Battle French Fries: Wendy's vs. McDonald's

The world is full of dynamic duos. Bonnie and Clyde. Beavis and Butt-Head. Bill and Hillary.

But no other pairing is more near and dear to the American psyche than perhaps those two lovebirds and objects of gastronomic affection: burgers and fries. Whether rich and drunk or poor and hungry, every American can take solace and satisfaction in the oh-so wonderful combination of meat, cheese, a bun and some fries.

But what happens when one of those two trusty icons of continental lore changes and even, possibly, goes awry? Well, let's ask Wendy's/Arby's Corporation for some input:

After 41 years of tried-and-true French fry normalcy, Wendy's rolled out their new "natural cut french fries with sea salt" made from "100% Russet potatoes" and fried in a "proprietary oil that has 0 grams of trans-fat per serving." Before you think too hard about what exactly "natural cut" and "proprietary" might mean in corporate speak, let us fill you in on the details: "Natural cut" is fancy-talk for leaving the skin on, and although these fries are cooked in trans-fat free oil, they actually contain more sodium per serving than Wendy's old fries. The fries are not only cut shorter, in keeping with what might be a normal size for Russet potatoes, but they are also crispier, due to the proprietary oil.

Typically, Gut Check would applaud this tightening of the corporate belt of responsibility. More "natural"? Yes! Crunchier and saltier? YES, PLEASE. But here's the thing: Wendy's old fries were not so bad. They were even OK. We liked them!

After being faced with this outrage, we felt a surge of emotion at Gut Check, something between not-in-my-backyard-ism and if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it-ness. So what did we do? We did a head-to-head, fry-to-fry Fight Club Sandwich French Fry Edition taste test between Wendy's new fries and those icons of golden, crispy, tallow-fried pieces of tater perfection: McDonald's French fries.

Given that Wendy's has spent $25 million touting its blind taste-test results, we figured we would go ahead and blindfold some interns and force feed them fries in random order until they were blue in the face. OK, not really, but we did try to make this objective by trying the each set of fries twice: once on their own at each respective restaurant and once together, in the RFT basement, blindfolded while listening to some of the old Ronald McDonald sing-along songs.

Wendy's Fries: They were good -- warm and crunchy, with an immediate saltiness followed by the warm, steaming mush of potato starch. You could eat them one or two or five at a time, but no more than that, really. The fries were pretty salty. Not in a Friday-night-at-Racanelli's kind of way, but worse: There were literal explosions of salt from the "sea salt dusting" that unevenly coated the potatoes all over Gut Check's mouth. Our taste buds were sent shrinking for cover under this salty, crunchy assault. That being said, the crunch factor was pretty high, and definitely the best part of the retooling. In the end, however, Gut Check was left feeling thirsty and a bit raspy.

McDonalds Fries: Maybe it's because we grew up eating these fries as kids. Maybe it's the fact that you could easily take an entire Super Sized portion to the face without thinking twice, but these fries had everything going for them before we even pulled up to the drive-through window. They were crunchier than Wendy's fries, first and foremost, and though equally as salty, overall, the salt was evenly distributed and made the pale, bare potato shine in a golden cacophony of texture and flavor. We could not resist ordering a second set of fries and trying them again.

The Verdict: Ultimately, Gut Check figured it was a better idea to just skip the second taste test and declare Wendy's the loser here, almost entirely on its own merits. The reconfigured fries simply lacked the flavor necessary for them to be good, much less better than what they replaced. They could not follow through on either substance or flavor; crunch was not enough, and "natural cut," it seems, is nothing more than a gimmick and some brown potato skin.

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