Burger King recently rolled out its new, improved fry that is supposed to stay hotter longer and taste better than the gold standard, McDonald's French fries. There's a lot at stake, given the $100 billion U.S. fast-food market.
The only hang-up is that they are not REALLY French fries.A recent tasting expedition to Burger King revealed that the new, improved fries are a little thicker, a tad shorter and a lighter golden brown than McDonald's. They are advertised as "less salty," but it was hard to determine because when I visited, the guy I talked to there seasoned the hot - presumably pre-salted fries - with oodles of sodium because "they're not salty enough."
And they do seem to stay hotter longer. The secret is a potato-based batter that is sprayed on the freshly sliced potatoes before they are frozen. The fried coating holds the heat in. Burger King fries are a fried potato product, like a potato tempura or a fritter. The coating gives the fries an odd sort of crunch.
Afterwards, that familiar grease slick coats my mouth, leaving me craving more fries. The bottom line is that Burger King fries taste pretty good for what they are. Fast-food fries are less a flavor than an experience of salt, crunch and warm fat. There is precious little spud nuance here to interfere with my appreciation of the Heinz ketchup.
Fast-food fries are a pleasure unto themselves, but they are not in the same league with real French fries made from fresh potatoes, like the ones I enjoyed at McDonald's decades ago when the first outlet opened in my home town.
If I have to choose, I probably prefer McDonald's marginally more "natural" fry, but I eat at fast-food burger joints so infrequently it won't influence which chain I choose. That is determined by which movie-based toy I think my 4-year-old would enjoy playing with while he dines.
In the end, perfect fries are mostly a function of how well they are cooked and how fast they are eaten after they leave the oil. Burger King fries are a technological solution to a fundamental service problem.