When Lucas Kwan Peterson set out to rank the beloved assortment of Girl Scout Cookies, he knew he was dipping into controversy.
"People are very opinionated about these cookies," Peterson, a Los Angeles Times food columnist, told NPR's All Things Considered after publishing his "official Girl Scout cookie power rankings" last month.
"I think we all have that memory of getting a bunch of boxes, someone coming door to door, seeing the table in the parking lot at the grocery store. It really kind of triggers a sense memory, for me at least."
Out of the dozen cookies he tested, he said Samoas — known as Caramel deLites in some parts of the U.S. — won by a long shot.
The combination of the chewy caramel, toasted coconut and chocolate striping, he said, put it above the rest.
"It's not even close," he said. "Unless you really hate coconut, it's just such a superior cookie."
The caramel chocolate chip cookie placed last. The gluten-free recipe had a friend of Peterson's liken the texture to a dog treat.
Some readers took issue with his No. 4 ranking of the iconic Thin Mints.
But his sophisticated ranking system might placate Team Thin Mints. Aside from "better taste," his criteria included whether the cookie tasted good frozen.
"Everybody knows eating Girl Scout Cookies frozen is the best way to consume a Girl Scout cookie," said the cookie provocateur.
For Peterson, the frozen test is what lifted Thin Mints to the top frozen cookie ranking, despite its fourth-place showing overall.
But before his local council of Girl Scouts seeks revenge, the food critic admits that his "official" ranking system is wholly biased.
"These rankings are all my personal favorites," he said. "While I say it's completely scientific and objective, it's obviously just my opinion. This ranking just completely reflects what I personally believe and what I like to stuff into my mouth at 11 p.m. when I'm alone at my computer trying to write something."
In any case, the system is rigged from the start. There are technically 17 cookies, but five of them each have a slightly tweaked twin that varies by region. That's why, for the purpose of his ranking, Peterson rated 12 cookies.
The differences are indicated by the name. For example, the Decatur, Ga., Girl Scouts can enjoy a heavier ratio of peanut butter filling in their Tagalongs, while a troop in Sacramento, Calif., will taste more vanilla notes in its Peanut Butter Patties.
This is because all of the offerings are made by two separate bakers. Each Girl Scout council, Peterson said, decides which baker it buys from. That means, depending on where you live, you might be getting the short end of the shortbread (or Trefoils, if you prefer).
Kira Wakeam and Tinbete Ermyas produced and edited the audio version of this story.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And finally today, it is the long-awaited return of our favorite season. No, not spring. It's just as joyful but more delicious. We are talking Girl Scout Cookie season. We all have our personal favorites, and maybe you've even gotten into arguments about them. But when it comes down to it, which are the best of the best?
LUCAS KWAN PETERSON: People have very strong opinions about Girl Scout Cookies.
MARTIN: That's LA Times food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson. He recently put together what he is calling the conclusive, unassailable rankings of Girl Scout Cookies.
KWAN PETERSON: I think we all have that memory of getting a bunch of boxes, someone coming door to door, seeing the table in the parking lot at the grocery store. And it really kind of triggers this sense memory for a lot of people.
MARTIN: Kwan Peterson knows the results of his test will be controversial, but he says that's part of the fun.
KWAN PETERSON: The purpose of these is nothing if not to start fights with your friends and co-workers. So that's - if I've done that, then mission accomplished.
MARTIN: So what makes a great Girl Scout Cookie, according to Kwan Peterson? He has ranked them by two criteria - overall taste and how good they taste frozen.
KWAN PETERSON: Eating Girl Scout Cookies frozen is the best way to consume a Girl Scout Cookie. And actually, some of the cookies that are not maybe, like, god-tier, S-tier cookies when they're room temperature take on a new life when they're frozen.
MARTIN: So which cookie came out on top? That would be the Samoa, also known as Caramel deLites.
KWAN PETERSON: You've got the chewy caramel, and you've got this crunchy cookie, and then you've got this toasted coconut flakes strewn over. And then you've got the little chocolate racing stripes and the chocolate on the bottom. There are so many different levels and so many things going on with this cookie. I don't think you can honestly say it's not the best Girl Scout Cookie.
MARTIN: Tagalongs, also known as Peanut Butter Patties, came in a close second, with Do-si-Dos rounding out third. And the ever-iconic Thin Mint had a fourth place showing overall. But fret not, team Thin Mint. Your favorite - OK, our favorite - was the winner of the frozen test.
KWAN PETERSON: Some kind of magic happens there in the freezer, and suddenly the Thin Mint is just, like, a really delicious, refreshing - maybe it, like, highlights the mint in some sort of weird way.
MARTIN: Wherever your favorites land on the list, you may be wondering, where can you get these treats while staying safe and socially distant? Kwan Peterson says start by visiting your local Girl Scout Council's website.
KWAN PETERSON: There will be a link, and you can go to the online shop. And if there was a family or a girl that you traditionally had bought cookies from, get in touch with them because that girl probably has, like, a personalized link that she can send you, and you can buy the cookies online so that that person gets credit for them.
MARTIN: That was Lucas Kwan Peterson, columnist for the Los Angeles Times food section. You can see where your favorite cookie places on the list at thelosangelestimes.com. And if you're feeling inspired, you can make your own list. We won't judge - well, maybe just a little.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE SOUL SNATCHERS' "DO YOU WANNA GET DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.