McDonald's Fries Vs Five Guys' Fries: Which Is Better?

McDonald's and Five Guys are both widely regarded as french fry powerhouses. The two fast food chains each have a strong following, but the public is still torn between the two. One poll conducted by Mashed found that our readers preferred McDonald's french fries, while another conducted by Business Insider found Five Guys to be the more popular pick. Somehow, people just can't seem to make up their minds.

While, in theory, both chains make the same food, the french fries each one produces are remarkably different. Different shapes, cuts, seasonings, and frying oils all change the end result. As Five Guys and McDonald's are consistently ranked as having some of the most popular fries, we decided it was time to put them head to head to figure out the differences and to find out which fast food fries reign supreme. We were shocked to find that there was a clear winner.

What can customers expect with Five Guys fries?

Five Guys may have started out in Arlington, Virginia back in 1986, but the roots of this company and its fries are actually a product of Ocean City, Maryland. The company was founded by Jerry Murrell and his five sons, hence the name. In an interview with Food Republic, son Chad Murrell explained that while growing up in Ocean City, they got to know what made good french fries. In their view, no one did fries better than Thrasher's, an Ocean City boardwalk staple that's been open since 1929.

When it came time to create the fries for their restaurant, the family knew they wanted to bring in their love for those particular fries. So, unlike other fast food joints, Five Guys serves up what are known as boardwalk-style fries. This means that the fries are hand-cut and served in a cup, just like the kind you might find on the beach boardwalk of their childhood. While the fries may not have the power to instantly transport you to the beach, they sure do their best to give you a taste of vacation.

McDonald's fries have been around for over 80 years

McDonald's doesn't sell regular french fries. It sells trademarked World Famous Fries. When McDonald's first came on the scene in 1940, it was a drive-through with signature golden arches and what were then called Golden French Fries. At the time, the french fries cost just 10 cents. That was cheap even back then, so in order to save money on the then-costly hydrogenated oils needed to fry the spuds, the founders decided to add beef fat into the mix. This created a unique french fry that was crispy but had a rounded flavor not found in fries cooked in just vegetable oil. When the company went national, a new system for curing the potatoes for the fries was developed, further differentiating McDonald's fries from competitors.

Nothing lasts forever, though. Over the years, the fries have changed considerably, with the ingredients and production techniques changing a number of times over the years. While it has turned some people off the chain's fries, it has not stopped many others from flocking to McDonald's for the treat.

Ingredients for the fries

What exactly is in these fries? For Five Guys, the answer is simple: not much. Five Guys gets most of its potatoes from Idaho. However, for two months of the year, the Idaho potatoes are too soft, so during that time the company switches to Norkotah potatoes from the state of Washington. This variety of Russet potatoes is starchy, which makes them suitable for frying. The potatoes are cooked in peanut oil and topped with salt or Cajun seasoning. That's it.

McDonald's recipe is a bit more complicated; okay, a lot more complicated. Its french fries start with Russet Burbank, Russet Ranger, Umatilla Russet, and Shepody potato varieties. McDonald's works with multiple suppliers to ensure the company has enough potatoes, using many spuds grown in Washington.

McDonald's fries are fried in a vegetable oil mix made of canola, corn, and soybean oil. The oil also has "natural beef flavor" in it meant to replicate the classic beef fat taste. Dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate, and salt round it out. This is a much longer ingredient list than what's at Five Guys, and we haven't even gotten to processing the potatoes.

Production for the fries

The Five Guys production process is simpler and involves whole, fresh potatoes. Employees start the process by hand-cutting whole unpeeled potatoes in-house at each restaurant. The pieces are then power washed to remove excess starch from the outside of the fries. Five Guys uses a double fry method, doing the first fry for just a few minutes, then allowing the fries to sit and cook with residual heat before the second fry finishes them off. The oil is changed frequently throughout the day to ensure a clean taste.

The McDonald's process starts before the potatoes even hit restaurants. McDonald's potato suppliers are responsible for peeling, cutting, blanching, partially frying, and freezing the potatoes. Employees at McDonald's then take the frozen fries and give them a final deep fry in McDonald's oil blend, and there you have it. McDonald's fries clearly take less time and prep in-store than Five Guys' does.

Dietary considerations

Due to the marked differences in the ingredients and production, it is not surprising that each chain would have unique dietary considerations. The biggest for Five Guys stems from its use of peanut oil. This can be a problem for people who have peanut allergies. However, according to Ohio State University, people with peanut allergies can sometimes consume peanut oil, as the processing can destroy the protein that causes the allergic reaction. Still, that and the boxes of peanuts mean that Five Guys fries may not be suitable for those with peanut allergies.

McDonald's does not use peanut oil in its fries. However, that is one of the few major dietary restrictions it does not hit. McDonald's oil contains corn and soybean oil, both of which can trigger allergic reactions. Also, the "natural beef flavor" uses both wheat and milk, making them unsuitable for many gluten- and dairy-free people.

McDonald's fries are also surprisingly not vegan. Once again, the natural beef flavoring is to blame, as it contains dairy derivatives. McDonald's is no stranger to dietary concerns, as the company was sued in the early 2000s over the continued use of animal-derived beef flavoring, which made the fries not vegetarian and not suitable for people who avoided beef for religious purposes.

Nutrition you'll find in the fries

In addition to dietary concerns, there are some marked nutritional differences between McDonald's and Five Guys fries. One of the reasons Five Guys only uses peanut oil is that it is purportedly healthier than alternatives, according to Chad Murrell speaking with Food Republic. By this, he means there are no hydrogenated oils or trans fats in peanut oil. There are also no additional preservatives in Five Guys fries. McDonald's, on the other hand, uses hydrogenated soybean oil in its blend. However, their fries also include no trans fats.

When comparing an order of fries at McDonald's and Five Guys using roughly equivalent sizes by weight, we did not see any significant difference in calories or protein. Where we did see significant difference is fat. 150 grams of fries at McDonald's has 23 grams of fat, whereas it took a 227 gram serving of Five Guys fries to hit 23 grams of fat.

No one expects french fries to be healthy, but for those who are concerned about fat or hydrogenated oils in particular, this is clearly something to think about.

Texture of both fry varieties

McDonald's and Five Guys create remarkably different fries. The McDonald's variety come out a homogenous light golden color, with barely a hint of brown. Five Guys french fries have much more variety in color and tend to be a darker beige-brown.

McDonald's fries are also much crispier, with a pleasant and warm crunch. The downside of this is as they cool, the McDonald's fries get progressively crunchier and dryer, to the point that, after about 20 minutes, the McDonald's fries are so dehydrated as to be practically inedible. Five Guys fries start off crispy but get soggy fairly quickly. The upside of this is that even when soggy, the Five Guys fries retain a soft texture inside and are still pretty tasty.

We suspect that the McDonald's method of prepackaging and freezing is what creates its overly dry fry. But McDonald's uses hydrogenated oils, which makes them crispy, whereas Five Guys use peanut oil, which creates a softer product meant to mimic boardwalk-style fry. However, rumor has it that you can ask employees at your local Five Guys for well-done fries that are relatively crispy.

How the fries differ in taste

In addition to the textural differences, the taste difference between the fries from these two chains is striking. McDonald's definitely has a unique taste, with a warm, rounded flavor that is unique to its french fries. We can certainly see the appeal here, which we attribute to the natural beef flavor meant as a throwback to when the fries were actually cooked in beef fat. The main issue here is that, because of this added flavor, the mild potato taste gets lost. We also found that the McDonald's fries were remarkably uniform in flavor.

Meanwhile, there was a bit more variation in the Five Guys fries. Because these french fries are made with skins on, you get more color and, occasionally, an edge piece that comes with more skin. This enhances the natural potato flavor. The nice thing about the simplicity of the Five Guys fries is that they simply taste like potatoes. They are not trying to be more or less than what they are. The inside held a soft mashed potato texture and flavor, with an initially crunchy outside. Additionally, we found that the Five Guys fries were more thoroughly and evenly salted at our location.

How the fries differ in size

When it comes to serving size, Five Guys is the clear winner if we are going only on weight. This is shocking, considering the fact that Five Guys is pitted against the company that helped to create the Supersize movement. Yet, the smallest order of Five Guys fries is demonstrably larger than what's at McDonald's. The weight of the smallest order at Five Guys is a whopping 227 grams of french fries, whole a large order of the same at McDonalds is only about 150 grams.

Part of this disparity comes down to the fact that Five Guys overfills its cups every time, with more fries than can reasonably fit in one container. We are definitely not mad about it. McDonald's, meanwhile, actually fits its fries much more nearly into its paper containers.

Again, this does not necessarily mean that Five Guys fries are better. McDonald's theoretically offers more if you are a single eater and just want a small amount of fries. At McDonald's, a small order of fries is 80 grams, a medium is 114, and a large is 150, whereas Five Guys littles start at 227 grams, then go to 411 for a regular, and 587 for a large order. Individual Five Guys French fries are also noticeably thicker and larger.

Five Guys' fries are considerably more expensive

While Five Guys fries are objectively bigger when it comes to both individual fries and serving size, that comes with an increased price tag as well. The smallest order of french fries at Five Guys currently costs $5.09, while the smallest at McDonald's is just $2.09 and a large is $3.69.

Some of this can be explained by the fact that those extra fries in the Five Guys bag aren't really free. The overflowing fries are actually built into the cost of the order . It is clever marketing on the chain's part, but it's not really saving you money.

Meanwhile, McDonald's has built its empire on serving food as quickly and cheaply as possible. We see this in the way the fries are nearly finished before they even make it to the restaurant. From the beginning, the company has been focused on getting food out functionally, but everything is a trade-off. You may pay more for the fries at Five Guys, but the quality may convince that it's worth the extra cost.


When it comes to customizability, we are focusing only on official offers, not more informal options that require making special requests of employees. Early McDonald's spots didn't allow for customization, so everyone got the same burger and fries from a rather limited menu. Thankfully, the McDonald's of today is far more flexible. On the chain's app, fries can be ordered with more or less salt, an option that Five Guys does not offer on its equivalent online ordering system. 

As for condiments, both McDonald's and Five Guys offer ketchup, but McDonald's also offers Tangy BBQ, Sweet N Sour, honey, hot mustard, creamy ranch, honey mustard, and spicy Buffalo sauces.

Meanwhile, after you pick up your order, Five Guys offers malt vinegar as an additional nod to its boardwalk-style fries. Five Guys also offers sauces such as mayo, mustard, A.1., BBQ, and hot sauce, but these are not available on their own when ordering. In terms of customizability, McDonald's has more options, but Five Guys does have a significant advantage in the form of its Cajun-style fries, which are topped with Cajun spices. McDonald's does not have a comparable option.

McDonald's is far more prevalant than Five Guys

Both Five Guys and McDonald's churn out a truly shocking number of french fries each year. Five Guys uses 100 million pounds of potatoes annually, while McDonald's blows that figure out of the water with its yearly use of a staggering 3.4 billion pounds of potatoes. But the question here isn't which restaurants have fries available, but where exactly you can get them.

As you may be able to tell already by the above figures, McDonald's has a far greater number of restaurants than Five Guys. As of this writing, McDonald's has more than 40,000 restaurant locations across the globe. In the United States alone, there are 14,000 McDonald's spots slinging french fries.

Five Guys, on the other hand, is a newer company that did not leave the Washington, D.C. area until 2002. The company currently has 1,700 locations worldwide, which is surely impressive but doesn't make a dent in McDonald's numbers. McDonald's is simply more widely available than Five Guys, and there is no getting around that fact.

Which chain's fries are better?

Between McDonald's fries and Five Guys fries, we think it's pretty clear that Five Guys french fries are better. There are more fries in an order, those actually taste like french fries, and they are made fresh in the store. Yes, they are more expensive and not quite as crispy as what's on offer from your local McDonald's, but you can tell in a bite that they are made with straightforward ingredients that are mostly potatoes. They provide a crisp outside and a soft inside that remains delicious far longer than McDonald's fries, which get dry and sad as soon as they cool a bit.

While we see the appeal of thin, crispy, and golden fries, quite frankly, we feel that. McDonald's is prioritizing mass availability and quick turnaround to the detriment of the french fries themselves. We can see this in the way the recipe and production have evolved over the past 50 years. If the internet is to be believed, the McDonald's fries used to be better. 

Maybe if we had some of those original fries to pit against those from Five Guys, McDonald's would have stood a chance. But as it stands, the classic flavor and fresh production of the Five Guys fries makes them easily the better of the two. If you have a Five Guys near you, the next time you want fries, give it a try over its golden-arched competitor.