When a few partners and I opened a restaurant equipped with fryers, I thought finally I would have perfect fries on demand. Not so.

One would think that cooking one of Earth’s most abundant and inexpensive ingredients and adding salt would be easy. It’s not.

I’m fascinated by the universal love for the French fry in spite of the variability of the foodstuff itself. For my part I can’t remember being disappointed by a fry regardless of size, shape, crisp, salt content, or interior consistency. FRY-GEIST is an exploration of why they are so good and where they can be got in Sacramento. I am no way a professional on the subject.  In fact, it’s my belief that everyone has the right (and the authority) to level their opinion on this culinary process. French fries are a culinary equalizer. Nearly all forms of food have ingredients and processes worthy of scholarship that can be researched  and debated where I believe an aboriginal 2 year old could tell you definitively why a fry is good.

My goal is to document and celebrate the great equalizer of foodstuffs. I know we like them, but why?

For this first post, thought I’d explore fries that are both consistent and ubiquitous to form a rubric on how we rate fries. In ‘n’ Out vs McDonalds.


Like them or not, McDonalds french fries are the epitome for many as french fry perfection.  I find it fascinating that decades of recipe tweaking in an effort to make their fries last longer on the shelves, cheaper, and more consistent they may have stumbled upon some processes that actually made the fries taste better. For instance, I know a lot of chefs that follow their process of blanching-drying-frying-freezing-and frying again even when they have the time to make fries daily. Apparently freezing the fry does something to the cell structure allowing for more crispiness. There is a certain level of creepiness in the fact that their fries are not vegetarian (they contain beef…yes beef) and are sprayed with anti-graying solution and dextrose for color. That said, I find their fries quite tasty (save for the odd coating left in my mouth after enjoying them). McDonalds fries are consistently golden brown (thanks dextrose!) with an almost custard like interior. Also consistent is salinity of the product which is precisely measured for each fryer basket using a fine-grain salt that adheres to the fry surface.

I don’t think there is a more controversial fry than In ‘n’ Out Burger’s.  I’ve met many detractors who have passionate hate for them. Why? I think the word most commonly associated with them is ‘soggy’. In ‘n’ Out eschews blanching, freezing, and the beef! Kennebec potatoes are peeled, washed, cut, washed again then fried in vegetable oil. The result is a serving of usually golden crispy fries of varying sizes.  At times the fries do suffer from inconsistency with the blame going to the frying oil. In ‘n’ Out is known to be particularly fastidious and I believe the fryer oil is switched out quite frequently. New oil that hasn’t yet been seasoned can result in a fry that is lighter in color and having less crisp. That said, the fries are consistently delicious with a crisp I find more appealing that McDonald’s fries. In ‘n’ Out’s often emerge from the window under salted but is accompanied with a small packet of fine grained salt. I find that half the packet does the trick.

I messaged Foodways co-founder Rodney Blackwell about my trip and received the following reply:


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It so happened that the most convenient location containing an In ‘n’ Out and McDonald’s also housed a Five Guys (and an IKEA).

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By that time I was into a kilocalorie of fried potatoes but I felt near discovery. I am not privy to the Five Guy fry-process but they do whittle a thicker fry and delve deeper into Maillard’s palette of dark browns.



I enjoyed all of the fries I ate. In this round the In ‘n’ Out fries won out as the crispiest and tied Five Guys as the most flavorful. McDonalds came in a close 3rd.

Well there it is. My opinions on ubiquitous stuff. Fortunately future installments of FRY-GEIST will feature local French Fries and will read less like a yelp review. And there will be more pictures of fries.



Back of the House
Ryan Donahue

Everyone's a Critic

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