Last week I was within earshot of a Wendy’s commercial when the narrator threw a dagger: “People prefer Wendy’s fries to McDonald’s 2 to 1.” It’s a pointed statement, and I couldn’t remember the last time I heard a fast food company take such a specific dig at another company’s product. And this wasn’t about a burger or a chicken sandwich or an entree, but the fries. As much as I enjoyed hearing the potato-centric crossfire, my first thought was, Well, there’s simply no way that claim is true.
People can’t possibly prefer Wendy’s fries. They’re an afterthought, sitting far outside the realm of items you get excited about when placing a Wendy’s order. Meanwhile, McDonald’s fries are iconic: salty, crisp, golden, and delectably fatty. People go to McDonald’s specifically for the fries. The study cited by Wendy’s, simply must be incomplete in some way, or at the very least, biased.
I reached out to a Wendy’s representative via email on the matter. They said that while they are unable to share details about the cited study, “the 2:1 statistic taste preference is based on a national taste test done by an independent research company.”
Since we don’t know much about the study, we don’t know the variables, either—how many people were involved, how the fry tasting was conducted, how the rankings were configured, etc. Still, Wendy’s has been doubling down, claiming its new “Hot & Crispy” fries are a cut above the competition.
“The idea that cold and soggy fries suck is a universally accepted fact,” said Wendy’s CMO Carl Loredo upon the release of Wendy’s new fries in 2021. He’s right, cold fries do suck. But are McDonald’s fries always served so egregiously soggy and cold? To my knowledge, McDonald’s fries are regularly sold hot—it’s once they get cold that they fall so desperately low in quality. The argument is a bit vague.
Wendy’s talking shit about food quality seems a bit hypocritical, but not totally wrong. Most french fries are bad and can be improved upon. I personally just always figured McDonald’s did fast food fries best. However, it’s been a while since I’ve had either Wendy’s or McDonald’s french fries, so I decided to order them both fresh and do a formal taste test. If I can’t see the study that claims to have found people prefer Wendy’s fries 2:1, I can at least find out where I fall on that debate myself.
McDonald’s World Famous Fries
Across the entire fast food landscape, I don’t think any fry has a more alluring smell than McDonald’s. The fresh oil wafts out of the bag and into your nostrils for the entire ride home. That is, if you make your first mistake and don’t eat them immediately. And you do need to eat them immediately, because no fast food fry turns to complete and utter shit quite like McDonald’s.
After about 30 minutes in the open air, McDonald’s fries turn into flavorless, chewy cardboard. Get stuck in traffic and it’s all over. McDonald’s is a car fry through and through. Eat these with haste.
That said, the fries are served piping hot (and you can guarantee this if you ask McDonald’s to fry them fresh). However, I’m stunned to report that they don’t hit the same way anymore. They feel... bland. I remember McDonald’s fries being much saltier, and the batch I received desperately needed salt. Without the salt, these didn’t even really taste like potatoes.
I also recall these fries having a more savory taste overall. McDonald’s has continued to use some form of beef fat to flavor its fries, and while I think that lard and potatoes are a winning combination, these didn’t live up to the fatty, meaty fries I remember. They were hot, salty, and lightly crispy, but I was left wanting more flavor.
And because McDonald’s fries are so darn thin, you don’t really get to savor the creamy potato interior. This style of french fry is a little passé, whereas thick, creamy fries are much more en vogue. Enjoying the warm and gooey center of a french fry is preferred by chefs and food writers alike; smash burger joints in California tend to go thick or crinkle cut, and one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, Eszett, has an awesome dish called Big Fries that are two finger widths and absolutely phenomenal. I’m starting to wonder whether McDonald’s is aging out of the french fry game.
Wendy’s Hot & Crispy Fries
I’ll keep this one short: Wendy’s fries are better than expected. They’re thicker and crispier than McDonald’s fries, that’s for sure. They also taste of their starchy coating, which makes them craggy and crispy in a way that’s reminiscent of a good frozen french fry from the grocery store.
There’s almost this sugary, gummy, caramelizing quality to Wendy’s new fries that I quite enjoy. It’s like they’re candy, and like candy, they can get stuck in your teeth. Their thickness makes them a much better vehicle for condiments than McDonald’s fries. I can’t recall Wendy’s previous fries with any accuracy, but the new ones have to be an improvement.
Verdict: McDonald’s vs. Wendy’s fries
I love the light, crispy, thin-cut McDonald’s french fry. I’ll always love it. But, currently, it’s lacking, out of sync with culinary trends. Wendy’s has developed a fry that feels more modern. The texture and flavor are pretty darn good, but most of all, I have to applaud the company for changing. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’ve got a loyal fan base. Bias aside, I think Wendy’s has a better fry. Now, if we can only get In-N-Out to switch it up.