Our What's For Dinner™ test has become a crowd favorite, but it hasn't always been that way. I though it was time we wrote out the history of the test concept and an explanation of why we run the test the way we do.
History: Before writing, or even doing much on YouTube I worked full-time as a defensive shooting instructor at an indoor range that also had a storefront. The retail experience was my least-favorite part of the job mostly because we were pressured to sell what made the boss the most money or had the best business incentives (some brands offer extra inventory when a sales volume is met, or won't allow a shop to carry a key product unless they sell X-amount of that brand). We weren't able to recommend what we felt was the best fit for the customer unless it was something the boss wanted sold. I felt this was dishonest and misleading, though most new-to-guns customers wouldn't know the difference anyways. One such product was a particular type of defensive ammunition that the shop was always pushing. It wasn't bad ammo, but in my own tests there were better options out there, especially when considering that not everyone carries the same barrel length and ammo at the time hadn't been specialized to perform in shorter barrels. Long story short, some customers complained that the ammo didn't run in their guns while others loved it.
This experience was amplified when I began my own ammo testing and noticed that the (now discontinued) Walther PPS M1 didn't like some loads that the Glock 19 did. I know now that this is in part to the Walther's tighter chamber design, shorter barrel, and stiffer recoil spring. The observation then was that not all ammo runs in all guns of the same chambering.
A "ballistic bouquet" made for an art class using captured rounds from early GBGuns ammo testing.
Today: In now hundreds of gun reviews you see us run a variety of loads (typically ten for handguns, five for rifles) that deliberately go above and below the typical projectile weight for the caliber and twist rate. We do this to help people learn what loads are out there, but more importantly to see if they are even compatible at all.
For handguns we fire three shots of each load at a target. We're looking to see if the ammunition will feed from slide lock, have the proper energy to cycle the action and feed another round of the same type, and if there's enough energy to lock the slide open on empty. This could technically be done with just two rounds but we add a third to reduce variables. As you can see in the cover image of just 16 different 9mm loads, each load has a different bullet shape and length. This combined with the powder's burn rate impacts how much energy is imparted on the operation of the firearm and for what duration. The bullet shape and where the projectile hits its maximum diameter can impact feeding. It might be a good shape for feeding, but not have enough time to be fed, or may be a less-than-ideal shape, but have plenty of time to make it out of the magazine and find its home in the chamber.
It has been asked several times why we don't shoot a full magazine of each load. That's a fair question. The answer is that while that would provide us with a test of the gun and the magazine's ability to run the load, we're not looking to test the magazine. Another big reason why we don't fire an entire magazine's worth comes down to logistics. The interesting ammunition we find for these tests is not inexpensive. Multiply that by ten different loads and testing a full magazine's worth of specialty loads would cost us a few hundred dollars per gun. We're not paid for our reviews and seldom receive a box or two of something to try out. We simply can't afford to spend several hundred dollars on ammo for every video. If we could afford it the videos would also take more time to make and more time to watch. Three rounds is plenty to get an idea of if a round will work with a gun or not. Fortunately it has appeared that most modern pistols can run with most modern ammunition.
10-shot group at 100 yards with Nosler 35gr .223 from the DoubleStar Midnight Dragon. Squares are 1".
With rifles the test is slightly different. We've seen interesting examples of when matching the projectile weight to the twist rate isn't as important as much of the internet would have you believe. We've also seen other examples where the recommended projectile weight did not provide the best result. We shoot ten-shot groups from five different loads. Each ten-shot group is compiled from the five-shot group of two different shooters. Does this provide the best-looking group ever? No, but it does show you what you can expect on an average range day using that rifle and ammo combination. We all have good and bad range days, and ammo lots can vary. By shooting ten rounds of a particular load we can fairly expect to see the best and worst potential performance of the combination. By using two shooters we help balance the possibility of a good or bad range day. It would seem that what's most important to a rifle's accuracy when it comes to ammunition is the use of well-made ammunition. We've seen incredible results with Nosler 35gr .223 ammunition which according to twist-rate guidance would be terrible in a 1:7 or even 1:8 twist barrel. How did it work so well? The bullets are well-made and the powder loadings consistent. THAT is what made for repeatable flight and a good group.
Internet wisdom would say that this Nosler 53gr .223 is not a good match for a Diamondback 16" 1:8 5.56mm barrel, but our ten-shot test says otherwise! Good ammo in a good barrel and it's likely to do well enough for 100-yard grouping.
Results: The What's For Dinner Test is not necessarily a pass or fail for the firearm or the ammunition, it's a pass or fail for the combination. Out intent is to save you time, money, and heartache by testing if the two will work together. Some folks have an affinity for certain ammunition but don't know if it will run well in a particular gun, for others it's the opposite. We hope these tests have proven helpful to you and are greatly appreciative of our Patreon supporters and those who have used the code "GBGuns" with Ammo Squared for helping to keep these tests financially possible.