2019 Updates: Since publishing this recipe, I’ve made a few tweaks. I’ve increased the Cheeto quantity (a frequent request), slightly reduced the pretzel quantity, and learned how to gently speed up roasting time. I’ve also received questions about what a “big” bottle of Worcestershire sauce is, so I’ve tried to clarify below. Amusingly, I just received a gift of a very old Merry Mix recipe card my father once gave to my brother. I can tell it’s old because it uses only one kind of Chex, no Cheez-Its, only 3/4 cup butter, and a paltry 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (gasp!). Also, all the seasonings were salts (celery salt, garlic salt, etc.). I’ve verified with Papa that he makes his Merry Mix the way I describe below now, and it’s how I’ve been making it for years. What can I say? Never stop improving.
As far back as I can remember, my Papa involved me in cooking projects. He’d arm me with a paring knife so I could help prep, or he’d drag a chair to the stove so I could stir. I loved squishing meatball mixture through my tiny, chubby fingers. I got really good at pleating gyoza. One of the all-time favorite recipes we made as a family was Merry Mix.
He’d pull out the enormous, commercial-kitchen-size stainless-steel mixing bowl and plunk it on the table. (When I say this bowl was enormous, please understand I could sit in it and sled down a hill. And I did. We had to take all the racks out of our oven and bake it with the door slightly ajar because it scarcely fit.) I’d open all the bags and boxes and dump everything in, mixing gently with my hands.
Papa always claimed Merry Mix was “an old Moore family recipe,” but I know he’s modified it over the years. I think his original recipe was inspired by a Nalley’s snack mix from his youth. In the ’80s, we sometimes included Bugles. My brother, Matthew, has had good success experimenting with new ingredients, including one notable version using wasabi peas. I tend to make it with the same ingredients every year, just as we did in that giant steel bowl when I was really little, but I have some suggested modifications down below in the notes.
Oh, and don’t make the mistake of calling this Chex Mix. The “Official” (barf) “Original” (lies) Chex Mix recipe from General Mills doesn’t call for nearly enough flavoring agents and it leaves you with half a dozen partially eaten boxes of cereal and snacks (hisssss). Merry Mix completely eliminates the waste and most of the measurement required in the corporate-sanctioned recipe. It goes like this:
- Use the whole box/bag of each component. Why have leftovers?
- Use a whole pound of butter (melted). Yeah. Four sticks.
- Use a whole bottle of Worcestershire sauce (the biggest bottle you can find)—maybe even more—because it’s delicious.
- Use plenty of seasonings (granulated garlic, granulated onion, celery seed, paprika).
- Bake on low heat (between 200 and 250ºF, depending on how often you want to have to stir) until even the most saturated pieces are crispy and dry.
- As the Merry Mix bakes, gently fold the mixture with a wide, flat spatula, coming in from the edge of the baking dish to avoid breakage.
Yes, it takes forever. Yes, your house will smell absolutely amazing. Yes, the yield is a little over three gallon Ziploc bags. Yes, you may have to use multiple baking dishes to contain all of the magic. It’s worth it.
The recipe can easily be modified to be gluten-free (leave out any ingredients that contain wheat—Wheat Chex, pretzels, Cheez-Its, some brands of Worcestershire).
In my house, Merry Mix is a Christmas necessity. Merry Mix is a great thing to make in the fall/winter when houseguests are plentiful, but it also makes a killer road trip snack in the summer. I hope you’ll give Merry Mix a try (please tell me if you do!). You won’t regret it.
Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 4 to 8 hours | Yield: 3.5 gallons
1 box Rice Chex
1 box Corn Chex
1 box Wheat Chex (omit for gluten-free mix)
1 box Cheerios
2 bags Crunchy Cheetos (if desired, try swapping one bag with Flamin’ Hot)
Just shy of 1 16-ounce bag pretzel sticks (see note below if using gluten-free pretzels)
1 box Cheez-Its (omit for gluten-free mix)
1 canister Spanish peanuts (red skins)
1 pound salted butter
At least 15 ounces Worcestershire sauce (you cannot go wrong increasing this amount)
Approx. 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
Approx. 1 tablespoon granulated onion
Approx. 3 teaspoons celery seed
Approx. 2 teaspoons paprika
Seasoned salt (such as Lawry’s or Johnny’s), to taste, if needed
- Preheat oven to 225ºF. Toss all cereals and snacks into a very large vessel or two for mixing. (Those aluminum foil roasting pans from the grocery store work well.) Using your hands, toss gently to combine.
- Melt butter. Stir the dry spices together in a small dish.
- In three to four additions, top mixture with the melted butter, several liberal glugs of Worcestershire, and a generous pinch of the spices, stirring gently to combine between additions. Continue until you run out of wet ingredients and spices. Taste, and if it needs more of any of the spices, sprinkle a bit extra on or add some seasoned salt (Worcestershire sauce varies in saltiness, as will your dry ingredients).
- Spread the now-wet mixture into as many baking vessels as your oven will hold. A shallower vessel (such as a baking sheet) roasts much faster than a deep vessel (such as a roasting pan). The downsides of using shallow vessels is you’ll need to stir more frequently to avoid burning, and folding the mixture can be precarious. Historically, I used a roasting pan and a large lasagna-sized baking dish. These days, I’m going for more, smaller vessels so the mix won’t be as deep and I’m not tied to my oven all day.
- Bake in oven, folding gently with a wide spatula to bring the wetter ingredients at the bottom of the pan up to the top (do this every hour with deep dishes, every half hour with shallow ones). Merry Mix is done when all pieces are dry and crisp, four to eight hours; you’ll have to taste some of the most well-saturated pieces to be sure. One pan may finish faster than the other. Allow to cool (I often leave it in the oven to cool overnight as the oven cools down), then store in gallon-sized zip-top bags.
- Optional mix-ins: Crispix cereal, mixed nuts, Goldfish or Bunnies crackers, pretzel Goldfish or teeeeeny twists in place of pretzel sticks, wasabi peas, sesame sticks, broken pita or bagel chips, Fritos, Bugles, red pepper hot sauce (such as Frank’s Red Hot). If you add a bunch of extra stuff, think about leaving something else out to compensate (or increasing the butter/Worcestershire/seasonings and loving your life).
- Gluten-free modifications: Omit all ingredients that contain wheat and check your Worcestershire sauce) and consider increasing other Chex quantity (or adding other mix-ins) to compensate for loss of bulk. If substituting with GF pretzels, wait to add them until after the mix has baked and cooled. I’ve read that, due to their composition, GF pretzels do not hydrate and crisp up again the same way traditional pretzels do.
- What’s a box/bag/bottle/canister?: I didn’t note a size for the cereal boxes, Cheetos bags, or even peanuts canister. That’s because sizes vary within stores, brands, and regions. The goal here is ease and the recipe is flexible. In general, if you have a choice, use the “normal” box for all the cereals, not the giant “family size” boxes. For the Worcestershire sauce, that’s personal preference. I like to use the largest bottle that Lea & Perrins makes (which in my area is 15 ounces), but sometimes I can’t find it so I use one-and-a-half 10-ounce bottles. I’ve used smaller bottles before from all sorts of other brands (like Whole Foods’ 365 or Annie’s or Kroger’s) and the Merry Mix has come out fine. If you dig Worcestershire like I do, get the bigger bottle (or two little ones).
- Think of your vegetarian friends: Some Worcestershire sauce, such as Lea & Perrins, is not vegetarian because it contains anchovies. If you’re feeding any vegetarians, use an appropriate bottle of Worcestershire sauce so they can partake (or at least warn them so they can make an informed choice). Many inexpensive grocery-store house brands are vegetarian.