It’s impossible to go through your favorite drive-thru without ordering a batch of hot, delicious fries to be thrown into the bag, only to find yourself licking the salt off your fingers as you search for fries nestled in the bottom of the bag.
At Spruce, we are always thinking about how we can be in tune with what our body needs, and sometimes, that looks like indulging in some cravings. So every once in a while, we honor our bodies’ cravings with a trip to the drive-thru for our favorite fries. However, snack runs can sometimes create quite a stir when members of the Spruce staff have to decide which fast food joint to hit up for fries. Some folks love the thin, crispy McDonald’s fries, while others will refuse everything but the cajun seasoned fries from Bojangles.
To settle some debates, and to get a better sense of the fries our customers turn to when their cravings hit, we decided to figure out which fast-food fries were most popular among Americans. We looked at Google Trends search results to analyze the popularity of 24 different fast food chains’ fries and also looked into the search results around different types of fries, like curly, waffle or even chili cheese. We then looked at the data state by state and crunched some numbers to find out the most popular fast food fries around the nation. But be careful. After reading the results, you may be grabbing your ketchup and keys and running for the door.
First, we wanted to look at all the data we had surrounding the popularity of fast-food chains’ fries on a state-by-state level.
The most popular fry, by a long shot, was from McDonald’s with 16 states in all. The geographic spread of McDonald’s fries’ popularity is hardly surprising, given that the same familiar fry can be found on just about every other highway exit across the country. The specific fry is popular for its addictive salty crispiness, and Americans’ obsession with them has even led to studies from the National Institute of Health on the specific fats which the potato sticks are fried in.
Behind McDonald’s, the most popular fries were those from Burger King, the classic competitor of the Golden Arches, and Taco Bell, each generating the most searches in six states. If you’re wondering how a Mexican-inspired fast food joint like Taco Bell became the most popular french fry server in six states, it may be interesting to note that the nacho fries they serve come on and off the menu, perhaps making them elusively popular.
After looking at the most popular fries, we decided to break down search results by region to look for some geographic trends in favorite fries. After all, who hasn’t been told by a West Coaster that they would never fully comprehend the deliciousness of an In-N-Out meal without buying a plane ticket?
The most popular fry in the Northeast, Midwest, and West turned out to be, once again, from McDonald’s. However, a different fast food frontrunner emerged in the South: Popeye’s. The chain, which offers products inspired by the fried offerings of New Orleans, serves insanely popular cajun fries. Plus, unlike many of the most popular fast-food chains in the United States, Popeye’s offers another french-fry favorite: poutine.
It makes sense that Popeye’s is so popular in the South, given the chain’s Louisiana-themed branding. Other instances of geographic popularity were seen on an individual basis in certain states, such as Shake Shack’s popularity in New York, where the chain opened its’ first location in Madison Square Park and started serving crinkle-cut fries.
On the topic of crinkle-cut fries, we also got to wondering about which fry varieties were the most popular across the country.
Just as we had analyzed fast-food chains’ popularity state by state, we looked at different types of fries’ popularity across states, looking for searches of features like fry shape, seasoning, toppings, and even potato variety.
The most popular fry style overall was the waffle, the most-searched fry in nine states. Interestingly, not one fast-food chain from the top-three most searched chains offers waffle fries. In fact, the fast-food chain most famous for its waffle fries, Chick-fil-A, had the most-searched fries in only one state, Florida.
Right behind waffle fries, cheese fries and curly fries were each the most popular fries in eight states, great news for those who like to satisfy their french-fry fix with something a little less traditional.
Last, we looked at the most popular french food fries by region and saw some close numbers.
In the Northeast, the winner was home fries, the perfect diner dish, and the South loved waffle fries, perhaps due to the popularity of Chick-fil-A in the region. But, this is where things got a little more dicey.
In the Midwest, there was a tie in popularity between waffle fries and curly fries, and in the West, there was a tie between curly fries and cheese fries. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly makes curly fries so popular from Appalachia westward, but it’s certainly fun to think about the silly, hunger-fueled debates around french fries in so many American states.
To wrap it up, the major findings of our analysis were that, in terms of which American chain has mastered the iconic fast food sidekick, McDonald’s fries rank supreme. No matter where you go in the country, the red carton with a yellow “M” will be available and well-received. However, regional tastes and connection to brand beginnings can also fuel fry popularity, as is the case with Popeye’s in the South and Shake Shack in New York.
We found that for fry styles, adding a twist, whether it be a waffle cut, a curly twist, or some gooey cheese on top, will be popular with Americans wherever you go.
No matter where you stand on these fry issues, it’s clear to everyone that a bag of fries is a great way to indulge in your cravings and feel a little joy, so don’t be afraid to treat yourself to America’s favorite sidekick and be sure to enjoy this tasty treat to the fullest.