I Tried Fries From 7 Major Fast-Food Chains & the Winner Blew Me Away
When it comes to fast-food fries, fans are usually fiercely divided on which chain offers the very best version. Some are adamant that McDonald's is home to the best fast-food fries, while others prefer the skin-on variety from Wendy's.
Whichever chain is your go-to for fries, the debate serves as proof that there are a lot of great french fry options on the market right now. But in the interest of settling the dispute on the best fast-food fries once and for all, I tried the classic fries from seven of the biggest chains around: McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Chick-fil-A, Popeyes, KFC, and Shake Shack.
While each of these brands has its own unique style and preparation methods, I think that fries should always be measured against some main criteria. For one, great fries need to have a great texture, preferably a golden brown, crispy exterior, and a soft, fluffy interior. They also need to have enough salt, which can be a major pitfall. Extra seasonings aside from salt aren't a must, but they're definitely enjoyable when done right. To ensure that I could taste the true flavor of each fry and provide the most accurate ranking, I didn't taste these with ketchup or any other dipping sauces.
Here's what I thought about each option and how I ranked them from least favorite to absolute best.
Burger King's Classic Fries
Burger King's website doesn't offer any information about how it makes its Classic Fries, apart from saying they come "piping hot and perfectly salted." A medium order cost me $4.15.
The look: These were some of the thicker fries of the bunch. They looked slightly golden brown but I would have liked to see a stronger color that points to a perfectly-cooked fry.
The taste: Unfortunately, there aren't many good things I can say about Burger King's fries. They were extremely underseasoned and definitely needed a big sprinkle of salt in order to make them worth the calories. And while they had the slightest hint of crisp, the inside was so thick and potatoey that the whole textural balance was off. The only way I could see myself finishing these is if I had a ton of dipping sauce to drown them in. While almost none of the fries I tried in this taste test were perfect, I thought all of the others brought a little extra to the table in comparison to Burger King's version.
Chick-fil-A's Waffle Potato Fries
Chick-fil-A's Waffle Potato Fries feature waffle-cut potatoes that are cooked in canola oil and seasoned with sea salt. A large order cost me $3.36.
The look: There's no denying that waffle fries are fun! So I couldn't help but be excited to give Chick-fil-A's version a try. They looked like pretty standard waffle fries with potato skin on the edges and that special shape that can hold a ton of sauce.
The taste: I generally enjoy Chick-fil-A's fries, but I think that the chain frequently misses the mark on execution. While the texture was decently crispy, the fries were tragically undersalted. Without enough salt or sauce to give them a flavor boost, these just fell really flat in terms of taste.
McDonald's World Famous Fries
McDonald's World Famous Fries are always made with "premium potatoes" like the Russet Burbank and Shepody, which are fried in a canola-blend oil and seasoned with salt. A large order cost me $4.25.
The look: There's always something about pulling one of these bright red cartons out of a paper bag that makes me feel really nostalgic, but I could tell just from looking at these fries that they needed to be cooked longer. They were too pale and looked a little wilted, as if they weren't freshly made when I got them.
The taste: I know that placing McDonald's so low in this ranking is a controversial move, but I didn't make this decision lightly. Like Chick-fil-A, the quality of McDonald's fries really depends on execution. When they're fresh, hot, and perfectly salted, they could easily seize the No. 1 spot. But when they've been sitting out a while, haven't been cooked long enough, or aren't properly seasoned, they're one of the worst fast-food fries. Unfortunately, the batch I got was more in line with the latter. They weren't crispy at all and needed more salt, though they were better seasoned than the fries from Chick-fil-A and Wendy's.
Popeyes' Cajun Fries
Popeyes' Cajun Fries are skin-on and seasoned. A small order cost me $4.25.
The look: Popeyes' fries were some of the most attractive-looking fries of the bunch, with their deep golden brown color, potato skin edges, and a dusting of seasoning. They were thicker than the McDonald's fries but not quite as thick as the Burger King fries.
The taste: You might be tempted to opt for more traditional fried chicken sides like mashed potatoes and mac and cheese when you visit Popeyes, but I don't think you'd go wrong with their fries either. The texture of these fried spuds was really pleasing thanks to a crispy exterior and a soft, fluffy middle. That crispy texture held up even after the fries sat around for an hour, which I can't say for any of the fries that ranked lower on this list. My one small complaint about Popeyes' fries is that it's hard to single out any specific flavors in whatever seasoning blend they use, but the salt levels were perfect and they still tasted great.
Wendy's Natural-Cut Fries
Wendy's Natural-Cut Fries are skin-on and seasoned with sea salt. A large order cost me $4.15.
The look: While Wendy's fries weren't as visually exciting as the Popeyes fries, they still looked really promising. They were about the same thickness as the Popeyes fries with a light golden brown color with darker edges thanks to the patches of potato skin.
The taste: What I love about Wendy's fries is that they're always consistently good, at least in my personal experience. Sure, I think the batch I got could have used a little more time in the fryer to up the crispiness, but they still had a great texture and were perfectly salted. Overall, the flavor and execution were great, and I really appreciate that this seems to be the norm at Wendy's.
KFC's Secret Recipe Fries
KFC's Secret Recipe Fries are seasoned with the chicken chain's secret blend of herbs and spices. A large order cost me $6.39.
The look: One look at KFC's fries left no doubt that they were perfectly cooked and seasoned. They had a deep golden brown color from the spices and their time in the fryer.
The taste: I've never had fries from KFC before and my expectations weren't that high coming into this taste test, but I was really blown away by these. While the seasoning wasn't as strong as on the Popeyes' fries, KFC's fries were super salty and flavorful in a way that I've rarely experienced at major fast-food chains. The texture was also perfectly crispy on the outside, with a soft, fluffy middle. The only factor that separated these from the winner was that they were a little greasier than I would have liked. Still, perfectly enjoyable!
Shake Shack's Fries
Shake Shack's Fries are crinkle-cut and seasoned simply with salt. A regular order cost me $4.25.
The look: Every single Shake Shack fry in my order looked crispy and perfectly golden brown on every single nook and cranny, which was a level of perfection I didn't see with any other fry I tried. They were also the thickest of the bunch, with only Burger King coming close.
The taste: There honestly wasn't one thing that I would change about Shake Shack's fries, so crowning them the winner of this taste test was a simple decision despite the fierce competition. I believe thicker fries need to be extra crispy and salty on the outside or else the flavor and texture will be completely off. Shake Shack hit the bullseye on both criteria. I even went back to try them again after they sat out for a while to see how they held up, and they were still extremely crispy and tasted great even when they were cold. While I didn't need ketchup or a sauce in order to wholeheartedly enjoy these, their crinkled surface makes them extra great for retaining sauce.