Turns out, opinions on French fries are a hornet’s nest. It started last week, when I said off-handedly that steak fries suck. This led to me being castigated by our commenters, which in turn inspired this point/counterpoint where colleague Gwen Ihnat and I stated our cases for and against steak fries. That story inspired some more back-and-forths from the commenteriat, a blind taste test of ketchup, which all leads to today’s conversation starter: a taxonomy of French fry varietals.
These were the parameters: We rank our favorite types of French fries from best to worst. Then we make a one-paragraph argument stating our case. When we say “French fries,” we’re being a loose with the term—I’ve decided to include tater tots, because they’re handheld and often an accompaniment to cheeseburgers. By that argument, I’ve disqualified hash browns (most require fork-and-knife), as well as sweet potato fries (not standard potatoes) and tornado fries (requires a skewer).
Here’s our staff picks. Let’s hear yours in the comments below.
3. Tater Tots
8. Home Fries
There’s a reason standard French fries are the standard: They offer the blank stachy-salty canvas by which dipping sauce is shoveled to my mouth, without obstructing the delivery with too much surface area. They also generally remain crispest; you’ll see waffle and steak fries rank low on my list because they often are soggy, squished messes that barely deserve to wear the “fries” family crest. Jojos and tater tots are also excellent studies in textural contrast when prepared properly, with a sturdy exterior that yields under my bite, revealing the fluffy, piping-hot starch within. Curly and shoestring fries are fine, I guess, but tend to be too one-note, either mushy (curly) or sharp, like eating a handful of toothpicks (shoestring). Home fries are completely whatever to me; serve them with an omelet if you must.
1. Tater Tots
5. Potato Wedges
7. Home Fries
Lots of restaurants now are offering tater tots as kind of kitschy add, and I will always take them over regular fries for their extra-crunchy goodness. I love tots like Napoleon Dynamite loves tots. On a recent weekend trip, we discovered that Burger King is offering cheese-filled tater tots, which is now our new family road-trip snack. Curly is also up there on the fun level, but I have an extreme soft spot for waffle fries; when I was a kid we had an actual potato waffler, and I can’t even think of a dinner side dish that ever made me happier. But as far as fun shapes go, crinkle is on the low end, probably because of so many bags of them filling my childhood freezer. No matter how well you cook them now, I can still taste the frost.
2. Tater Tots
7. Potato Wedges
9. Home Fries
This ranked list was ordered strictly on crispiness potential. And really, there’s the top four, a wide gulf, and the bottom five bunched together in some castaway potato category. I think shoestring potatoes are the apotheosis of French fries—it’s the crispiest, plus the fact it’s the preferred style of steak frites. This is relevant because the potatoes retain its crunchy texture even when sloshed around in beef and melted butter sauces. Tater tots get points for nostalgia and the exterior-to-interior ratio. Crinkle-cuts are hit and miss but there’s a higher probability for crunch. Once we go curly and below, the sog factor increases, until we arrive at home fries and god knows what those really are, except they’re served at shitty diners and usually mushy and disappointing.