It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in want of french fries will accept just about anything. That includes hours-old, oily potato sticks that probably should have gone into the garbage hours ago. Like pizza, fries are just one of those foods that are “relatively okay” even at their worst (mealy, soggy, stale). Sometimes you just have to scratch an itch.
Still, there’s a wide range of quality in the field of fries. You know it when you taste it, even if you don’t know why some fries are better than others. Well-executed fries are:
- Crispy on the outside.
- Fluffy and light on the inside.
- Offer a nice crunch…
- But give as you bite.
- And aren’t drenched in too much oil or salt.
- But rather, just enough of both.
That’s not an opinion, it’s science. You can trust me because I used bullet points. I’m an expert in this field and you’re currently reading my opus.
The idea of creating a fry-erarchy — a ranking of various fry-types — came to me when I was at Al’s Burger Shack in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, chowing down on what some consider to be the best burger in the country and some crispy, well-seasoned crinkle cut fries. It was dusk on an early autumn evening and we were sitting on a picnic bench outside, heads down to concentrate on the succor before us, when the concept struck from out of the clear blue, a gift from the food gods.
Like all gifts bestowed by the gods, the fry-erarchy didn’t come without demanding a sacrifice. Sharing my frypinions has required a degree of gluttony never seen since… the last time we ranked fries.But today the work is finally done. I present to you: the definitive ranking of fry types, from worst to best.
8. Sweet potato fries
These are not real french fries, and I will not hear otherwise. Many people suffer from palate fatigue when eating them. FOR A REASON. There are several things that make sweet potato fries offensive. First and foremost: the flavor. They are too sweet. This is meant to be a savory snack.
Second problem: the texture. Sweet potatoes are too dense. The molecular structure of the sugary tuber makes it near-impossible to find the right ratio between crispy outside and light inside. I mean that literally: the sweet potato’s starches are much more complex (and much denser) than regular potatoes. So you literally won’t get the fluffy interior that is required for a good fry. Plus, that density not only prevents that beautiful fluff, it’s also the reason why these guys tend to be so greasy — the dense molecular structure retains water and, surprise, surprise, traps oil.
Last, and perhaps most important: I don’t want healthy alternatives to french fries. I’m eating fries because I’m a lizard-brained human who craves salty, fatty foods because somewhere in the back of my dumb mind, some part of me is convinced that I need to store fat to compensate for a harsh, foodless winter.
1 out of 10. Terrible. Get them away from me.
7. Wedges aka jojos
I loved and appreciated my time in Portland, and there’s a reason the Pacific Northwest is so highly regarded for its food. That said: fight me, Pacific Northwesterners. Jojos are bad. The ratio of satisfying crunch to tender starchy filling is so fucked up, I can’t even. That’s right: I can’t even.
Why are they so terrible? Because they have too much potato. Sure, the seasoning is great, and sometimes, when you get to the grocery store or fried chicken shack or gas station where you buy jojos early enough, you’ll find sufficient crisp on the outside. But at the end of the day, eating a plate of jojos is like spackling a thick paste all around your mouth until you can’t talk or move.
That said, at least they’re real french fries.
2 out of 10. I’m shaking my head.
6. Crinkle cut
What am I, in elementary school? I will not stand for crinkle cut fries because 99-percent of the time they’re straight from a red Ore-Ida bag. Too uniform, the wrong crisp-to-fluff ratio (too much fluff!), and, of course, there’s the problem of flavor. These fries taste like nothing, which is why you’ll usually find them smothered in cheese or chili.
Truthfully, I want to like crinkle cut fries. The concept is wonderful: the gentle zig-zag design is perfect for sauce retention. And, as I found out while having a religious experience at Al’s (seriously, go to Al’s), they can be done right. But Al’s crinkles are, to my mind, the exception that proves the rule.
3 out of 10. I won’t not eat them if you put them in front of me, especially if you give me fry sauce, but come on.
5. Diner fries
Whether you’re ending a long night out with a plate of hot and steamy french fries or you’re on the road, or, hell, you just want fries as quickly as possible without succumbing to fast food, diner fries have your back. They’re neutral: good, not great. Crispy and fluffy and delicious when hot, but they degrade quickly as they cool down. They’re best used as vehicles to bring ketchup and other fry sauces to your mouth and not so much as a stand-alone culinary experience. But they’re great for mindless munching while chatting with friends or pouring over a map, trying to figure out next moves on a road trip.
5 out of 10. Yes, I skipped 4, because A) it’s my ranking, and B) we’re starting to get into would voluntarily eat territory.
4. Double-fried diner fries
These are diner fries with the volume turned up. Think Burger King’s happy little extra-crispy taters. The second fry is quick and it just gives the exterior some extra oomph without making them oily. You’ll recognize well-executed double-fries when you notice little air pockets on the exterior, courtesy of bursting bubbles of boiling oil during the second oil bath.
It’s an absolute delight to bite into these guys. Come for the decadent crunch of a chip, then stay for the fluffy, delicate interior of a proper fry. Awww yiiiiissssss. This is truly the height of luxury when it comes to diner food.
6 out of 10. Ooooh, I’m getting hungry. Points docked because this is a difficult style to execute.
3. Shoestring potato fries
Some people will tell you that shoestring potatoes are too thin and therefore too crispy. Those people are incorrect. A very wrong writer for the New York Times wrote that shoestrings are “a sneaky mouthful of hot hay, self-identifying as ‘fries’ but lacking the starchy potato goodness of an actual French fry.” Clearly, this person has never had proper shoestring fries.
Proper shoestring fries — like, say, the seasonal garlic-rosemary shoestrings at Oregon fast food chain Burgerville — are heaven on earth, and not just because of the seasoning. They’re lighter than regular fries, so you won’t get starch-burnout, and you’ll also get more intense flavor and texture thanks to the smaller amount of filling.
Bonus: shoestrings are freaking delicious — DELICIOUS — as a burger garnish. An extra touch of salt and some textural variety take most decent burgers over the top.
7 out of 10. Great. Would go out of my way to get shoestring fries, and I frequently make them at home. But I understand that when you get bad shoestrings (especially out of a can), they’re really bad.
2. Waffle fries
Hello, beautiful lattice of potato. I am speaking directly to you because I love you so much. You retain salt so well, and you’re perfect for dipping. And as I am a crispy baby, I love you because you give me extra crisp to enjoy thanks to your increased surface area. You’re so creative and delightful, and every time I see you on a menu in the wild, I shriek in delight. It’s very embarrassing for my friends and family, but I don’t care. I could eat a whole basket of you and still want more.
9 out of 10. Almost perfect, but there’s just one thing holding me back: the existence of one more form of fried potato that I would do anything for.
1. Curly fries
UPROXX Life Editorial Director Steve Bramucci claims he put curly fries on the map as an eight-year-old fry taste tester. He credits his intuition for good food as a child for the fact that we all collectively enjoy curly fries today. While Bram is clearly a liar, if he were telling the truth, I’d thank him. Because curly fries are the best fry type in the entire world.
I would die for these fries. And why?
Well, admittedly, there’s the nostalgia factor — curly fries taste like summer days at the pool, your fingers pruney from hours of swimming and your mom yelling at you to take a break. Curly fries taste like the first time you were allowed to walk the boardwalk on your own, no supervision, and you were finally able to determine how to spend your pocket money without looking back to your parents for approval. They taste like freedom and hazy, relaxed days before the realities of adulthood set in.
They’re also objectively delicious.
I’m not talking about the orange paprika-and-garlic-dusted variety that relies on cheap tricks. I’m talking about true-blue, crispy, curly, salty, springy goodness. (Though, hell, who am I kidding? That seasoning on top of well-made curly fries? Heaven.)
Thin enough to get a nice crisp on the outside, bouncy, great sauce retention, and you can pretend you’re a Greek god being fed juicy grapes when you lower them into your mouth. Absolute perfection.
If you’re upset about how accurate this is, I don’t know what to tell you, other than to go eat your feelings about it. Preferably in the form of hot and fresh fried tater sticks.