Hash browns are integral to the classic American breakfast plate. Sure, bacon and eggs may take center stage, but what props up those two superstars? Crispy potatoes.
Yet, too often, home cooks will skip these satisfying starches completely. The reason is simple: they're a pain to make. Even something seemingly labor intensive like pancakes or waffles takes considerably less time than hash browns.
To make them from scratch, you need to peel and grate your potato, along with an onion. And you should probably get started the night before if you want any chance at eating breakfast before 11 a.m. You need to get all the moisture out of the potatoes so they get perfectly crispy. Then, you fry those up, waiting patiently for them to get that IHOP-quality crust you desire. It just seems like an awful lot of work when the payoff is merely potatoes.
But, that's why you have a freezer! To make your life simple and easy. Just take your hash browns out of a bag and throw them in a pan. Simple as that.
Even so, it helps to start with a well-made product. That's why I've rounded up five different kinds of frozen hash browns for this taste test—some loosely shredded and others preformed into patties—so you'll know the best brand to get for your freezer.
I've prepared every product according to the directions on the packaging and evaluated each by taste and texture, as well as appearance and preparation method. I also seasoned every product with salt and pepper, because I still need to eat all of these. None of these products come pre-seasoned or uniquely flavored. They all taste like plain potatoes, because they are plain potatoes. As a result, texture becomes an even more crucial element for this taste test.
Here's how each variety stacked up, ranked in descending order from my least favorite to the best frozen hash brown of all. Let's get into it!
Lamb Weston Thick Cut Hash Browns
Made with 100% real Idaho potatoes and little else, these thick-cut hash browns seemed to have great potential. A 28-ounce bag cost $5.69 at Harris Teeter.
The Prep: At first glance, the directions looked pretty simple. Just drizzle a little oil into a skillet. Add about half the bag of potatoes and fry over medium heat for about five minutes, flip and keep cooking for another five. But, in my experience, that didn't work out so well. These developed no crisp at all, which is a shame.
The Look: You can see the hash, but the "browns" portion of the criteria was not met here. These are hash whites, or hash grays. While achieving that golden brown color would seem completely doable with this product, the results were just not there, despite closely following the instructions. Because of the product's thickness, it seems like it would take a lot of oil to keep these from looking like lumpy potatoes, so I'd just look elsewhere.
The Taste: The producers weren't kidding when they said "thick." The potatoes themselves are fluffy and keep a bit of bite to them, which I like in a hash brown. However, for a large bite of potato to taste great, it needs to be seasoned all the way through. And these just didn't make the cut. Potatoes without enough salt have a strange aftertaste, and that aftertaste definitely comes through.
Ore-Ida Shredded Hash Brown Potatoes
The Prep: Place these in a pan with some oil and cook for about 10 minutes, same as the other shredded hash browns.
The Look: These potatoes actually browned up pretty nicely. While freezing tends to trap moisture inside the potatoes, these frozen spuds didn't release an absurd amount of water during cooking that might otherwise prevent them from caramelizing.
The Taste: In a word, mushy. While they did get a better crust than the previous candidate, the inside was basically mashed potatoes. Hash browns, at least in my view, shouldn't be mushy. They need a little bit of structure, a little bit of bite. These really just congealed into a ball of mush the moment my fork touched them. And it's not a ball of mush that I was excited about.
Trader Joe's Shredded Potato Hash Browns
Specialty grocer Trader Joe's offers a few different styles of hash browns, including this simple shredded potato variety.
The Prep: Place some oil in a nonstick pan, and fry these on each side for about five to ten minutes on medium heat.
The Look: It comes out pretty nicely browned, and it isn't too hard to shape these into a little patty either for the cooking process. Overall, it could be browner, it could have more shape, but it could also have less of those things. That's why it's ranked at three. Perfectly in the middle. Not too great, but not bad, either.
The Taste: Not bad, but the potato comes out mushy and a little more limp than crispy. However, these are definitely still my pick among the shredded hash browns. The potatoes have the best quality, and they release the least amount of water during the cooking process. If you want something more solid, I'd put in some DIY effort and get out a grater. Otherwise, stick to the patty varieties, which take the number one and two spots.
Giant Hash Browns Shredded Potato Patties
In addition to various brands of shredded hash browns, Giant also sells its own its own brand of preformed patties. A pack of 10 cost $4.19.
The Prep: Place these in the oven at 425 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.
The Look: It doesn't quite hold that golden-brown sheen that the number one spot holds, but this is an attractive patty nonetheless. Call that shape manufactured or cookie cutter all you want, it still looks inviting: golden brown edges, and crispy bits filling up the crevices of potato.
The Taste: The texture of these is fluffy with a crispy outside. I do wish the outside crisped up a little more, but it still delivers a nice crunch. The potatoes themselves don't seem like the highest quality, and you can taste that because they are mushy, but it's not like there are mashed potatoes inside.
This Giant brand takes second place just for being crispy. That's really it. They aren't exceptional by any means, but they get the job done in a crispy fashion that all but one competitor couldn't match.
Trader Joe's Hashbrowns
The popularity of these frozen patties became clearly evident earlier this year when fans on Reddit started complaining about shortages and stores limiting purchases of the item. After trying them myself, it's easy to see why. A package of 10 cost $2.79.
The Prep: Place these on a baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, flipping at the seven-minute mark.
The Look: Look at that hash brown. I feel like I'm cheating because it's golden brown straight out of the package. It's got that perfect oval shape reminiscent of the hash browns at a certain fast-food company. With golden arches. And a clown. It looks perfect, and it tastes exactly like it looks.
The Taste: While I definitely recommend that you season these to your taste, they don't have that raw potato taste that the others have. So, if you have no salt and pepper on hand, these will still work great in a pinch. However, what really makes this product a home run is the texture. Golden and crispy on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside.
It's genuinely everything you'd ever want out of a hash brown, no matter what kind of person you are. Do you like a lot of potato in there? Do you want a crisp? Somewhere in the middle? This will check all those boxes.
There's also a great deal of versatility involved here. The crispness of this patty will hold up to whatever you put on it. If you're like me and like your hash browns Waffle House style, throw some ham and cheese on these halfway through the cook and get some bell peppers and onions ready.
Remember: hash browns are a building block to more, and these Trader Joe's patties are the absolute perfect way to step up your breakfast game.