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How To Order In-N-Out Fries That Don't Totally Suck

Standard fries (in the foreground) vs. well done fries (in the background) from In-N-Out. (Photo by Elina Shatkin/LAist)

We love In-N-Out Burger. We discuss it on the radio. We cover its political donations. We'll fight you if you talk smack about it. On the 5 freeway, we'll drive past dozens of other fast food joints so we can eat at the outpost in Kettleman City, even when it means waiting in a 30-minute line on Thanksgiving weekend. But as much as we love the sinner, we hate the sin — and In-N-Out's original sin is their fries.

The fries at In-N-Out are pale, limp, undersalted potato tubes that begin congealing into a soggy, oily mass the moment they emerge from the fryer. God help you if you wait until you're done with your burger to eat your fries. By that time, they're hot garbage — except that they're cold.

We're not alone in thinking this. We posted a Facebook query asking, "How do you feel about In & Out fries? Love em or hate em?" We learned that people are REALLY in their feelings about this issue — and most of those feelings are negative.

  • "They're dry!"
  • "HATE THEM HATE THEM HATE THEM"
  • "I think they're terrible!"
  • "YUK"
  • "They are wrong. In every way possible."

The responses fell into three categories. There were the critics...

Neil Strawder

"I don't care for them and never order them. Taste like salted cardboard to me. I think it's the oil they use. I'd rather have 2 double doubles instead of 1 with fries."

Stephen Hoffman

"I don't care for them, but it's part of the bargain for the best fast food burger."

Valentina Silva Charson

"The texture is like cold fries, even when they're hot."

Leo Duran

"Bad. 'Fresh cut' is a marketing term meant to make them sound good, but it's a process that yields a mediocre crunch and gloss on the outside. Double-fried fries all the way."

Gina Kelly

"They don't taste like anything but if you need to feel like you're eating fries, I guess they're ok in a pinch. I always end up ordering them and then I'm disappointed as if I think they're going to be better."

Animal style fries at In-N-Out. (Photo by Jessica Rossi/Flickr Creative Commons)

There were the situationalists...

Felicia Friesema

"Ambivalent. Their exceedingly short shelf life is their big weakness."

Janet Tscha

"They are good for first 5-10 mins in the bag while driving."

Valerie Mortimer Jones

"I only like them within the context of the In N Out experience. Like, if you served me a plate of them on their own I'd be like OH NOOOOOOPE. But they add magic to the burger & shake. I was raised in the valley so I'm basically 30% comprised of In N Out."

Drew Fansler

"In-N-Out's fries won't change your life. No, they're not blanched low and then crisped high like Bourdain's Les Halles french fry recipe calls for, because if the fryers had to be divided between low and high temperatures, In-N-Out wouldn't be able to make them fast enough to serve from a drive-thru window, or they would have to build out the kitchen so much that there would be no two-tops for anyone to overstay their welcome at the Culver City location that's been the closest In-N-Out to me six years running. But I love In-N-Out and the fries are included in that experience. I prefer them light well, and I think Animal Style fries are gross."

Christina Wong

"I like them when they are hot and fresh out of the fryer. I have to eat them first before the burger, otherwise when the fries get cold it's like eating soggy cardboard."

And there were the fans...

Lisa Hirsch Lozano

"I like them! My husband hates them."

...although they were few and far between.

Writer Melissa Chadburn is one of them. She grew up in Los Angeles and hung out at the In-N-Out on Venice Blvd. near Robertson, just north of Culver City.

"I grew up in poverty and most of my exposure to food, growing up, was around canned food," she says. "As a teenager, I started to sort of be more discerning and I was a vegetarian. I still wasn't very exposed to produce... and I didn't drive. So the food that was available to me in the area was Taco Bell, Fred's Deli and In-N-Out. I loved that [In-N-Out] had a secret menu. I liked the culture. I loved that they made their fries out of potato. I loved that you could see the potatoes. I liked that you could see where your food came from."

Dave Lieberman doesn't count himself a fan of the chain's fries but he echoes that thought (via Facebook). "At least they're visibly cut from potatoes," he says, "rather than being formed into fry-like shapes from God knows what, like most fast-food fries."

Chadburn still prefers In-N-Out's fries to the varietals from other chains but she knows she's in the minority. "I was actually shocked to think that people didn't like their fries," she says.

The In-N-Out Burger in Hollywood, California, in June 2015. (Mike Mozart/Flickr Creative Commons)

WHY? WHY? WHY?

In-N-Out makes such a good fast food burger. Why are their fries so damn bad? Because they don't double-fry their potatoes — and all of the best French fries in the world are cooked at least twice.

Steve Samson, the chef and owner of Sotto, Rossoblu and Superfine Pizza, explains why.

He says In-N-Out starts out well, using the Kennebec, a starchy potato that doesn't have as much sugar as a Russet. This results in fries with a crisp exterior and a soft interior — when they're properly cooked.

To achieve that, the potatoes must be soaked in water before they're fried, ideally as much as overnight. In-N-Out doesn't do that. They fry their potatoes almost immediately after they cut them. You can see employees using a contraption that looks like an orange juice squeezer to slice fresh potatoes then tossing them in deep fryers, almost immediately after.

"The only way to make a really good french fry is to cook it at least twice, if not three times," Samson says.

For the perfect fries, Samson says you should blanch them in oil at 250 to 275 °F for five to six minutes. Then you need to take them out of the oil and lay them flat. You can now refrigerate or freeze them, if you want. Shortly before you plan to serve the fries, drop them into 375 °F oil for a quick, second fry.

The first fry cooks the potatoes all the way through. The second fry achieves a crisp, golden exterior.

Multi-Michelin-starred, molecular chef Heston Blumenthal has a custom triple-cooking method in which potatoes are cut, soaked, boiled, fried at a lower temperature and then finished at a higher temperature.

You don't have to go that route but perfect fries, whether they're made in-house from scratch or bought frozen in mass quantities (plenty of high-end restaurants do this, BTW) need to be cooked twice.

"I don't know what temperature [In-N-Out] cooks their fries at," Samson says, "but there's no way, with all the starch that's in it, for them to get crispy. Even if you cook it longer and well done, it's still not gonna be the same thing as double-frying it."

Which brings us to the workaround.

Standard fries (in the foreground) vs. well done fries (in the background) from In-N-Out. (Photo by Elina Shatkin/LAist)

HOW TO ORDER THE FRIES

There are ways around the terribleness of In-N-Out's fries. Most obviously: don't order them. If a fast food burger doesn't feel complete without a side of fries, ask for them "well done" or "light well."

"I order them well done and they're perfect," says Len Grigorian. "Otherwise, they kind of suck after 10 minutes."

Like In-N-Out's not so secret "secret menu," this is one of those SoCal tricks. The fries won't be brilliant — they'll taste like Potato Stix — but they'll be golden and edible.

For some people, that still doesn't cut it.

"Fries better be good to be worth ordering, since they're never good for you," says food writer Josh Lurie. "In-N-Out falls flat in the French fry department. The idea that they need to be ordered well-done to make them tolerable is unacceptable. In-N-Out doesn't make many things, so everything should be on-point, not just burgers."

To take a page from the book of the fast food chain's CEO, Lynsi Snyder-Ellingson, a devout Christian, when it comes to In-N-Out's fries, we're going to love the sinner, hate the sin.


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