The Real Reason Five Guys' Fries Taste So Good

French fries are the bread and butter of fast food restaurants. Some are well-loved, while others are vehemently despised (looking at you In-N-Out). Even fast food joints that aren't burger-centric, like Taco Bell and Del Taco, have popular fries. The best fast food fries, however, are found at places that make good fries a priority. And make no mistake: Five Guys Burgers and Fries is just as much about the fries as it is about the burgers — which is one of the reasons why the fast food chain ranks at or near the top of best French fry rankings.

There are many reasons why Five Guys gets so much fry love. The emphasis on fries is right there in the name of the chain (though Five Guys Burgers doesn't have the same ring to it). Fries get just as much attention from the cooks in the kitchen as the burgers, which are typically the center point of a meal at a burger joint.

Of course, not everyone is a fan. Josh Scherer of First We Feast writes in his fry ranking that he "will never, ever, in my entire life understand why more people don't roast Five Guys for their bad fries." But for many people, Five Guys stands out. Once you learn about all of the thought put into the process, the reasons why all start to make more sense.

This is why Five Guys fries are so good, from the origin story to the specialized cooking technique.

Fries have been a focus from the start of Five Guys' business

Pretty much every fast food chain and famous restaurant out there has a calling card. That can be one food or ingredient that they set out to do better than any other competitor in their region, or a couple dishes that compliment each other. Chicken sandwiches at Popeye's, for example, or Egg McMuffins and hashbrowns on the McDonald's breakfast menu. For Five Guys, French fries have been a signature food at the chain from the very start.

"They're our passion," Chad Murrell, the son of founder Jerry Murrell and one of the "five guys" of Five Guys told Food Republic. "They are the hardest thing we have to do, but people think that it's the easiest. If you don't do them right, they're still kinda good and people don't complain. But that doesn't cut it with us!"

Perhaps that's why while other fast food burger spots put the emphasis in their names squarely on the burgers — Burger King, for example, or Habit Burger — Five Guys put fries on an equal footing by calling it Five Guys Burgers and Fries. And what would a fast food burger be without a side of fries?

"You can cook your own burger in the backyard, but you can't make fries like ours unless you buy the best ingredients and practice our methods," Murrell told Food Republic. "It's a lot harder than just buying fresh potatoes. We call our fry cooks mad scientists."

Five Guys has very specific potato varieties that they use

Potatoes are an amazingly versatile root. It's believed that they originally come from Peru and have been a part of people's diet in the region for 8,000 years, according to the food blog Amazing Ribs. Today, the International Potato Center states that there are more than 4,000 types of potato — the vast majority of which are so regional that you will never taste them. Some have more starch, while others are waxy and only grow at a certain altitude. Only a very specific set of potatoes make it to the Five Guys restaurant locations, though.

In a Facebook post, the Five Guys marketing team explained that most of its potatoes come from Idaho above the 42nd parallel (which is conveniently the southern border boundary of the state, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica). Potatoes are sourced from Washington in the few months of the year that Idaho potatoes are too soft, according to Yahoo

"We try to get our potatoes grown north of the 42nd parallel, which is a pain in the neck," Jerry Murrell, the father who started Five Guys with his sons, told Inc. "Potatoes are like oak trees — the slower they grow, the more solid they are. We like northern potatoes, because they grow in the daytime when it is warm, but then they stop at night when it cools down. It would be a lot easier and cheaper if we got a California or Florida potato."

Five Guys' fries are hand cut for the ultimate freshness

If you've ever walked into a Five Guys, then you're familiar with the sacks of potatoes that are scattered around every location of the restaurant. Those Five Guys branded sacks — which are all filled with whole potatoes — aren't just for show. In fact, they're the very same potatoes that get fresh cut and made into French fries.

A Five Guys location can go through about 500 pounds of potatoes a day, one employee told Destination America. That's a lot of whole potatoes that need to be cut down to size. For that, employees use what's called the monster cutter. It's essentially a crank that squeezes a potato through a grate with holes that are the perfect French fry size. Workers pull the lever to hand cut each potato (and they do this many, many times).

Other quality fast food chains have tried the fresh potato method to little success. Shake Shack, for one, had a short fresh potato run before returning to pre-cut and frozen crinkle cut fries.

While it's not like Five Guys employees are sitting in the kitchen with a knife and meticulously hand-chopping each French fry, this fresh cut method is much more involved than ordering a bag of pre-cut frozen potatoes. It also keeps the fry line moving. Chad Murrell told Food Republic that Five Guys held potato cutting races with 50-pound bags. The record? One 50 pound bag of potatoes in 48 seconds.

Five Guys follows a meticulous French fry cooking process

The Five Guys sourcing policy of sticking to farms above the 42nd parallel and the laborious fresh cut process isn't the only thing that sets Five Guys French fries apart. There's a number of other steps that employees have to take before over stuffing your bag with fries as well.

Chad Murrell told Food Republic that the chopped potatoes are blanched (which means to briefly cook in really hot water) for three minutes. Doing so reduces the starchiness on the outside of the potatoes and makes the cut up spuds cook more evenly. Then the fries are pre-cooked before being fried when the customer orders. Water, it turns out, is an important factor in cooking the ultimate Five Guys French fries.

"Most fast-food restaurants serve dehydrated frozen fries — that's because if there's water in the potato, it splashes when it hits the oil," Jerry Murrell told Inc. "We actually soak our fries in water. When we pre-fry them, the water boils, forcing steam out of the fry, and a seal is formed so that when they get fried a second time, they don't absorb any oil — and they're not greasy."

It's comments like Murrell's that make you understand just how much attention has always been paid to the Five Guys fry making process.

Five Guys employees are taught to cook the fries without timers

According to NBC, every location in the Five Guys chain has no timers in the kitchens because "good cooks" learn to recognize when food's ready. This forces employees to learn how to cook by sight and feel for every item on the menu — including the fries. While this is a lot harder than, say, setting a timer and forgetting it until you hear beeping, the processes that Five Guys put in place ensures employees learn to recognize a consistent fry texture and taste.

Still, it's not like the cooks are flying blind. The quality would be all over the map if employees didn't have at least some sort of method to making sure each fry at each location turns out the same.

On the Destination America episode, the employee describes the "smush test" as the way to make sure the batch is good to go. After the first cook, if you push down on the fry and it sticks together then that's a good cook. If it snaps, that's no good. Then for the final cooking section, which takes between two and two and a half minutes, workers know the French fries are ready to take out of the oil when the fries float to the top of the basket and the bubbles go away. In the end, each fry has a golden crunchy outside and the texture of a baked potato on the inside.

Five Guys swears by the powers of peanut oil when it comes to fries

Other than the sacks of potatoes all over each Five Guys location, one of the most noticeable things a customer interacts with are the free peanuts. By some accounts, those peanuts are there to distract customers as the food cooks since making food from scratch takes a little longer than your typical fast food joint. Yet those aren't the only place you'll find a peanut product. It turns out the fries rely on peanuts as well.

"We use 100% refined peanut oil because it does a great job of sealing in flavor," Five Guys tweeted in September 2014 (which is National Potato Month, for those who don't know).

This sounds like a bummer for the millions of people in the United States who are allergic to peanuts, but peanut oil is on the safer side because of how it's processed, the allergen blow Achoo Allergy explains. Essentially, refined peanut oil lacks the stuff that gives people an allergic reaction. There's nothing to be done about all those free peanuts, however, so maybe having someone go in to order take out for you is the best option.

The "extra" fries at Five Guys make you think you're getting a delicious bargain

Five Guys is famous for topping off every order of fries with more fries. It doesn't matter which size you get, there will be one full container and then a bunch of fries outside of the container, too. Perhaps you've heard them called "bag fries." All the extras may make you feel like you're getting a bargain on fries that clearly take a fair amount of work to cook. But it's really all part of a clever marketing plan.

"When you order a small fry (for example, but they do this for all sizes) you are paying for all of the fries that go into the bag," an employee explained in a Reddit AMA. "That 'extra' scoop is kind of an illusion, they told us during training that it's to make customers think they're getting a big bargain. And you can ask for the cup with no topper if you want, you can do that."

The psychology behind the extra fries is simple: people love feeling like they're getting more than they paid for, so giving more fries breeds good will. The blog The Self Employed explains that the cost of the extra fries is already built into the menu price the customer is charged. So while it may seem like you're getting a bunch of freebies, you're actually getting exactly what you paid for. That doesn't stop the good vibes from extra fries, though.

Despite the exacting recipe, Five Guys' fries are extremely customizable

After reading about how precise every single step has to be for workers to deliver consistent fries at every location day in and day out, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there's only one way to eat said fries. But you'd be wrong.

To start with, there is the condiment bar. Every Five Guys location keeps the condiment selection stocked with the usual ketchup and mustard, along with barbecue sauce, hot sauce, A.1 sauce, mayonnaise, and Heinz Malt Vinegar. Then there are some secret menu style customizations you can make outside of the basic sauce selection.

In a Reddit thread, a Five Guys employee listed two of the best ways to customize the fries. All you have to do is ask for them the right way. The first takes advantage of the double cooking process. Rather than let the fries go through both, you can have a bunch of crunchy fries if you ask the employees to instead cut them in half and cook them well done (admittedly, you may need to know an employee to get this type of special treatment). The other option is to make what the employee calls "Confetti fries." First, mix barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, and Cajun seasoning together, and then dump the sauce into the bag with the fries and shake it all together.

All of the things that make Five Guys fries unhealthy also makes them delicious

Pretty much any fast food burger joint will fall further into the "unhealthy" category of restaurant options than the "healthy" category. It doesn't matter how many salads or parfaits are on the menu, there's no getting around the fact that cheeseburgers stacked high with meat and slices of cheese aren't good for you, let alone handfuls of starchy, deep fried potatoes.

Even on that list of unhealthy fast food spots, Five Guys stands out. According to Taste of Home, Five Guys fries are the most unhealthy fries in America. Case in point: a small fry has 528 calories and a large has 1,314. As Taste of Home points out, "that's as many calories as a Five Guys hamburger patty, bun and milkshake combined." And then there's the fat and salt: 57 grams of fat and 1,327 milligrams of sodium.

That's not to say that the fries are necessarily worse for you than your average fry. It's more about the amount of fries you get every time you receive an order (that extra topper may make sales, but it does have a major trade off, after all).

The people in charge of Five Guys are well aware how the extra fries impact the restaurant's healthiness rating. "Every time they do a calorie count on us," Jerry Murrell tells Food Republic, "it looks pretty bad."

Five Guys specializes in "boardwalk" fries rather than crispy fries

For many people, thin and crispy fries are the most familiar. It's the style that you'll find at Mcdonald's, Burger King, and other fast food spots. Yet crispy fries aren't what you'll find at Five Guys, and that's kind of the point. Instead, you'll find boardwalk style fries styles after one very specific restaurant on one very specific boardwalk.

"We grew up going to Ocean City [Maryland], where there were all sorts of stands that sold boardwalk fries. But we loved Thrasher's the best," Chad Murrell told Food Republic about a local chain that started in 1929. "We decided that we had to do it like Thrasher's." Boardwalk fries, according to a Food Network recipe, use peanut oil. They also have that mashed potato like center rather than being all crunch. Think of them as similar to the frites that are served all over France and Belgium.

Of course, not everyone is a fan. On a Reddit AMA with a Five Guys manager, one regular said that their "one complaint with Five Guys is that they don't cook their fries enough."

"Technically we're not supposed to cook 'crispy' fries, although we've done that multiple times at my store before," the manager responded. "Our fries are 'boardwalk' style, which means that they're typically firm on the outside with a mashed potato interior. However, the quality of the fries depend on the person that's making them."