Reverse Engineering McDonald's French Fries

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of The Food Lab (over at Serious Eats) likes a challenge, so he decided to reverse engineer what is considered to be world's most perfect fries: McDonald's french fries.

Now, you may disagree that the words "McDonald's" and "good" belong in the same sentence, let alone "perfect" - but there's something in their french fries that makes Americans go nuts. I personally don't get it - perhaps because I didn't grow up eating McDonald's fries, but my wife swears by 'em. And she's not alone: over 2 million pounds of McDonald's fries are consumed every single day. That makes Mickey D the largest potato buyer in the United States.

Back to Kenji's quest. So how hard is it to reverse engineer McDonald's french fries? Turns out, it was very, very hard, so Kenji decided to do the next logical thing: he's going to steal McDonald's recipe.

Anyone with a buck can get a batch of fully cooked McDonald's fries, but I was after something more. I wanted to get fries from the store in their fully frozen state so that I could examine their surface for clues on how they were parcooked, as well as attempt to fry them myself at home to discover if there is any secret in the fry oil in the shops.

I figured I'd be just be able to walk into the store and order them straight from the cashier.

"Welcome to McDonald's, may I take your order?"

"Yes Ma'am. I'd like a large fries please, hold the cooking."

"Excuse me?"

I know she's already said no in her head, but I press on just the same: "Um... I'd just like the frozen fries please."

"I'm sorry sir, we just don't do that."

Time for some intimidation tactics: "Ok. Could I speak to the manager please?"

"I am the manager."

Sh*t. I bring out the really big guns: "Listen, the thing is, my wife is pregnant—like really pregnant—and she sent me on a quest for McDonald's french fries. But she only likes them really fresh, like straight out of the fryer fresh, so I figured I'd just get some frozen, and fry them for her at home. You know how it is. Women—no accounting for'em, right?"

She remains unimpressed, and needless to say, I go home fry-less, contemplating whether attempting to leverage an unborn, un-conceived son in exchange for a couple dozen frozen potato sticks is grounds for eternal damnation.

Thank goodness that Kenji didn't give up easily. One of his Facebook fans managed to come up with the perfect ruse. Head on over to Serious Eats to find out exactly what happened and how you can make your very own McDonald's fries in the comfort of your own kitchen: Link


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@BikerRay, jd111, zavatone, Frau, etc.: As nice as sweet potato fries are, that's a bit like saying that you should stop eating all those hamburgers, because turkey burgers "are better."

@pfelelep: much as I like Spurlock, you have to question a guy who thinks it's perfectly natural to vomit from eating ONE McDonald's hamburger. I was vegetarian for two years, and I was never that fey and delicate.

@nortonmansfield: There's no other way to get the materials for the experiment, is there?.
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The prep time + cook time on this far more than I'm willing to invest for good fries.
I'll just spend 5-10 minutes going to McDonalds and request/wait for fries from a fresh batch.
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use Creme of Tartar in the blanching process.. liberally dust the freshly cut fries, then blanche them.. do not use salt or acid in the water if you're using Creme of Tartar.. boil them for the same amount of time..
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@nortonmansfield Do you think the McDonald's employees would have given him uncooked fries if he had said that he was going to study them to see how they were made?

He told the truth about lying to get the fries! Ruses are fun!

It doesn't make me mistrust his investigation. If he was making up his findings it would be easy to test by making a batch of fries according to his method.
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