6 Restaurant Chain Fries That Are Anything But "Vegetarian"
French fries are the ultimate salty snack and burger companion, and many of us choose our fast-food spot based on how good their fries are. So what goes into making a perfect fry? The type of potato, the cut, and the seasoning are all very important factors, but sometimes that irresistible je ne se quoi of the crispy fry has more to do with the oil or fat it's fried in. Frying oils range from various vegetable oils and even peanut oil, all the way to melted beef tallow—the latter of which makes the fries extra delicious. But it also makes them non-vegetarian.
While beef tallow, which is rendered fat leftover when beef is cooked, has been phased out of many restaurants as health food trends and veganism have ramped up in recent years, it used to be quite popular. This Washington Post article from 1985 identifies Arby's, Bob's Big Boy, Burger King, Hardee's, McDonald's, Popeyes, and Wendy's as fast-food spots that use beef tallow in their fryers. All but one of these have swapped the tallow out for supposedly healthier oils in recent years.
Health ramifications aside, some people miss these old-school cooking methods, while vegetarians and vegans have to comb through nutritional information on fast-food websites to make sure they're able to have the one side that's usually vegetarian. Here are the top chains still using beef tallow or a beef ingredient for their fries, for those who either want to avoid or enjoy them.
The jury is still out on whether Mickey D's fries are vegetarian or not. Most people know that they 100% weren't at one point. In fact, the chain was famously sued for not making it more apparent that the fries were cooked in beef tallow.
The use of tallow was hardly surprising for a company that processes so much beef, but when the fear of saturated gripped the nation and the chain was involved in the famous lawsuit where vegetarians felt misled, it changed the fat used to cook the famous fries—which some people never got over.
But McDonald's—which seems to know a good thing when it tastes it—created something else to mimic that beef tallow taste. McDonald's uses something called "beef extract" in the ingredients for its famous fries. This ingredient is derived from wheat and dairy—we know this because those allergens have to be declared—but no one is 100% sure there is no beef involved. McDonald's, for its part, isn't telling because they don't legally have to. A food scientist told Mashable that it is likely just "beef adjacent" but no one is really sure. In other areas of the world, including the U.K. and India, beef extract is left out of the ingredient list.
The famous chicken chain doesn't mention what kind of oil is used in its U.S. restaurants on its website, but rumor has it that the chain was still using beef tallow. We did the digging and, alas, if you are looking for truly vegetarian options at Popeyes, you may be out of luck. The chain's fryers contain beef tallow, as confirmed by a rep for the restaurant.
Buffalo Wild Wings
Famous for its wings, of course, Buffalo Wing Wings has a secret ingredient that seems out of place in a chicken restaurant: beef shortening. The chain actually fries everything in it—even its chicken wings.
Smashburger started in 2007 in Denver with the aim of becoming a better burger company. The smashed burgers, which are literally squished on the grill for a better sear, appear to be catching on because the chain is planning to open at least 20 locations a year in 2023 and 2024.
If you are vegetarian and dining at Smashburger, there are a few good options, like the Classic Smash Black Bean burger with all the fixin's, but you'll need to skip the SmashFries. Smashburger, like Buffalo Wild Wings, fries its items in beef tallow, as stated in its ingredient lists. Skip the crispy Brussels sprouts and tots too, because those are given a hot bath in beef tallow as well.
Portillo's is famous for its Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, chopped salad, cheese fries, and homemade desserts. The chain—which started as a humble hot dog stand in 1963— now has over 60 locations mainly in the midwest, but with some in Southern California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida.
And as it turns out, it fries some of its items in a blend of vegetable oil and beef fat. Portillo's isn't hiding this fact either and includes the info right on the required allergen list. "Our French fries and onion rings are cooked in a blend of vegetable oil and beef tallow," the company states on its website.
Famous for its relatively affordable steaks and its Aussie personality, it isn't really a surprise that a steakhouse doesn't have a lot of vegetarian options. It also isn't a surprise that a steakhouse uses beef tallow to fry lots of things—the fat being a by-product of beef production. There was a lot of chatter and questions online about Outback using beef tallow. We reached out to Outback to be sure and a rep confirmed that beef tallow is indeed used in the fryers, making all of their fried menu items unsuitable for vegetarians, but darn delicious.