The Phil Hughes Challenge: How a former MLB pitcher ruined your timeline with peanut butter and pickle sandwiches

If you've been on social media lately and have seen a picture of a peanut butter and pickle sandwich infiltrate your timeline, former MLB pitcher Phil Hughes is to blame.

The former Yankees, Twins and Padres hurler now spends his days active on Twitter, where he delivers commentary on a number of topics that interest him -- baseball, hockey (specifically the Tampa Bay Lightning), Pokémon and food. As a certified foodie, he often shares photos of a wide variety of his culinary creations. But one has earned more notoriety than the rest: The PB & Pickle sandwich.

Yes, that's peanut butter... and pickles... together on a sandwich. 

The creation may seem odd and off-putting, but it's something Hughes swears by. His endorsement has sparked something of a social media movement. He's convinced people to not only try the sandwich out of curiosity (morbid or otherwise) but tweet photos and videos of their creations at him. The response has birthed the #PhilHughesChallenge. 

Even former teammate Alex Rodriguez has acknowledged Hughes' emerging brand as the peanut butter and pickle guy.

As a doer of good journalism, not only did I try the sandwich myself (it's not as bad as you might think) but I spoke to Hughes about the entire phenomenon. I asked him about the events in his life that led him to this moment, how he prepares his ideal PB&P and whether he had any idea of the havoc he was going to wreak with his favorite snack. 

CBS Sports: How do you best describe the taste of a peanut butter and pickle sandwich?

Phil Hughes: It's a classic combination. How would you describe a peanut butter & jelly? It's salty and sweet. I guess that's kind of what it is: It's sweet and salty from the peanut butter, then a little acidic from the pickles. Anybody that has had one is like, "I can't believe people think this is weird." Any really good flavor combination is, like, sweet, salty, sour. It's like what any Chinese food dish is based upon.

It sounds gross because people don't think of them together, but once you think about what they actually are... of course it's good. I don't think it's weird because I grew up with them but I guess if you've never had them you just think those things don't go together, but they obviously do because they're delicious. 

Yeah, but there are a lot of things that don't go together, or at least you wouldn't think go together, and they don't usually elicit such a strong reaction as peanut butter & pickles. Do you think a big part of the aversion is that they don't aesthetically go together? It's like green and brown...

Yeah, especially in sandwich form, but it kind of has to be on a sandwich because it's very hard to get those two things into your mouth together otherwise. But, and I actually do this too, you can put one pickle chip and smear peanut butter on a Ritz cracker and that's also delicious.

A lot of people don't like pickles, too, and that's the other thing. Half the people who tweet at me are like, "I'm not trying this because I don't like pickles" and I'm like, "well, yeah, no s--- you're not going to like this because pickles are half the thing." Also, like everyone seems to have a peanut allergy these days, so...

Probably not a good idea to try it if it's going to kill you.

Right. But if you can avoid those hurdles, it's definitely worth trying. The beauty of it is that it's always things you have around, you know? It's like, "I don't have any food in the house and I don't feel like going to get something, let me make a peanut butter and pickle sandwich."

I decided to make one one day and post it on Twitter and I knew I would get a reaction -- that's probably half the reason I did it -- but it actually really is good. 

So you said you grew up eating them? How did that even come about in the first place? 

I don't even remember when it first started. All I know is that my mom would make them for us. My sister still loves them and makes them for her kids. I made my wife try one back when we first started dating and she liked it. She was like, "I can see why people think this is gross but it's really good." 

It's just one of those things. I don't know if I'd call it a family tradition but it was common around our house because our mom would make them for us.

Any pre-conceived notions when you first tried them? And has liking peanut butter & pickles helped you get into trying other things that you might not otherwise eat? 

Yeah, I'm like that in general. I like trying all sorts of food and eating at restaurants everywhere. One of my favorite things to eat is escargot and people think that's gross. I just don't judge things... I figure people have to be eating it for some reason, it's gotta be good in some way. 

I feel like I've appreciated food more because of that. I don't go into certain scenarios thinking something is going to be disgusting just because of hearing what's in it or seeing a picture of it. I like to give things a fair shot. Some people aren't like that.

What's your peanut butter & pickle-making process? I saw that you only use dill pickles. 

Yeah, it's gotta be dill. My mom will sometimes use bread & butter pickles, which I don't like. I just think dill is the way to go. 

It also has to be toasted. I've seen so many people eating it on un-toasted bread. It was like Wonder Bread and people were just mushing it between their fingers, and you can't do that. it has to be toasted. The toast can be white or wheat but I don't go much into the fancy toast -- the rye, the sourdoughs -- because those taste too much like other things. It kind of throws off the peanut butter/pickle combo. 

I prefer crunchy peanut butter, I didn't know that was so controversial. A lot of people have said crunchy is gross, but I like the extra crunch. I also prefer to make my own pickles because the ones that are made for burgers are already pre-cut and I feel like they go way too thin on them so you almost have to double-stack the pickles to get the right ratio. I like to just take a whole pickle and slice it myself. 

Do you do one pickle per sandwich?

It depends on the size of the pickle [laughs]. I tend to go more on the pickle side than most people would,  If it's a big pickle, I'll use one but if they're more medium-sized, I'll go with two. 

When did you start to notice it taking off on social media? Was it after the first post or was it after you sort of dug in your heels?

I feel like it's kind of been a slow build up. I feel like with most stuff that does get big on Twitter, it's usually pretty quick. I feel like this was a slow process. I got a few of the barf emojis at first, then people said, "I might have to try this." Then people actually did start trying it and sending me photos. That's when I started seeing people weren't toasting the bread and I had to call a stop and be like, "this is how you should actually be doing it because you're giving a false impression of how good this can be."

People are starting to get mad at me because almost anytime someone tweets a picture at me, I'll retweet it. I feel like my Twitter for the past week has just been me retweeting photos of people's kitchens and these sandwiches. I don't follow my follower numbers too closely but I feel like I've probably lost some because of just posting nothing but peanut butter & pickle sandwiches. 

What's the weirdest response you've gotten? 

The weirdest stuff I get is videos of people eating it. It's really not something that you can eat gracefully. Chewing peanut butter is not the best thing to look at it, and these people are just, like, wolfing down these sandwiches. It's like, "yeah it's great that you're trying it but I don't really want to see you eating it." Just show me a picture of the sandwich. 

Also, there was recently a New York Times article about peanut butter and pickles with Sriracha. I found that interesting timing. 

Have you ever done that?

I've never put the Sriracha on. I've had a couple people tell me it's good, and it makes sense -- it's sweet, sour, spicy. It's just another element in there. I might need to try that at some point, but I feel like it's almost time to distance myself from this whole thing. I don't really want to be "The Peanut Butter & Pickle Guy."

Well, then this interview is coming at the perfect time! 

[Laughs] Yeah, exactly.

We saw Twinkies embrace peanut butter & pickles this week. I don't know if those are actually being made, but if they were... would you feel a responsibility to try them?

Yeah, I would 100-percent try it... I would definitely try it. I can't imagine the pickles would be cold, so the room temperature pickles thing might throw me off because I like that the sandwich is cold pickles, neutral peanut butter and then warm bread. There's a contrast. I feel like if it was all sauce -- and you don't get the crunch of the pickles -- it might be gross. But I would definitely try it. I'm not too good to try it. 

When did you start becoming somewhat of a foodie? If people follow you, they'll see you actually have, like, a distinguished palette, which is why I trusted you in the first place. When did you start really getting into food? 

I wasn't always that way... I think with traveling for baseball, we were always on the road and looking for places to eat. I tried to do research and see what was out there and that sort of sparked my interest in good food. We had the luxury of playing in all these cities with great restaurants, so why not take advantage? I started going to some of the best restaurants in New York and Chicago and that sort of opened my eyes to what food could be. 

Did you ever get any s--t as a player for your weird food habits? 

No, not really. Honestly, I don't eat that many weird things. It's not like peanut butter & pickles are some gateway drug into weird food combinations [laughs]. It's just something I've always thought was good as a kid so I didn't think it was weird. 

What's the perfect drink pairing with a PB&P sandwich?

The perfect drink pairing is milk, which is another thing that's apparently controversial because some people don't think that adults should drink milk. I think that's false. Milk is for all ages. And now PETA is making these weird ads about milk so...

It's 2019. Milk has been canceled.

Right. Milk has been canceled. But I feel like milk is the best drink to go with it because it helps peanut butter go down, you know? If you just drink water or something else that's thin, you can't get the peanut butter off the sides and the roof of your mouth. Milk is perfect with it. 

Okay, two sports questions for you. Number one: Who wins the World Series? 

If I was a betting man, I would have to say the Astros. Part of me wonders about the Dodgers because they've been so close, so is this the year they do it? But the Astros are so good, man. That offense is crazy and then they have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole... it's almost too much. You look at them on paper and you have to pick the Astros. 

Last one: Is this the year the Lightning finally don't choke? 

[Laughs] How did I know you were going to ask me that? I really hope so. It's been tough because, with the year they had last year followed by what happened in the playoffs, how do I even watch any regular season game and get invested? It's like, let me know when the playoffs start because they could go undefeated this year and all I would think about is them getting swept out of the first round. 

Pete Blackburn is from Boston, so there's a good chance you don't like him already. He has been a writer at CBS Sports since 2017 and usually aims to take a humorous and light-hearted approach to the often... Full Bio

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