Last month, Wendy’s made a big fast food announcement: the chain would be releasing a new version of its french fries. Maybe you’ve never thought too hard about Wendy’s fries up until now, but my assessment of the previous fries was that they were mostly terrible, depending on the timing of your order. If you got a batch straight out of the fryer, they were terrific, with a skin-on homestyle character to them that you couldn’t find at any other fast food restaurant. But wait for more than five minutes to eat them, and the fries became absolutely dismal. I know, I know: fries in general suffer pretty badly the longer you wait to consume them. But Wendy’s fries always got especially bad after a while.
Then, of course, the pandemic arrived, and it changed the way people ate. Most of us shifted away from stopping into restaurant dining rooms for a quick bite and opted for delivery instead, even for our fast food orders. As most of you know, when fries are delivered, they suck major ass, since they sit in the bag steaming while your delivery driver hustles them to your door. They’re mealy by the time you receive them, and then you cry at the table while eating them, because everything is awful, including the fries.
The pandemic isn’t over, of course, and any people are still getting their fast food delivered via third-party delivery services. So Wendy’s took note of this and set off on a mission to create a new type of french fry, one that would remain crisp for a longer period of time to combat delivery sogginess. The new fry formula has been rolling out quietly in test markets for a while now. If the fresh fries haven’t made it to your local Wendy’s yet, a representative for Wendy’s tells The Takeout that they should be there by October.
I have tasted the new fries twice, and on both occasions I ordered them directly at the restaurant. The first time I received them, they were barely warm, but I can’t blame the new fry formula for that—my fault (partially) for going to Wendy’s at an off-hour between mealtimes.
The second time, I arrived right in the middle of the lunch rush, hoping I’d score a fresher batch... but no such luck. The second order of fries wasn’t hot either. Not as cold as the first batch, but definitely not warm. Oh well. That’s the nature of fast food fries, isn’t it? You win some, you lose more.
That being said, I can confirm that Wendy’s new french fries are distinctly different from the old ones. Like, if you put them side by side, you’d be surprised that they were even from the same chain. The new fries, despite being cold, were definitely still crisp, thanks to a thin coating of batter on the outside. If you look closely, you might be able to see the little bubbles on the outside of the fry in the above photo, and that’s where all the satisfying crispy texture lives.
Unfortunately, just because a fry is crisp doesn’t mean it’s good. A crisp cold fry is almost as disappointing as a completely cold soggy one, and mine were cold.
After the initial taste test, I let both orders of fries sit out at room temperature for another 20 minutes each, then revisited them. The first batch, which started out cold to begin with, had grown inedibly soggy and stale after 20 minutes .The second batch, which had started out slightly warmer, stayed crisp. So it’s really all just a matter of timing, and at which point along the fry’s (brief) lifespan you receive it. If you’re lucky enough to get a hot batch, they’ll stay crisp for a long time. Anything cooler than that, and you’d better inhale those suckers quickly, because they’re only going to get worse.
And this has always been true of french fries, right? So it’s not like Wendy’s has done much more than lengthen the life of your fries by a few minutes, max. No formula can beat back sogginess forever, and no amount of tinkering can save a french fry from the effects of air plus time.
I’ve seen people comparing Wendy’s new fries to Burger King’s battered ones on Twitter, and they do seem similar. Which is exactly why the Wendy’s fries feel weirdly out of place now. The former version—more homestyle, yet quickly terrible—just fit better on the Wendy’s menu in a cohesive sort of way, while the new fries seem too engineered. It feels weird to say, but the former version ultimately made more sense, even though I considered them crappy. And now that these crispier, more doctored fries have arrived, I kind of miss the old ones. Who knew I could be nostalgic for something I never really liked to begin with?