Saturday, 31 March 2018

Strategy: We tried loaded fries from major fast-food chains to see who does it best — and the winner is shocking


We ranked six cheese-slathered, bacon-filled fries from fast-food chains — and the results weren't what we expected.

  • Many fast-food chains have some form of loaded fries on the menu.
  • We ranked loaded fries from the major chains that offer them.
  • Amazingly, Taco Bell was found to have the best loaded fries, despite only just launching french fries in January.

Loaded fries are the very definition of decadence.

Strips of fried potato topped with copious unhealthy, yet delicious, additions like cheese, bacon, chili, beef, or gravy — the breadth of options is limited only by the scope of the imagination.

But as with any fast-food item, there's a fine line to walk between decadence and disgusting. Too much cheese, and they can become a soggy morass; too many toppings, and a gilded lily can become a gilded mess.

Most fast-food chains have offered some form of loaded fries over the years as a limited item, and a handful have them on the menu permanently. Of the six fries we tried from four chains — Arby's, Shake Shack, Taco Bell, and Wendy's — only one was a limited item.

Six cheese-slathered, bacon-filled orders of loaded fries later, we managed to rank them from worst to best — and the results were pretty surprising.

6. Wendy's Baconator Fries

With the Baconator fries, a fork is 85% necessary. The topping coverage is lackluster, and lots of bare fries are unearthed just below the surface. Wendy's fries are typically on the floppy side anyway, so the heat and moisture of cheese and condensation building in their little fries greenhouse play only a partial factor in their sogginess.

On the plus side, they do manage to retain heat for a fair amount of time. But they do not live up to the storied Baconator name, for all its grease and glory. There's nothing to temper the extreme richness of cheese and bacon — at least a Baconator has ketchup.

5. Shake Shack Cheese Fries

Shake Shack's cheese fries are decadent at best and wanton at worst. The cheese tastes like a fancy version of that nacho cheese that comes out of a pump — that's a good thing in this instance. It's velvety smooth, rich, and kind of buttery.

Once poured, however, the cheese loses heat faster than a new Taylor Swift single. It coagulates into a less-than-appetizing, lukewarm, cheesy sludge with the consistency and hold of spackle. Let's not put on airs — it's still liquid cheese on top of french fries, so I'll still eat it.

4. Wendy's Chili Cheese Fries

The chili cheese fries are much soggier, but they have much more going on than the Baconator fries. Bacon and cheese can only get so far — and with the stewy, tomato-based chili, you tangentially get that necessary acidic note to cut through the cheese. Plus, the ground beef in the chili is pretty good, too. I like the combo of beef and fries — it just sits right with my soul.

And while this may sound — and assuredly is — completely absurd, it almost feels healthy because beans are in the equation. Just barely. Please allow me my blissful ignorance as I chow down on a heap of soggy cheesy chili fries.

3. Shake Shack Bacon Cheese Fries

The better-burger chain's bacon fries are even more messily opulent. The main issue with Shake Shack's loaded fries is this: they don't travel well in the slightest. They're best enjoyed fresh and at the restaurant; the to-go option means cheese in a cup and rapidly cooling fries in the chain's poorly designed takeout bags.

But obviously, cheese fries with bacon are superior to cheese fries without bacon. And Shake Shack's bacon is no slouch — it's really thick applewood-smoked bacon that's equally as delicious crumbled.

2. Arby's Loaded Fries

A fork is 100% necessary here; this is essentially a curly fry casserole.

Bacon, liquid cheese, shredded cheese, and a ranch-like sauce are layered onto a massive tangle of curly fries. The topping saturation is a huge plus — often, loaded fries are just mounds of french fries with toppings plopped on top, leaving an arid bedrock of topping-less potato.

But here, attention is paid to the construction, making for a cheesy and bacon experience throughout. If anything, more fries are needed to balance out the huge amounts of cheese and sauce.

1. Taco Bell Nacho Fries Supreme

Taco Bell has done a fantastic job shoehorning french fries into its Tex-Mex theme, and the loaded fries are no different. The chain's new seasoned fries make for a great foundation on which to lay what are essentially nacho ingredients: cheese sauce, taco beef, diced tomatoes, and sour cream.

What I find most successful is that the fries are already seasoned, so they aren't just bland sticks of potato and topping coverage doesn't matter as much. That being said, the topping-to-french-fry ratio is well balanced. There's a tiny bit of spice, too, which is nice. If Wendy’s chili were spicier, the chili cheese fries would be more exciting, but alas. These are by far the most satisfying loaded fries of the bunch.

Strategy: We tried loaded fries from major fast-food chains to see who does it best — and the winner is shocking