Last week, The Takeout ran a story about Dunkin’ Donuts testing out a product called Donut Fries, wherein I spent a few hundred words spittin’ hot takes about the gratuitous use of “fries” to describe any food that’s stick-shaped (chicken fries, apple fries, pork fries, calamari fries etc.). Somewhere in the story, I made some off-hand remark about how steak fries suck—those letters flowed through my fingers without a second thought—and oh boy, did I misjudge the intensity of the pro-steak fries camp in the comment section.
I still maintain that steak fries reside in a lower caste of French fry-dom, but I’m open to having my opinions swayed. In the interest of diplomacy, I’ve invited my colleague Gwen Ihnat to defend the steak fry and tell me why I’m wrong (except I’m not).
Kevin, you’ve had many controversial opinions here on The Takeout, but I doubt if there will ever be any as caustic as your offhand comment in your article about the current ubiquity of stick-shaped fried things being called fries: “Most French fries simply aren’t that thick, and even if they are, they’re steak fries and steak fries suck.” I’ve scarcely been prouder of our commenters for rising up in indignation, offering logical counter-arguments like “How am I supposed to scoop up 16 oz. of tartar sauce at a time without steak fries? I ask you.”
While our genius comment section has many good arguments, let me posit my own defense of steak fries. Basically, I believe it comes down to how much of a potato fan you are. Suffice it to say, I am, in pretty much any form: baked, mashed, pancake. So what I like about the larger shape of the steak fry is that it offers more fluffy goodness of the potato in that wonderful middle. And yes, its wider setup makes the steak fry a better vehicle for artisanal ketchup or a bucket of tartar sauce.
The only part that stumps me, actually, is what there is not to love about the steak fry? Sure, I can’t get behind soggy ones, but I would have that opinion about any fry. Leaving the skins on makes for a nice texture and some slight health benefits, but I’ll take the unskinned ones as well, preferably with some seasoning salt and a side of sour cream. So I am curious, Kevin: What’s your beef with steak fries?
I will not dispute the idea that steak fries are French fries proper, it just happens to be ranked below greater versions of fried potatoes—shoestrings, curly, hash browns, tater tots, jojos.
Look, I do not blithely arrive at the opinion that steak fries are an inferior form of fried potatoes. My history with steak fries stretches back several decades—there was a Red Robin behind my high school, and I filled many cubic feet of stomach space growing up with its burgers and steak fries.
My issue with steak fries, though, is with proportion. Simply put, the ratio of interior potato-to-exterior crispness is too high. It would be one thing if said interior was uniformly fluffy and exterior was uniformly crackly, but that’s really asking for stars to align. Most often, the inside of steak fries are too starchy or dry, and whatever crispy surface exists will very quickly—like within five minutes—cool and lose its appealing texture. The best type of steak fries are always the tiny nub pieces with not much interior potato and are crunchy-the-way-through. But those are few and far between. (You actually can achieve a whole batch of these crunchy steak fries if you practice chef Heston Blumenthal’s intricate method, which involves deep frying the potatoes three times, and freezing it in between each fry.)
Sadly, most steak fries don’t achieve that crunchy texture. Half the time it’s not even crisp—I can’t prove this but I feel the steam from the interior potato accelerates the sogginess. At the end of the day, there are simply superior renditions of the French fry that provides a higher probability of textural appeal. With steak fries, it’s a crapshoot at best.