, in all their greasy, golden splendor, are one of the greatest culinary achievements in human history. Indeed, where would the noble cheeseburger be without the accompaniment of its trusty companion, the French fry? Yet despite their fairly basic preparation, only requiring oil, potatoes, and salt, the variation among French fries amongst the millions of restaurants serving them is really quite remarkable. No two establishments are identical in their French fry production, but perhaps due to their relative simplicity and high degree of variability, it is rather simple and straightforward to compare one restaurant's fries to another.
It's easy to look down upon fast food restaurants. Some highly celebrated foodies seem to harbor within themselves a deeply seated hostility for such entities, viewing them as a plague upon the American culinary culture. I don't eat fast food too often, but I hold no contempt for such places. In a pinch, they serve their purpose relatively well, and in my opinion, do not deserve the scorn some have strewn in their direction.
Fast food French fries are consumed by the bucket load on a daily basis. There is certainly no shortage in the Natural State...indeed, somehow McDonald's has managed to win "best fries in Arkansas" numerous times in our Reader's Choice
poll. This fact caused me to reconsider the merits of the fast food French fry. I realized that I had not eaten the fries of certain fast food restaurants in many years, and in some cases, never. So, in the name of due journalistic diligence, I struck out to sample and score the major fast food fries in central Arkansas. Here's how it went down: Total scores
were generated for each restaurant based on a collection of subscores
(10 points each) representing different pivotal aspects of any respectable French fry. Subscores were totaled and a final score awarded; the six contestants were thus ranked accordingly.
Subscore categories included: Freshness
(based primarily upon the temperature at which the fries were served)Potato-ness
(or the essence of potato, based primarily on the ability of the fry to retain a natural potato flavor)Seasoning
(based primarily on the proper use of salt or other proprietary seasonings applied to the fry)Crispness
(obviously, based on the crispness or crunchiness of each fry, or lack of sogginess therein)
Here are the results:
- Sonic (left), Burger King (right)
: Freshness: 6, Potato: 2, Seasoning: 1, Crisp: 2= Total 11/40
To my recollection, this was the first time I've ever eaten fries from Sonic...and I thank my lucky stars for this fact. Without a doubt, Sonic served up the poorest portrayal of what a decent French fry should be. There seemed to be almost no seasoning involved; each fry was screaming for a touch of salt. The fries tasted as if they were not even distant relatives of the potato, and perhaps the most unpardonable sin was their limp, lifeless body, almost completely lacking any crispness whatsoever. #5 Burger King
: Freshness: 4, Potato: 4, Seasoning: 4, Crisp: 3= Total 15/40
At one point in my life, whilst in the thralls of high school, I really respected the Whopper. This alone brought me back into the palace of The King fairly regularly. But it's been some time since I've had a complete meal at Burger King, and so I was rather surprised by the rather poor showing The King had made in the field of French fries. Overall, I found the fries to be rather uneventful, lacking much freshness, and they quickly became cold. They tasted of unthawed, previously frozen potato and were also poorly seasoned. I was not reluctant to toss the remainder of my uneaten fries in the garbage.
- Arby's (left), McDonald's (right)
: Freshness: 9, Potato: 2, Seasoning: 3, Crisp: 6= Total 20/40
Again, it had been quite some time since I had set foot in an Arby's...likely 5 or 6 years. Yet knowing they were well known for their curly fries, I welcomed the change of pace from their standard long, thin, golden competitors. Overall, Arby's fries were not bad; I particularly felt they were well complimented with ketchup. Their weakness lay in their relative lack of potato flavor. Their flavor was overwhelmed by the breading or coating they received, which essentially tasted only of grease. But they remained palatable, and I did enjoy the playful spring of curls and swirls the fries impart in the mouth given their less commonly encountered shape. #3 McDonald's
: Freshness: 6, Potato: 3, Seasoning: 8, Crisp: 5 = Total 22/40
Is there a person alive today who has not eaten the fried offerings of McDonald's? Perhaps one of the single most consumed items in the entire world, the golden fries from the Golden Arches likely need no introduction...but let's consider their place in comparison to their fellow fast food companions. McDonald's fries were almost perfectly seasoned, the right amount of salt to complement the potato, but not so much as to keep you lunging for your Diet Coke every 3 seconds. But I found them to have a rather poor texture and they seemed to leave a slightly bitter flavor in the mouth after consumption. That said, they are reasonable accompaniments to the otherwise uninspiring fare McDonald's is dishing out. Don't even get me started on their chicken nuggets.
- Wendy's (left), Rally's (right)
: Freshness: 8, Potato: 7, Seasoning: 3 Crisp: 5 = Total 23/40
It seems that over the years, Wendy's has worked hard to put their "old fashioned" image behind them and prove to the public that they are still relevant in today's fast food market. One such attempt at relevancy came a number of years ago when Wendy's ditched their traditional fry recipe and began boasting "natural cut" fries flavored with an exotic addition of sea salt. However, I've found these changes to be both a help and a hindrance. I enjoy their so-called "natural-cut" nature. I'm not sure this means much more than they've chosen to simply leave some of the potato skins on, but I feel that, at least, Wendy's fries taste more like potato than any of their competitors. Their Achilles heel, however, is their heavy-handed use of salt. While not every fry in an order is afflicted so, I've frequently found that Wendy's fries can be as pleasant as drinking a mouthful of sea water. Despite this, a touch of ketchup seems to tone down their salinity to a certain degree, and given the sheer abundance of Wendy's locations nationwide, I probably find myself eating these fries more than any other on this list. Whether or not dipping them in your frosty should be illegal is another matter entirely. #1 Rally’s
: Freshness: 9, Potato: 6, Seasoning: 9, Crisp: 8 =Total 32/40
I lived most of my early life in a region of Georgia in which Rally's (known as Checker's in those parts) was readily accessible. Given this, our family made frequent visits to our local Rally's whenever Mother was too exhausted to cook or whenever we begged her enough for reprieve from her dreaded tuna casserole. While we enjoyed most of the menu at Rally's at the time, unanimously, our hearts belonged to their fries. After moving away from the South, I was not blessed with the opportunity to sample Rally's fries until I settled down in Arkansas...some 16 years later. The more mature me now realizes that the majority of Rally's menu is rather mediocre, their burgers and chili dogs being no better (and in some cases, worse) than their competitors. But their fries are still glorious. Their unusual dark brown color, their crispy batter-dipped coating, and spicy black pepper-heavy seasoning make for a French fry that deserves much more recognition that it's received. Upon my recent visit, I found the fries hot and fresh, crispy, and flavorful. Are they the greatest fries in Arkansas? No. But they are mighty fine...a standard for what fast food fries could and should be.