web analytics

I remember this!

McDonald’s fries used to be cooked in beef fat. And they were unbelievably delicious. Do you remember?

Here’s a long-form article about the search for the original recipe. And by “long form” I mean “you just might not be this interested in Mickey D’s so I’m going to give you an executive summary.”

In 1966, a man named Phil Sokolof had a heart attack and went on a crusade against animal fat. From the time he got out of the hospital until 1990, he spent $15 million of his own money shaming companies into dropping “unhealthy” fats in favor of “healthy” ones. It was all part of a broad national orgy of (dietary) fat shaming.

Fun fact: this is when Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC, because “fried” was such a dirty word.

At the very end, he finally succeeded with McDonald’s. I remember it well, mostly because their cherry pies were also cooked in beef tallow and have never been edible since. Broke my heart. And yet, and yet.

Exchanging beef tallow for pure vegetable oil in high-temperature frying introduced consumers to a different and arguably worse dietary threat than saturated fats: trans fats, which, as we now know, are a major cause of cardiovascular disease, digestive issues, and weight gain. Despite the best intentions, Sokolof ultimately made a bad problem worse, one that McDonald’s has spent decades trying to fix.

Anyway, the article isn’t really about that. It’s about the search for the old fry recipe. This led the author to a series of elderly McDonald’s employees, online forums and eventually to a somewhat mysterious online pdf called McMenu: Do-It-Yourself McDonald’s Restaurant Recipes.

If you want the exact recipe (he thinks, with a fairly high degree of certainy), it’s at the bottom of the article. And if you really are into Mickey D’s, I recommend the whole read. But here’s the gist:

•Cut the potatoes into shoestrings and soak them in sugar water with a bit of Karo syrup(!) in the fridge for 30 minutes
•Fry them at 400° F in six cups of Crisco(!). Wonderful, magical, fully hydrogenated Crisco
•Let them cool in the fridge for ten minutes
•Add 1/4 cup beef tallow to the Crisco
•Bring it up to temp and fry another 5 minutes, until brown
•Toss with powdered salt

So that explains why the dripping flavor wasn’t overwhelming.

It’s hard to see how this process would work in a fast food setting, so I’m going to guess that the soaking and initial frying was done earlier and the fries were delivered to the restaurant part-cooked and chilled, where the final frying happened.

I’d try it myself, but I live in fear of deep fat frying. In my heart, I always knew the Fryolater was out to get me.


Comment from OldFert
Time: December 1, 2020, 8:18 pm

When I worked at a youth center snack bar in ’65-’66 in high school, we fried our fries in beef tallow. They came pre-packaged, so I guess the pre-soaking and pre-cooking were already done.
Really good fries, though.

Comment from MikeInFairfax
Time: December 1, 2020, 8:36 pm

Oh, and consigned to yesteryear is the great Movie Theater Popcorn. The secret flavor ingredient back then was coconut oil for the popper.
Not so long ago, when I wasn’t looking, coconut oil went from the latest “gonna kill ya” evil thing, to the newest “new” healthy healthfoood item. I give up.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 1, 2020, 9:32 pm

I know, Mike. That was one particular lobby group that had it in for coconut oil. Ah, here it is: Center for Science in the Public Interest. Periodically, they’d get articles run in lefty papers about the evils of movie popcorn in coconut oil. They were a group of strict vegan doctors, if I recall correctly.

OldFert, the article says EVERYone did it once they tasted the McDonald’s version.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: December 1, 2020, 9:35 pm

McDonald’s can put good food in your family, and change, back from your dollar.

Once, it was.

And besides MOVIE POPCORN is the devil! Have you already forgotten how eating popcorn was going to kill us?
but it’s okay, because KALE will make you live forever, until we discover something that demonstrates it will kill you of course.

Who do I trust? Mrs D, and a couple friends. That’s about it.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: December 1, 2020, 10:52 pm

A few years ago a Scottish gentleman had a bestseller published over this side of the pond in which he tried to replicate all the fast food brands that he loved but couldn’t partake of, because he’d picked up a dose of agoraphobia, poor devil.

How close he got, I couldn’t say but I suspect a lot of our fast foods, even if they are sold by US companies, aren’t the same as yours. With KFC, that means ours is utter, vile crap. With Coke, I suspect we win because our full fat version still uses sugar.

I refuse to speak of artificial sweeteners…

Oh, and I still want Wendy’s back. They fled our shores for some reason. Could we trade you with Google, perhaps?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 1, 2020, 11:30 pm

KFC in the UK is gray, flabby, expensive and disgusting.

My KFC back home was awesome and cheap.

Comment from HTL
Time: December 1, 2020, 11:47 pm

In late 2019 Wendy’s announced that they were returning to the UK sometime in 2020, although the exact date may have been delayed due to Covid. This will be their third entry into that market.

I highly recommend getting a good deep fryer, both for making fries and for quite a few other recipes (fried chicken (Ina Garten has an excellent recipe), chicken milanese (which is fried), fried zucchini (excuse me, I mean courgettes) and jalapeño poppers, to name just a few). The total immersion with resultant quick cooking leads to lower overall fat content in the finished dish, plus a lot less splatter than pan frying. I keep the oil in the fryer for one season and then replace it, so you also don’t go broke replacing the oil every time you use it. The beef tallow addition for the fries is something I do just before I’m due to switch the oil anyway.

Comment from BJM
Time: December 2, 2020, 12:58 am

Beef tallow is okay but try shoestring potatoes fried in duck fat..they’ll knock yer socks and yer pants off! Check out the speciality oil section at your supermarket. You can buy duck, lard and schmaltz in pint jars now.

I have a local source for farm raised pork leaf lard and it makes the best pie crust and schmaltz for making gribenes. Oh. my. word. Gribenes, aka “Jewish bacon” crispy, salty morsels that are sooo tasty.

Then there’s chicharones, a local supermercado makes them fresh all day long, sold hot out of the lard in a big twist of butcher paper with a shot of Oaxacan salsa (or not), and their carnitas are legendary here abouts, they sell out by mid-afternoon everyday.

Every culture has their fried foodstuffs.

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: December 2, 2020, 1:16 am

KFC in Japan is freakin’ amazing. It’s even a thing to get a KFC smoked Chicken for Christmas dinner.

On the flip side, Wendy’s had to take their square burgers and go home. That kinda surprised me but Chili isn’t a big favorite in Japan, so ?

McD’s (Mack-u) is really good there but with a slightly different menu, and their fries are nothing special…. I really used to love McD’s fries when I was a little kid sitting in back of the station wagon…

And popcorn… when I worked at my company’s HQ they had a little convenience store which had a popcorn wagon popcorn maker. The used coconut oil and a big bag was fifty cents. Oh my goodness, it was god. I used to eat a bag a day. Fortunately they finally changed over to “something-oil”, which saved me because I didn’t like it and stopped eating popcorn.

For those in the States (sorry Weaz an Unca B) there is still one true potato chip which you can get which is fried in lard – Grandma Utz – out of Pennsylvania.

Comment from BJM
Time: December 2, 2020, 1:39 am

@Stoaty Remember KFC’s middle breast crispy spicy style? Man, was just about perfect.

Comment from BJM
Time: December 2, 2020, 1:51 am

@Some Veg…we have a Hawaiian BBQ food truck owned and operated by Japanese-Americans. Most of their menu is sort of Meh…the locals love them some spam…but they make a chicken Tonkatsu and Katsudon that rock.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: December 2, 2020, 2:13 am

Hot sake? yes, I’ll have another of those cute little ceramic beakers, yes, yes I will.

Now, there’s something you can’t get at our fast food places.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: December 2, 2020, 11:18 am

Thanks for the good news, HTL. We’re a bit off the beaten track here, so I don’t suppose we’ll have a Wendy’s locally, but its a nice wish.

As for deep far fryers, we have one but they’re a pain to keep clean I find and the beams in our ancient kitchen ceiling pick up the fumes and turn it into… don’t ask.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: December 2, 2020, 1:18 pm

I’ve got some personal experience here. Back in 1968 I had volunteered for the military draft (I ended up enlisting but that’s another story) and was awaiting my notification of when/where to report. My previous employer had gone out of business and I needed a bit of income. What with my certain to be temporary status, no one would hire me…

…except for our local McDonald’s. Thank you, Mr. Kroc.

I ended up being the “fry man”, meaning I would show up at 6:00 a.m. to get the potatoes and fryers ready for the lunch rush. I won’t go into the fryers except that I replaced the fat every two or three days but filtered it on the days it was re-used. The white, semi-solid fat came in plastic bags inside cardboard boxes without ingredients listed, but I was told it was a mixture of Crisco and tallow.

As for the potatoes, I would lug 50-lb. bags of raw Idaho russet potatoes up from the basement storage, then skin them in a mechanical machine that sort of ground off the skin. The naked spuds immediately went into a water bath. I would then slice each one into final shape with a lever gadget that would force the potato through a grid.

Again, the output went straight into a water bath. I would agitate the things, drain the water, and rinse again. This happened twice to get rid of most of the surface starch. There was nothing added to the water: no salt, no sweetener, no nothing.

While all this was going on, the fryers were coming up to proper temperature. I would take the fries-to-be from the water, put them into fry baskets, and drop them into the hot fat for about 30 seconds. After letting the excess fat drip back into the fryer for a minute or so, I’d put the now BLANCHED potatoes in their baskets on a rack next to the fryers.

The fat-covered partially cooked potatoes would stay fresh for hours that way. Once we opened for the lunch business, I’d take a basket or two (or four when we were really rushed), drop them into the hot fat, eye-ball when to pull them out (no timer here, much less a computer gadget), drain them, dump them, salt them, and bag them.

Note: It was potatoes, Crisco/tallow mixture (ratio unknown), and salt. Period, no other ingredients. And the potatoes arrived raw, whole, in burlap sacks, without any prior treatment.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: December 2, 2020, 3:22 pm

Those were the days! Sadly, so many use frozen chips now. I noticed the other day that a local fish and chip place is now boasting it sells ‘the best fish and chips in the country (it doesn’t). The first stage of their disqualification is that they use frozen chips.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 2, 2020, 7:03 pm

Fascinating, Uncle Al. Expert testimony. I’ve a mind to send it to the article guy.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: December 2, 2020, 7:41 pm

@stoaty — Please feel free to send it off if you like. Additional information: this was in the fall of 1968 into February of 1969. The McDonald’s was in Alexandria, VA, on W. Glebe Rd. near Four Mile Run. It was one of the original designs, no indoor seating, carry-out only. It had the actual arches running front to back on either side of the building, both front and back ends running to the ground.

If I remember correctly (it was more than a half century ago! Gaaah!), hamburgers were 15¢ and cheeseburgers 18¢. During my brief time there, I saw the introduction of the Big Mac. I think one of those ran about 35¢ but I could be wrong.

Comment from Pupster
Time: December 3, 2020, 12:27 am

Very cool Uncle Al, thanks for sharing.

I worked at Mickey D’s for 3 days in 1983. Fries were frozen in 5 lb waxed paper bags at that time, dumped right into the fryer in a most unscientific manner. I assume it was just vegetable oil but I was decidedly incurious as a young pup.

My next job was in a movie theater as an usher, during the summer I popped all the popcorn for three theatres, 4 50 lb bags of kernels 4 cups at a time with coconut oil in gallon jugs. Filled up about 20 contractor sized trash bags in an afternoon. The theatres only made one batch of popcorn fresh before the movie ran for the ambiance, the rest came out of a trash bag. I still don’t like popcorn very much.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: December 3, 2020, 12:46 am

Uncle Al – you’re remembering about right. I was a poor little Yankee at the time and hadn’t been durned yet.

1 dollar bought a burger, fries, and a drink, and yielded change. And no one I know has matched my memory of their fries.

I did try fries done in duck fat in Texarkana before this stupid virus charade, but they couldn’t be happy just frying them, and they had to screw around with other spices too.

And I, was the guy who peeled and tailed raw jumbo shrimp in the Chinese restaurant and did the dishes. Probably would have had a whole nother life if I’d been a burger flipper.

Comment from OldFert
Time: December 3, 2020, 2:42 am

Speaking of deep fryers…

Periodically near closing time, after I’d cleaned the flat top grill, some knucklehead would order a hamburger.
Since the fryer was usually still hot, I soon learned that turning up the heat and then dropping the patty into the fryer worked just fine. Hamburger was cooked, tasty, and had crispy edges.

We also used coconut oil (solidified) in our popcorn popper.

Comment from Timothy J. McCorkle
Time: December 3, 2020, 5:50 pm

remember watching them PEEL the potatoes and Cut them at the McD’s caroused from the Highschool in 67… (Kokomo, IN.) Julia Child Hated that McD’s changed from animal Fat.

Comment from Formerly known as Skeptic
Time: December 3, 2020, 11:25 pm

Does anyone remember the original Wendy’s fries? They were thicker and had just the right amount of crunch on the outside with fluffy insides. Not sure when they replaced them with awful shoestring things.

Write a comment

(as if I cared)

(yeah. I'm going to write)

(oooo! you have a website?)

Beware: more than one link in a comment is apt to earn you a trip to the spam filter, where you will remain -- cold, frightened and alone -- until I remember to clean the trap. But, hey, without Akismet, we'd be up to our asses in...well, ass porn, mostly.

<< carry me back to ol' virginny