white chocolate puppy chow with rainbow sprinkles

Looking for the best-ever party snack? Feast your eyes (and stomach) on a big bowl of Puppy Chow. It’s sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy, and impossible to stop eating. There are lots of fun and delicious twists on the original recipe, yet they’re all extremely easy to make. Despite the snack’s simplicity, there is some interesting history behind it too. But first, a basic Q&A overview for the uninitiated:

What is it?

In its classic form, Puppy Chow is simply Chex cereal coated in a melted mixture of peanut butter and chocolate, then tossed in powdered sugar. However, because human beings love to tinker, there are tons more variations, from ones that simply add candy, like in this Reese’s Pieces Puppy Chow, or more inventive ingredients (Bacon Bourbon and Peanut Puppy Chow anyone?), to recipes that use different coatings (as in Brownie Batter Puppy Chow and Hot Cocoa Puppy Chow). It can also be known by other names—which are covered in the “Muddy Buddies” section below.

Why is it called Puppy Chow?

The consensus seems to be because it looks like dog food—which, maybe it sort of does, but you’d certainly never inadvertently mix them up. And there is a historical association between the main ingredient and pet food in general (explained under “Where did Puppy Chow even come from?”).

Can I feed it to my dog?

No! Puppy Chow is terrible for actual puppies; chocolate is toxic to dogs, so don’t even give them a little bite, no matter how much they beg or how cute they look doing it. If you want to share snacks with your pup, this could be your year (and the AKC has a handy list of human foods that are and aren’t safe for Captain Shaggypants III in the meanwhile). If you’re a cat person, you can’t feed them Puppy Chow either, but you can party with them in other ways. Basically, Puppy Chow is only fit for human consumption.

When should I make Puppy Chow?

Any time you’re craving a super-easy-to-whip-up, super-hard-to-stop-eating snack. It’s especially great for parties and holiday gatherings (from Christmas to the Super Bowl and beyond), but also perfect for more informal movie nights and your garden variety feelings-eating evenings after bad days at work. It’s appealing all year long and is pretty much completely divorced from the notion of seasonal cuisine, but there are plenty of holiday-specific twists on the basic formula, like red-white-and-blue patriotic puppy chow for the 4th of July.

How long will it last?

If you’re serving it at a party? Better snag a handful before you put the bowl out, or you won’t get to taste it yourself. If it’s just you? Maybe there’ll be leftovers, in which case, your chow should last in an airtight container for at least 5 days.

Can I make it healthier?

Sort of, though that’s kind of missing the point. This “Skinny Puppy Chow” (which has nothing to do with electro-industrial ’80s music) ditches confectioners’ sugar for protein-packed whey powder and peanut flour, plus nonfat milk and cornstarch to stretch the small amount of chocolate called for. If you’re after a truly healthy snack, you’re better off looking elsewhere, but if you’re cutting sugar and have an intense craving for this stuff in particular, at least you’ve got options.

What if I have allergies?

No worries: 7 of Chex’s 8 cereal varieties are gluten-free, and if it’s the peanut butter that’s the issue, you can easily swap it out for another nut or seed butter. For instance, check out this Almond Butter Puppy Chow. Or try this Cookie Butter Puppy Chow.

What if I’m vegan?

Chex does not claim to be vegan and may contain a lanolin derivative, but you can follow the basic formula for Puppy Chow while substituting a vegan-friendly cereal of your choosing (like Peanut Butter Puffins), vegan chocolate, and coconut oil in place of butter.

Where did Puppy Chow even come from?

Short answer: the Midwest. That’s where the “Puppy Chow” moniker seems to have originated, at least. However, let’s take a brief look at the origin of the main ingredient, Chex. Chex cereal, in its first incarnation, was introduced to the market by actual pet food manufacturer Ralston Purina in the 1930s. It was called Shredded Ralston at the time and was more like unfrosted Mini Wheats (aka the worst kind of Mini Wheats):

vintage 1941 ad for Chex mix, originally called Shredded Ralston

1941 advertisement for Shredded Ralston (now Chex) from Culinary Lore

General Mills acquired Shredded Ralston in 1950, which is when they changed the name to Chex, in honor of the checkerboard Purina logo you still see on bags of pet food today. They also changed the formula to produce the dimpled, puffed pockets of wheat and rice cereal we continue to enjoy over 60 years later. It was in the early ’50s, too, that savory Chex mix became popular, perfect for aimlessly munching in front of the steadily proliferating roster of TV shows and for complementing all those boozy cocktail party drinks. No doubt enterprising home cooks concocted sweet variations early on, but the first recorded puppy chow recipe hasn’t yet been pinned down. Anecdotally, it’s been made since at least the 1960s in Midwestern homes.

Is it the same thing as Muddy Buddies™?

Yes! Search for “Muddy Buddies” and you’ll find lots of interchangeable recipes, although the name is actually trademarked. General Mills started selling the sweet chocolatey-coated Chex under that name in 2009 (a little late to the party, but better then than never). It was a strictly seasonal item until 2011, thanks in part to a Facebook petition to make it available for purchase year-round—so social media can be a force for change. Some people, perhaps wishing to move away from associations with dog food and mud, also call it Monkey Munch, and seasonal variations often go by other cutesy animal names (see: Reindeer Chow and Bunny Chow—not to be confused with the South African stuffed bread loaf). There’s also a similar treat called Sweet Minglers, which generally seems to use non-Chex cereal like Crispix. Puppy Chow could very well be called “crack” too, but that nickname was already taken by another easy, addictive dessert. If you use popcorn in place of cereal, it’s Poppy Chow!

What if I don’t like Chex?

See “Poppy Chow” above. Or swap out the Chex for any other cereal you prefer. There are plenty of tried-and-tested variations, like Cheerios Puppy Chow, Lucky Charms Puppy Chow/Muddy Buddies, a snickerdoodle-inspired mix with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Captain Crunch Puppy Chow too—not to mention Matzah Puppy Chow, and its polar opposite, Pork Rind Puppy Chow (great for those on the keto diet). Or try it with peanut butter filled pretzels as the crunchy component. You could also make Puppy Chow Cookies, but they’re a bit more work, and a big part of the beauty of the original is that it’s literally stirred together in a matter of minutes.

Salivating like one of Pavlov’s puppies yet? If so, put your dentist on speed dial, grab a box of cereal and a couple other ingredients, and prepare to chow down on a really sweet treat.

Game Day Puppy Chow

football puppy chow for Super Bowl snack

The First Year

Any kind of puppy chow will be welcome at your Super Bowl party (and obviously it’s perfect for watching the Puppy Bowl too), but this one adds almonds that have been piped with icing to form edible footballs—way easier than crafting an entire edible stadium! If you want to go the extra yard, coat your Chex in team colors (which you can achieve with candy melts, or naturally with different dried fruit powders, matcha, or anything else with the same consistency as powdered sugar). Get the recipe.

Unicorn Puppy Chow

unicorn puppy chow

West Coast Lobster

The unicorn trend may finally have faded out, but brightly colored rainbow treats are always appealing. For a slightly more low-key take, try Funfetti Puppy Chow, but when you want to go all out, go unicorn. Get the recipe.

St. Patrick’s Day Puppy Chow

Saint Patrick's Day puppy chow

Cooking on the Front Burner

This Saint Patrick’s Day snack happens to be peanut-free, and good for any other occasion if you omit the shamrock marshmallows. (If there are no wee ones around, you can also make Bailey’s Irish Cream Puppy Chow!) Either way, please take the opportunity to call it Leprechaun Chow while you can. Get the recipe.

Thin Mint Puppy Chow

Thin Mint chocolate mint puppy chow

The Recipe Critic

Girl Scout cookie season never seems to last long enough, but you can capture those beloved Thin Mint flavors year-round with this chocolate-mint puppy chow. (There’s also Samoa puppy chow if you prefer coconut and caramel.) This probably tastes great after a stint in the freezer, too. Get the recipe.

Glitzy White Chocolate Puppy Chow

fancy white chocolate puppy chow

The First Year

If you think puppy chow isn’t classy enough, check out this Sea Salt Nutella Pistachio Puppy Chow (ooh la la)—or just add gold sparkles to a sleek white chocolate version. This was developed with New Year’s Eve in mind, but the glittering gold accents make it a perfect snack for various viewing parties, whether you’re watching the Grammys, the Oscars, or Drag Race All Stars. Get the recipe.

Fluffernutter Puppy Chow

peanut butter marshmallow fluffernutter puppy chow

Homemade Hooplah

If you’re into salty-sweet—and meat—try a fluffernutter bacon puppy chow, but if you’re not sold on desserts that include pork, pick this more classic combo of just peanut butter and marshmallow instead. Get the recipe.

Strawberries & Cream Puppy Chow

strawberries and cream puppy chow for Valentine's Day

Life Love and Sugar

This pale pink puppy chow is just the thing for Valentine’s Day, and easy enough for even the most inept in the kitchen to pull off, so no excuses for slacking. Get the recipe.

Banana Split Puppy Chow

banana split puppy chow

Sweet as a Cookie

For something simpler, you can try banana pudding puppy chow, but if you’re up for making triple batches (banana, chocolate, and strawberry, of course), you can conjure a banana split in non-melting form. You could also sprinkle this over actual ice cream for a doubly delicious treat. Get the recipe.

S’mores Puppy Chow

s'mores puppy chow

Like Mother Like Daughter

This one goes by the Muddy Buddies name, but you’ll just call it, “More, please.” Golden Grahams make a guest appearance for authentic campfire flavor, along with mini marshmallows and semisweet chocolate chips. Get the recipe.

Carrot Cake Puppy Chow

carrot cake puppy chow

Belle of the Kitchen

More proof that you don’t have to stop at powdered sugar: carrot cake mix coats these white chocolate bites, for one more fun dessert that tastes like another dessert. Get the recipe.

Toasted Coconut Puppy Chow

toasted coconut puppy chow

Helpful Homemade

Sometimes you feel like a nut…if so, add some to the mix and it becomes Almond Joy puppy chow, but stick to just toasted coconut and you have a more refined take on a Mounds. Get the recipe.

Lemon Puppy Chow

lemon puppy chow

She Saved

If regular puppy chow is a bit too sweet for you, try this bright citrus version with lemon extract, like little paradoxical puffs of cloud that taste of sunshine. Get the recipe.

Header image courtesy of From Me to Vuu.

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