Frozen vs. Fresh: French Fries

I worked in restaurants for 15 years, and they all knew that when it came to deep frying potatoes, you’re better off going frozen over fresh.

Keep in mind, these were restaurants that took the time to make all their sauces from scratch. Restaurants with homemade pasta, a pastry chef baking fresh desserts, and chefs with decorated resumes helming the kitchen. These restaurants, and the people who ran them, knew that opting for a frozen french fry wasn’t simply a cheap way to cut corners, it was a better product. Sure, you don’t win any Michelin stars for ripping open a nondescript Sysco brown bag of frozen french fries and dumping them into a deep fryer until crispy and golden brown, but sometimes practical and processed just wins out. Factory-made frozen french fries not only save you time, but you also end up with a more enjoyable fried potato.

The big problem with making fresh cut french fries is that the procedure for doing it right is an arduous one. There’s a reason that “peeling potatoes” is synonymous with grunt work. It’s monotonous, procedural, and tedious. It’s the mopping of cooking. Quite frankly, I’d rather get smacked in the face with a giant slab of ham by a coworker again (a thing that really happened when I was 16) than peel potatoes. French fries are a mult-step process. Potatoes must be peeled, cut, soaked to rid the spuds of their excess natural starch (an enemy of fluffy, crispy french fries), rinsed, soaked again, then dried. And, if you’re doing fresh cut french fries right, you need to double fry them. Once on a low temperature, and then again on a higher temp. This is the only way to ensure fresh cut french fries reach their full potential and not become a soggy mess. The best part about frozen french fries is that these companies do all of this for you. The peeling, rinsing, soaking, blanching, and drying all happen in the factory. It’s a gigantic time-saver. A gift from the gods. Relax, pal. Kick back and let Big French Fry handle your potatoes for you.

There’s also the added bonus of enhanced texture with a frozen french fry. Ore-Ida’s Extra Crispy Fast Food Fries are a great example of this. Peep the ingredients: modified food starch, rice flour, and cornstarch all contribute to a light, yet adequately crisp crust. You know how some french fries feel like they’ve got a batter-like exterior to them? That crunchy, craveable layer of texture that serves as a tasty barrier to the fluffy, creamy potato interior? That’s usually from added dried starch. “It’s to maintain crunch,” Kenya Bovey of Jeff’s Table and many other L.A. restaurants, tells me. “I use Ultimate Fries. I used them for a burger pop-up [recently] and they stayed crisp for over an hour.” I believe she is speaking of McCain Ultimate Crispy fries, which feature added potato starch and cornstarch to enhance crispy crunchiness. Bob Broskey, who runs the culinary teams for all RPM restaurants, plus Pizzeria Portofino in Chicago, says, “Lamb Weston stealth ⅝’’ skin-on ‘til the day I die.” And then he sent me a picture of a big ugly brown box of french fries in his freezer. Bob has worked at Michelin starred restaurants, is one of the best chefs in Chicago, and he uses frozen fries for every restaurant under RPM. He also once served me a 17-course dinner and tried to kill me.

The boys over at Proudly Serving, a smashburger joint that does some of the best burgers in L.A., serve frozen french fries tossed with a squirt of duck fat and ketchup for dipping. I asked Chef Kevin Malone about his proclivity for frozen fries, and he said, “At this point you can get a frozen french fry in any shape or texture you’re looking for, and they’re perfectly consistent. It takes a lot of steps to make a hand-cut fry perfect and they rarely come out that way.”

When there are so many chefs that I respect and admire telling me they use frozen french fries, I listen. And sure, it also confirms my own beliefs: I’m not crazy for thinking frozen french fries are better than fresh. And people who eat and cook some truly wildly delicious things as professional chefs, agree. While a properly prepared fresh cut french fry is beautiful and delicious in its own way, unfortunately, most of them fall short. Take In-N-Out. Their fries are famously bland and soggy. They use fresh cut potatoes to make their fries, but they just don’t follow the fresh fry procedure correctly. The chain would be better off simply just going with a frozen french fry. “They’re the worst,” Kevin admits to me. We’ve all had a limp pickle, fresh-cut fry that just hangs there, longing to trade them in for a sleeve of McDonald’s fries. There’s a reason the Golden Arches’ fries hold such a special place in our collective hearts—it’s a precooked, frozen french fry (with beef flavoring, yum!). If the greatest, most craveable, and most iconic of American fast food french fries are widely accepted as McDonald’s, then we have to acknowledge that frozen is king.

The bottom line is this: The mass-manufacturing of french fries takes care of the painstaking process of peeling, cutting, blanching, and par-frying potatoes so that you don’t have to. And, it also adds some bonus texture. It’s hard to compete with that. Listen, I love from-scratch cooking. I make fresh pasta regularly. I enjoy making stocks, sauces, soups, and big weekend cooking projects. But, sometimes, convenience and practicality not only win out, they just taste better. If you’re into, I don’t know, being an impossible person who loves to do things the hard way, you can make fresh-cut fries at home. But, you’d just be standing there holding your potato, peeling in the wind.

Frozen vs. Fresh French Fries Verdict: Frozen Wins

About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • Great take! Love the final bit of wordplay.

    • thanks Patrick!

  • i love frozen frys and im so glad you guys made this website a reality always thought in my head man these peoples opinions of brands arent the way I expected it and it effected which brands I buy and are super accurate keep up the good work

    • love to hear it! thank you

  • Just last weekend, my husband and I discussed that I had made roasted potatoes when I was shooting for French fries! Thank you for giving permission to restock the freezer! 😁

  • anyone reading your article will just see the line that “frozen fries win over fresh fries”. you should better make a point regarding healthiness and not just convenience. makes me wonder if you really are blogging that stuff in the right way. you can stuff all that unhealthy stuff into you, but dont suggest people to do so :/

    • Why would I make that point when they’re both fried? There isn’t anything that much more “healthful” about a freshly fried potato to a store bought one. They’re both fried food.

      Moreover, your way isn’t the right way. I write quite a bit about healthy foods, plant-based foods, etc. and champion them. Your argument is obnoxious and self-righteous.