame to the chip before it catches fire. It also works much better with fresh, dry chips. I tested Doritos from one bag that had just been opened alongside a bag that had been open a few days. The staler bag took much longer to light.
The fire produced is surprisingly large and hot, akin to a candle flame. I have little doubt that you could start a legit fire with a Dorito.
We decided to try a few other things to test some Dorito myths.
Do Cool Ranch Doritos burn blue?
OK, this is admittedly dumb, but someone suggested to me that Cool Ranch Doritos may burn with a blue flame instead of a red flame. I never for a second thought that would be true, but it was an excuse to buy Cool Ranch Doritos.
The short answer is: no they burn exactly the same as regular Doritos.
Can you light Doritos with a ferro rod?
There are certain qualities I look for in tinder. Does it burn long enough to give me time to build a fire? Does it burn hot enough to overcome slightly damp kindling? And can I light it with a ferro rod?
I made a generous pile of Doritos in my cast-iron pan, grabbed the ferro rod from my go-bag’s fire kit, and the saw from my Leatherman Wave. That little saw is my favorite tool for striking ferro rods because it throws off a generous shower of sparks that gets a fire started fast. I can typically light a cotton ball soaked in petroleum jelly (my tinder of choice) in one or two strikes.
I made several attempts at lighting the pile of Doritos, but despite throwing hot sparks all over them and my kitchen (frightening my poor wife), nothing happened. I decided to try another approach.
Will crushed Doritos light?
I thought it might help if I crushed the Doritos, giving me more surface area to hit with the sparks, with the hopes that a spark may light a smaller Dorito particle more easily than an entire chip.
I decided to rebuild my Dorito crumble pile and see how well it would take to a lighter. The pile burned incredibly well, producing a big flame that burned for a couple of minutes until I blew it out.