Culture

The best MRE of the War on Terror, according to combat veterans

A little Tabasco goes a long way.
Joshua Skovlund Avatar
Marty Skovlund Jr Army MRE
Task & Purpose's chief editor enjoying an MRE during the final field exercise of Infantry OSUT in 2005. (Courtesy photo/Marty Skovlund Jr.)

The Meal, Ready to Eat, better known as the MRE, has fueled troops throughout the War on Terror. With over 40 options today, these freeze-dried and dehydrated meals are a big step forward from the C-ration — but still leave a little to be desired.

The best MRE debate has raged ever since they were approved and put into use by the U.S. military. So we reached out to a few veterans and asked them what their favorite was. Take their advice with a grain of salt. No, literally, salt makes these things taste better. A little Tabasco goes a long way, too. 

Jariko Denman

U.S. Army

Denman served in the 75th Ranger Regiment for almost two decades and deployed 15 times throughout his career. He’s eaten more than a few MREs in his army days but has no love for them or their signature “slimy, gross, cold fucking MRE trash nastiness smell.”

In an environment where it was the only option, like Ranger School, his go-to was the beef stew MRE because you could eat it hot or cold and it regularly came with M&Ms, cheese spread, and crackers. But, Denman didn’t seek out MREs when he had alternatives.

“Yeah, I don’t have a favorite one. Eating MREs is demoralizing,” Denman said. “Whenever I went into the field, I would bring my own food, I would bring camping food, cans of tuna, or cheese and crackers. I would always take salami, crackers, and hard cheese to the field like I was a fucking World War I soldier. That is what I would mainly eat when I was a senior guy and I had the freedom to do that.”

Denman wasn’t a big guy when he went to Ranger School, maybe 145 lbs. or so. Because of his size, he didn’t burn as many calories as the guys who were jacked and big, so he shared his MREs or bartered with them for things he did need. But at one point, one of his fellow trainees was starving, so Denman tossed him his entire MRE. 

“I took a whole ass MRE and tossed it to him. You would have thought I just liberated him from a fucking POW camp — it was fuckin’ funny,” Denman said. “But that feeling was worth more than the calories I would have consumed. I was like, ah man, that was fucken great.” 

If you guessed Denman peered high in Ranger School, you’re damn right he did. But if you think he’d take an MRE into the field when he had other options, you are quite wrong. 

Kyle Gunn

U.S. Marine Corps

Gunn served in the Marine Corps from 2009 to 2017 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. As a devil dog, he’s had his fair share of MREs. For him, his favorite MRE was an easy choice: maple-flavored sausage patty. 

“I can hear the collective groans already, but the patty is decent, especially if you can heat it up,” Gunn said. ”Back in about 2012 or so it came with a real Pop-tart, blueberry granola that you add water to — and it’s really good — a maple syrup packet, cheese spread, and a maple flavored muffin top.”

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For Gunn, you can’t get a better combination in that brown plastic bag of militarized camping food. But, the “brick-shits” were a nasty side effect when he thinks back to his MRE days. Some of the side effects of MRE life have stayed with him to this day.

He cut his index finger wide open at the base while using his Ka-Bar to open an MRE while at the Mojave Viper training exercise in 29 Palms during his unit’s pre-deployment workup. The ¾-inch scar that the cut left is very noticeable to this day.

Notably, Gunn didn’t seek out trades when the MREs were divvied out. 

“I was more of a just let-it-be-type-of-guy when it came to that. After a little while, they’re all pretty much the same anyway and there were always lots of packets of all the other stuff like cheese spreads lying around,” Gunn said. “One thing about the maple sausage patty is that lots of guys didn’t like them, so I never had to really fight to get it if that box was around.”

Trevor Thompson

U.S. Navy

Trevor Thompson was a Navy SEAL for eight years with multiple deployments and many freefall jumps. The Navy has a kitchen aboard their ships so MREs weren’t an everyday thing for him, but one place they are is during the notorious BUD/S training.

For him, his favorite is the pork rib MRE. 

“A pressed it into a McRib-style pork patty of weirdness,” Thompson said. “And I always looked for the Tabasco in every pouch. I always liked bbq flavors, even though the pork thing was basically a pork McNugget haha; no ribs in that bitch.”

On a dark morning during Hell Week, Thompson hit a point where he just didn’t care what he had but was going to eat it and eat it fast. 

“It doesn’t matter what flavor it was, I was inhaling whatever was in that bag, and cooked,” Thompson said. “I needed every ounce of calories. I bet I ate the dreaded omelet and liked it.”

The omelet MRE is a horrible concoction. It looks like a semi-raw combination of shredded crayons and that pale putty you used as a kid that you could stick to newspapers and it’d copy whatever its sticky, not edible mixture touched.  

Unfortunately, the king of MREs isn’t settled, but everyone can agree they’re a long way from a good, home-cooked meal. Maybe these recommendations will help if you find yourself in a tense bartering situation during your next week in the field. Let us know what your favorite MRE was in the comments below! 

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