Three Lies In One

| October 26, 2023


Meal, Ready to Eat

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

A little Tabasco goes a long way.

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.

Task and Purpose

The few I was exposed to were all varying degrees of horrible, so there is no clear “winner” for me. One of the few perks of flying Naval Air- per diem.

Category: Big Pentagon

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Nothing worse than opening an MRE in the dark and eating a mouthful of cold, congealed omelet with ham.


11B FTX, Dec, Ft Benning, cold and raining, I got green eggs and ham omelet , this was before heaters were in the MRE. I sat there in the rain under my poncho lean to, hating my life and trying to force that slab of goop down.


“cold and raining”

If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training.


In the days before “breakfast” MREs, I used to whomp up a breakfast cobbler from components.

Crush the crackers to small chunks. Do same with freeze-dried fruit. Mix. Add creamer and sugar (to taste). Add water and stir to make mush. Can add some cocoa beverage powder for further variety.

Definitely beat tuna loaf or spiced/bbq beef for breakfast.


“ …a rainy night in Georgia…” huh? Them’s the wurst!

USMC Steve

That might have been the semi frozen butter in them thangs.


Allow me to counter with the four fingers of death where you had to scrape the layer of slime off before they were even close to being edible…



The “Four Fingers of Death”

Worst MRE ever.


Yeah, I remember you P-3 guys throwing your per diem bucks around at the Fly Trap. Sometimes P-3 buddies from Flight School would actually buy us drinks when we saw them in there. Good times.

Following my first Fleet tactical squadron tour, I served for a couple years as a Forward Air Controller in a Marine infantry company in 2D MARDIV. Also did a 6-month deployment to the Mediterranean with them. Spent a lot of time in the field, both in garrison and while deployed, and I very quickly developed a visceral hatred for MREs.

I always “field-stripped” my MREs in order to save space, because I humped a PRC-113 radio, spare batteries, air panels, etc., in my ALICE pack in addition to all of my other gear, so space/weight was always a consideration.

I also always carried a bottle of Tabasco hot sauce in my pack. A liberal application of Tabasco sauce was the only way that I could possibly choke down those rancid early MREs.


I would buy 3-4 small or “sample” size seasonings at the commissary or Piggly Wiggly. Folks would trade desserts or dried fruit for three big shakes of garlic. And seasonings weigh little.


I was eating an MRE in the dark in boot camp and squirted what I thought was peanut butter in my mouth. It was, regrettably, that gross cheese spread. It was really, really gross.


We ate MRE’s at CAX during the summer. Got so hot that the oil and solids separated in the peanut butter and you could NOT mix it back together.


Or, in “C-Rationese”, “Ham and Eggs, Chopped”.


Join the Navy…
You’ll always have cool dry bed and a hot meal to eat.
I would compare the mess decks to Golden Corral.


Can you really call yourself a War Hero if you haven’t voluntairly thrown yourself on one of these to save your fellow warfighters?? Can you?!?!?

Vomlet MRE.jpg

Weird thing was there was always one freak in the platoon who loved that shit!


WTF, over?!

USMC Steve

I was in for a little over 20 years and never saw that scary looking thing.


Which one is the omelet?


The dehydrated pork patty was the best!


This would look like a luxury compared to what was given to us at Kadena when a typhoon came through. Left overs from Vietnam I suppose, and who knows how old they were then. I remember some kind of canned meat, stale crackers and a chicklet that all but guaranteed a trip to the dentist. I seem to recall a lucky strikes or 2 as well, but it’s been 40+ years ago.


I was there in 84/85/86 and I think Fall of 85 we had a hugh Phoon that went over the island and then went toward China and then turned 180 degrees and his us a second time in 4 or 5 days. I distincely remember this because we were able to run to the Commissary inbetween typhoon alerts and restock the bar in the dorm. (Yes I had a bar in one of our rooms called The DMZ.)
I do remember getting “New MRE’s) and because we had our own refrigerator and all that, we had plenty of food and beverage but we started running out of mixeres so we traded main courses in the MREs for the freeze dried fruits with which we were able to make daquiris.
One bag of freeze dried fruits (Peaches, strawberries, pears, fruit cocktail) and one bag of Rum or Vodka and away we went.


79 to 81 for me. We had a typhoon that did that to us as well. The soda turned beer vending machine was wiped out in a couple of days.


That was nastiest, we all threw away.


Trackpads! Yum!


That thing got bigger with each bite!


The very first MRE I had in the Army (1987) was the dehydrated beef patty. Every MRE after that was a step up. Only way to eat that abomination was munch on it dry and chase it with a full canteen.

Prior Service

Same post for me except it was dehydrated pork in ‘86. I didn’t even know o was supposed to put water in it and I just munched and crunched on it, thinking, wow this sucks.


Dehydrated pork or beef were part of the recipe for Ranger Chili.
Crush one dehydrated meat and pack of crackers into a canteen cup with the beans (not for flight / preflight use.) Add cheese packet and stir vigorously. Leave canteen cup in sun for several hours. “Instant” hot chili. Delicious ( for a certain value of delicious.)


That actually does sound kinda tasty!

Eric (The former OC Tanker)

From my position; I served during the transition period of Meal, Combat, Individual to Meal Ready to Eat. I have feasted upon Chicken or turkey, boned, Beef slices with potatoes and gravy, Ham slices, Beans and weenies and all the others. I drew the line at ham and eggs, chopped. Of the first generation of MRE, the easiest to choke down was ham slices and wieners. The worst in no particular order: dehydrated pork patties, and everybodies all time favorite Chicken Elvis (because he is the KING).

As usual, your millage my vary and check your wedge bolts and center guides and every halt.


Some claim that Trump is on the MREs.

We report, you decide.


Well, it does have a supposed “meat patty”, like McDonald’s.


Meat Patty…

That’s the female MP with the buzz cut that lives in the weight room, right?

(Sorry Patty. Yes, you were cool. Still funny, ya roided out dyke.)

George V

My only exposure to combat rations was one or two instances of C-rats in Navy ROTC summer training so I can’t comment on MREs. But I have always wondered why MREs are so bad but a search on Amazon for freeze-dried camping meals brings up hundreds of options with positive reviews. Your gummint doing it’s best work I guess.


I’ve always assumed it had to do with the nutrition specifications the DOD requires for their MREs, which commercial camping meals don’t have to meet (incidentally, the halal HA meals tasted considerably better than MREs, too).

Personally, I’ve always preferred eating on the economy….

In northern Iraq, they make this dish called “gus” that fills a loaf of samoon bread with shawarma lamb, tahini, onion, lettuce, tomato, and these amazing little yellow pickles that taste like a mix between a cornichon and a pepperoncini called ترشي اصفر (which literally means “yellow pickle”). So much better than any MRE.

In the woods, I much prefer a rabbit roasted over the campfire or a fresh-caught perch fried up with butter and capers over any of those meals you can buy at REI – especially when ramps and fiddleheads are in season. Hobo pies also trump them.


The greatest MRE is still spaghetti. Heat up the main and the cheese, while that gets hot, smash up those crackers. Rip open that main down the long side like a pro with your Gerber, dump in the crackers and cheese and mix, maybe add a little tabasco and salt. Depending on how Nadtic was feeling at the time that meal was packaged, you got M&Ms and the cherry drink mix.
When I was a little ol’ E1, I had a Sgt in my platoon that would trade you his entire MRE if you had the freeze dried strawberries. So I guess that was his idea of the greatest MRE(item)?

Daisy Cutter

I remember pulling out my bag of M&Ms at Camp Wilson, 29 Palms. It was essentially a squishy bag of liquid chocolate.


yeah, that’s worse than getting a Skittles bar/glob


Charms candy. So nasty, even Somali kids didn’t want them. Little turds would peg them right back at you. Hard!


That’s so funny, because it’s absolutely true. They’d even add a rock or two at times!

USMC Steve

I honestly think the spaghetti was made from start to finish by the same company. C rat spaghetti tastes just like the stuff we get in the newest meals.


I used to make spaghetti the exact same way. When we broke broke down the mre’s to take up less space, I always put the spaghetti in a place by itself. It was truly the FPF of the MRE world.


Spaghetti with Meat Sauce… had the cherry nut pound cake.


unpopular opinion, I never cared for the cherry nut pound cake.


Well, beat many of the alternatives at the time.

Daisy Cutter

The Cold Weather MRE was not bad. More caloric entrees and snacks.


The white bag of stuff.

Daisy Cutter

Yes, more commonly known as “The White Bag of Stuff.” 😉

USMC Steve

But I never saw anyone actually get the dehydrated bag of chicken noodle soup that they claimed was inside the winter rats.


I liked Menu item #1 – Pork with Rice with BBQ sauce but that was done away with a long time ago. That was from the 1988-1992 menu.

Wikipedia has a really good listing of all the items available and when.,_Ready-to-Eat


Yes! That was the BEST main ration: hot or cold.


Nam: The C-rat and long-rat choices were slim: Long-rats about eight; the C-rats we were pretty sure were leftovers from the Korean war. Only once, while running patrols off a FOB, did we eat them warm by heating them with C4 from a Claymore. Lots of starch in the long-rats. Went to Nam with one small dental cavity, left with eight fillings. Has there ever been a time when soldiers did not gripe about field rations?


I survived on C-Rat p’nut butter with crackers, peaches on pound cake, fruit cocktail, and trade goods shipped from home. Being on real good terms with The Supply Daddy helped. Only time I’ve actually sampled the MRE was some that my boy brought back from DS period. They were only marginally more edible, but that may be because I heated them up in a pot and loaded ’em up with other spices, including Tabasco and worst of the shire sauce. Full disclosure…I did order from MPS a case of assorted MREs to stick in my Bug Out Bags. When you’re hungry, piss poor rations are better than no rations. My heavy supplies of long term rations are their dehydrated veggies, fruits, and pastas, backed up with Dinty Moore, Chef Bored Are Dees, Hormel Bacon Spam, and Underwood’s Deviled Ham products. Prepare

Has there ever been a time when soldiers did not gripe about field rations?” ‘Cump’s bummers ate pretty good on the rations they had “in the field”. The folks they “…forage liberally on the countryside” (read stole from)…not so much. Those folks survived on the kernels of wheat and corn left by the horses they ground up on a rock to make cornbread out of. That and “goober peas”.

jeff LPH 3 63-66

We had C-Rats onboard the LPH 3 and the best was the franks and beans and the one which should have come with an EX LAX bar was the Ham & Lima Beans or slang word ham and mother fukers. We also had C-Rats when I was in the ARNG in 1975-1977. Ate them on weekend drills and at our two week camping out and barracks at Drum in upstate NY. I liked the Mermite can chow that we also ate.


I suspect what you 1st MarDiv Recon guys called “long-rats” are the same dehydrated LRRP rations we were issued in the Ranger companies. We ate ours cold in the bush as well, so as not to have the smell of the heated ones lingering in the jungle. Compared to a steady diet of C-rats, the LRRP rations made by Oregon Freeze Dried Foods were very palatable. My favorite was the Chicken, Rice and Vegetable meal. The spaghetti, and the chili were excellent too, but if you didn’t want them crunchy, you needed hot water and to let them soak for about half an hour.


There was something to be said about being in a rainy field op and having to scrape the layer of golden slime off the four fingers of death before squidging some of the cheese onto each one to make them BARELY edible…


If I recall correctly, it was the hurricane Rita evacuation where our church was given cases of (expired) MREs to help feed the evacuees we were sheltering.
After everyone left, there were several cases left, which were then donated to our Venturing Crew.
We ate on those for several years more.

Some were better received than others, but when hungry they sufficed.
Of course, as the Leader, I always got last pick. Good thing I have a cast iron stomach.


Desert Storm, we fought for spaghetti and corned beef hash. Sure they have gotten better since 30+ years ago. These two were tasty.


Ate nothing but MRE’s for two and a half months in Camp Shelby for pre-mob training to Afghanistan. As much walking and running around as we did with all of our gear, I still managed to gain weight from all of that crazy amount of carbs in those things.

Prior Service

All I know was, there was NO best or favorite in the first generation or two. They got much better over time. That meant a lot of ravioli or spaghetti.

Milo Mindbender

I lived me the beef in gravy, and turkey in gravy from the Desert Storm era. If you heated them tasty, if cold smelled like dog food. I kept a bottle of Mrs Dash in my kit pre Tabasco, and still find it helps when we have them. My personal red line in the sand was both of the egg dishes. Could never wrap my face around either, hunger was better than omelet with ham, or garden vegetables.


Gorilla cookies, it was like the everlasting semi chocolate gob stopper.

West Point 1987

Ham slices and franks both came with cheese spread…put either between the two slabs of crackers and the cheese, pretty damn good eating.

I liked the dehydrated pork patties dry, sometimes I crushed them into a canteen cup and made ramen.

The first generation of MREs came out around 1985, and they were horrid. Beef slices in tomato sauce was the worst, it was basically two gristle disks in ketchup.

Warren Peece

We had a new guy who loved the ham & egg omlete for some reason…. after it passed through him, he would be in the gunner’s seat and the TC would be gagging.

Daisy Cutter

Here you go…


” **Where’s my fucking christmas list…???**”

Shit…now I can’t decide…..I wonder if I can get this on a collared shirt.


Or this, or something…

MRE Tee Rock.JPG

Before the MRE there was the “LRRP ration”, or “Food Packet Long Range Patrol”. Hard to get for us grunts, but considered a delicacy at the time, probably because of its novelty and not being a C ration. I preferred C rats myself; at least you could heat C rats.


If you never had a hot LRRP ration of the spaghetti, chili, or the chicken n rice, you missed out. I first tasted them in the rear. The S-4 of my infantry bn (3/12th) had access to them. The civvie versions of some meals are still available from Oregon Freeze Dried Foods.

RGR 4-78

Chilli Con Carne, Numba 1.


I had a few. They were hard to come by for us line grunts. I did enjoy them. My only complaint was that they were, a you said, a bit crunchy. Not as convenient to heat as C-rats, though, which came, as you no doubt remember, wrapped in their own heating unit.


Lived on C’s in the fired in Germany the first time, MREs in the desert later at Bliss (surely one of the most misnamed posts.) Some good, some bad…most in the late ’70s were Vietnam leftovers, the early MREs were a bit better. Except for the freeze-dried strawberries – heavenly. Don’t think I knew Andy 11M’s sergeant, but I sympathize.


A fun channel
Eating C-Ration spaghetti (1969)


I have watched SO many Steve 1989 videos…I probably have to go back and see how many I’ve missed since last time….
Kinda LIke Angry Cop


“This old Crack House.”

Army-Air Force Guy

I think there’s something wrong with me. Circa 1987 or so, I used to really like the chicken a la king, and could always trade for it without fail.


I’m right there with you. Chicken a la King was my favorite. Then people started get sick from them during Desert Shield/Storm and they pulled them all. Bummer.


Ha! You think you are a deviant? Ham & Lima Beans was my favorite C-rat. I would happily trade canned peaches, pound cake, or anything else for Ham & MFs. There was a glorious day or two when I ate three or four cans of them.

Dragoon 45

I have never considered MRE’s an approvement over C-rats. Yes, they were heavier to carry, but I would take Ham and MFer’s any day over dehydrated pork or beef patties.


My man!


They beat what our HHB cook made out in the MKT in the field in the winter in Germany. (H thought it’d be great have everything for the Turkey a la King, Chicken and Rice, etc. T-rat cooked up in a big ppt and served to us in single scoop on our trays… )

Dennis - not chevy

I don’t know why they were mad at us, but obviously, they were. An A1C and I were walking to the pole barn where we ate when we noticed some Soldiers unloading a truck. I said to the A1C, “Since we’re not busy, let’s help the unload the truck”. She agreed. So there we were, 2 USAF types and a bunch of soldiers unloading a truck load of MRE’s. When we finished one of the Soldiers thanked us for helping by giving us each a ham and egg MRE. If all they had were ham and egg MRE’s, it would have been better thanks if he gave us nothing at all.


In the desert in 1991, I ate good.

I traded away my little tobasco sauces (all of them),
and all my jelly and peanut butter packets,
to acquire my 2 favorites in bulk, that few others cared for…

  • Chicken A La King MREs, and
  • Cheese Spread packets.

Part of why our 2LT Barbie put on about 40 lbs
while hiding inside her office trailer (to stay out of the sun),
munching away on PB&J (on USA shipped bread), then MRE crackers.

MRE Cheese Spread.jpg

Now I want a PB&J sammich.


A cracker sammy? Or (see below) a shelf stable sammy?

Green Thumb

If you were lucky (strong word), you got the shelf bread as well.


Green Thumb,
Make that “shelf stable” bread
(a term with a definition, long life at room temperature).

2LT Barbie was trading heavy for these….
along with trading heavy for my packets of PB… and J.

MRE Bread Shelf Stable.jpg
A Proud Infidel®™

In the early 90’s I liked the Corned beef Hash and Tuna with Noodles (also known as “Poodles and Noodles”) and I had a couple of others I almost liked after I came back in, but the “Chili Mac’ was always a favorite in the later years. IMO among the others judging a favorite is much like judging a Cockroach Beauty Pageant. Eating a number of them required the salt and Tabasco Sauce. Before, they tasted like ass-paste and afterwards it tasted like ass-paste with salt and Tabasco!


I remember the oatmeal cookie block they had. Might as well just cram it up your ass because it’s gonna plug you up one way or another.


It doubled as a sharpening stone.

Used to be still serving

I preferred the spaghetti for the main course and blueberry cobbler for dessert. If I remember correctly, they were not packaged together.


I had four unopened cases. Gave one to a nephew and forgot to grab the other three when I moved. Hopefully the landlord, a former Marine officer, enjoyed them.

They got better over time, but after living on them for months in Iraq (eventually we started getting weekly T-Rats, then Hot A’s once a week), I tried my best to avoid them. It doesn’t help that, while they rotate out the menus annually, we usually got ones that were three or more years old. So, when the pizza MRE supposedly came out in 2018, I never saw them. The last chance I had to eat any was 2021, but we NCOs let the ACQ officers “enjoy” the MREs while we went into Bowling Green for chow.

USMC Steve

I have had a few of the miracle pizzas from the MRE’s. Not really too impressive. Tastes like a cheap Tony’s frozen pizza.


The rectangular grade school cafeteria pizza is better.

More like Natick Labs “could” do it, rather than they “should.”


Cold, I actually bought one at the commissary about a year ago and yeah, it was like a lunch bowl. It was really not good considering all the years they put into it.

Now I buy TOTMs. It’s more like an MRE lite. Main course, some side items, but not all the side items of an MRE, but the cost is about a third. Last time I was at Fort Meade MREs were $ 12.95 apiece. and the TOTMs were $4.45.


My personal favorites were:
Chicken stew- of course they got rid of it

Next was the beef stew- really hard to screw either of them up.

Also, the beef enchilada was good, when mixed with a bunch of other shit.

Old tanker

I was there when the gen 1 mre’s first came out. We were all kinds of exited to get away from the old C’s. Once we had tried them, the surplus stores that still had C rats were all sold out very very rapidly. The first gen mre’s would disgust anyone not at death’s door from starvation. The dehydrated pork patty and peaches were absolutely horible.