Photo: Erik R. Trinidad
The Wendy's vs. McDonald's french fry war is heating up. You've probably read the latest pronouncement: "In a national taste test, consumers said Wendy's fries taste better than McDonald's. When asked which they thought taste better after sampling both, 56% of participants chose Wendy's Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt. Only 39% preferred the taste of McDonald's."
Go ahead; be skeptical. That info comes straight from Wendy's website -- it's a part of their new ad campaign to topple McDonald's long-running reign as "America's Favorite Fries (McDonald's trademark phrase, by the way). And although that claim is on the pompous side, it's not without clout -- enough people have raved about them over the decades that McDonald's very identity is synonymous with those fried spuds. While some may disagree with their claims, there's no denying that McDonald's fries have set the standard that others in the fast-food industry aim for. Burger King has been trying to dethrone the Golden Arches for years, once even claiming victory after their own taste-test survey.
Wendy's claims their nationwide French fry survey was conducted by an independent research firm in eight American cities. However, there's some question about whether their resulting data is skewed -- it's their marketing campaign, after all.
We figured it was time for an unbiased review:
The Claims (From Their Websites): Wendy's latest fries are "made from 100% Russet potatoes and sliced 'natural-style' with the skin on for additional texture and taste, then cooked in proprietary oil that has 0 grams trans fat per serving. They are finished with a dusting of natural sea salt to further enhance the flavor." (Medium size: 420 calories.)
McDonald's "World Famous Fries" are "golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. Made with quality potatoes and cooked in our canola oil blend for zero grams of trans fat per serving." (Medium size: 380 calories.)
The Verdict: Wendy's, Grade A; McDonald's, A. Fast-food chains may be eateries for predictable and standardized processed food, but there are many variables that can occur in the preparation -- particularly with the fries. Sure, there are standard methods of preparation (and of freshness), mandated by the corporate offices. But you can still get very different fries, depending on the time of day, the length of time since they left the fryer, the amount of salt applied, and so on.
The Test: For this taste test, I sampled both fries simultaneously, sans ketchup, at around noon in New York City's Union Square area, where Wendy's and McDonald's are in close proximity. I figured breakfast had just ended and both establishments' fries were fairly fresh for the lunchtime crowd. Sampling each of them, I found myself picking from the Wendy's box more often. Their fries are crisp on the outside (with or without the natural potato skins on them) and soft on the inside, with a true starchy taste of cooked potato and a pleasing amount of salt. I was going to claim Wendy's as the victor after these initial bites, but then I wondered why the McDonald's fries were not as salty as I've had them in the past. I reckoned it might have been due to the preparation variables, which could happen at either establishment. So I added a little more salt to the McDonald's box -- only to realize that I was now picking from the McDonald's fries more often without thinking. They too have a crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside fried-potato taste, and with the tweak of salt, they once again lived up to their reputation.
Can it really be that, for either Wendy's or McDonald's fries, it's the salt that makes either taste better?
Each is a delicious shoestring French fry, and worthy of eating entirely alone, without the burgers, thank you. As for Wendy's survey results proclaiming their victory over McDonald's, I say they can claim whatever they want; culturally, McDonald's fries will most likely still be considered "best," and the ones to beat. Now if only there were a survey about the likelihood of a competitor's fries decomposing faster than McDonald's if left unattended.