Despite what the cable news networks would have you believe, we’re really a pretty peaceable bunch here in the United States of America. However, there are definitely teams when it comes to certain things. Soda vs. pop vs. Coke. Garage sale vs. yard sale vs. rummage sale. Pucahn vs. Peecan (why on earth would anyone pronounce it as pee-can?). You get the idea.
But there is one preferential battle that is underdiscussed in the modern age: what starch do you like with your burger?
The Great Debate
The phrase is “burger and fries.” We’ve all used the phrase more often than we’d think, and half the time it’s the exact verbiage on any given menu in the country. Sometimes you’ll even have a choice of fries. Steak fries, wedges, shoestrings, waffle fries, etc. Occasionally they also have sweet potato fries. Then, of course, there are tater tots, which for some reason normally cost extra. And then, normally for an extra $1.50 or so, there are onion rings.
Now, I love onion rings. I like the more chicken-fried style breading of spiced flour then deep fried in Canola or peanut oil. I like mine with a side of ranch dressing. Maybe one day I’ll put my recipe up, because my onion rings are pretty damn good, but I don’t feel like cleaning my kitchen right this moment so I’ll save the recipe for another day.
But I very rarely order onion rings. Mostly this is due to the cost. As much as I do love onion rings, I don’t love them $1.50 more than french fries or tater tots. Unless it’s a place that I know has just unbelievably good onion rings (like Joe Willy’s in my hometown of Rockwall, Texas), I’m probably not paying extra for onion rings. But if the onion rings are the same price (or if the price difference is nominal like 25¢), then I’ll get them for sure.
I understand that the price difference is generally because onion rings are more labor intensive. You either need to batter them in some sort of buttermilk or beer mixture then fry them, or otherwise dredge them in flour, egg wash, and either more flour or breadcrumbs and fry them. Either way, that’s more work than just dumping some fries into the fryer, even if the potatoes were cut, soaked, and seasoned in house. But if something is going to cost more, it has to be better as well.
Let’s be honest: there aren’t that many places that have just insanely good french fries. Chick-Fil-A’s waffle fries are unique in that they’re…unique, but they don’t really taste any better than anywhere else. The main advantage is the increased surface area a waffle fry brings, allowing it to be a better vehicle for getting Chick-Fil-A sauce in your mouth.
But fries are also very reliable. The same way there aren’t that many places with unreal delicious french fries, there also aren’t that many places that have terrible french fries. Maybe the fries at Sonic? Those aren’t very good. But generally speaking, french fries will be good no matter where they come from. Of course, some of the fry deliciousness might come from seasoning (like the Cajun seasoning at Five Guys) or the dipping sauce (like Chick-Fil-A), but generally speaking what you’re going to get is a potato that has been sliced and fried in oil until golden brown and delicious.
The other huge advantage of fries, of course, is that they are generally less expensive than rings. Sure, if you go somewhere that has fancy curly fries or sweet potato fries or whatever there might be an upcharge for that, but those are normally available in addition to the regular fries, so there’s no obligation to pay extra for them. And finally, french fries are actually healthier than onion rings, but if you’re that worried about health it’s probably best to avoid both.
Disadvantages, of course are that most places have very average french fries, and some don’t property describe the fry on the menu. For example, I don’t like wedge fries or steak fries, really, unless I’m having them as part of a steak frites meal. This means that if I order fries and steak fries or wedges come out, I’m going to be a bit upset. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll still eat them, but I won’t enjoy it as much as I would some other type of fry.
Fries are also more likely to be cooked improperly. You can end up with some flaccid potato that was cooked in oil that wasn’t hot enough, or maybe a burnt-to-black fry that was left in the oil too long, or possibly even one that was cooked in oil that was too hot so you end up with a crispy exterior and a raw, texture-of-an-apple potato on the inside. These are all chances we take when we order fries. But what about rings?
We’ve already covered the downside of rings that they are generally more expensive. However, onion rings have a lot of advantages, too.
For starters, there are just so many different ways to prepare them. I don’t mean like with fries how every french fry is more or less the same thing but cut into different shapes. I mean the actual preparation of onion rings is different. You can have white, yellow, or even red onions. You can have buttermilk, beer-battered, corn-battered, flour dredged (pictured, and my favorite kind), panko, or breadcrumb onion rings. And each has it’s own advantage. As I mentioned earlier, my favorite rings are flour dredged, but I like them all.
Another advantage of onion rings is that they are good with a variety of dip. Ranch? Check. Ketchup? Oh yeah. Fry sauce? Sure, thing. Barbecue sauce? You betcha. Chipotle mayo? Hell, yes. Tzatziki sauce? Double yes! (Seriously, you should try some onion rings in tzatziki sauce, it will change your life). Even queso? Sí, señor. I’m serious. I have never met a dip that wasn’t delicious on an onion ring. I know fries are compatible with a lot of dips, but onion rings appear to be compatible with every dip. And there’s a good reason for this: onions are in just about every dip you can name, so it’s only natural that an onion would be a good vehicle for that dip.
The $64,000 Questions
This all boils down to two questions:
- All other things being equal, would you prefer onion rings or french fries as your side when you order a hamburger? and
- If so, what is the dollar amount that you would pay extra for onion rings?
For me, all things being equal, I’m getting rings about 90% of the time. Especially if they’re the flour-dredged kind.
But regarding the price limit? It’s pretty low. I don’t think I would ever pay more than $1 extra for onion rings unless I knew the place well enough to know that the rings are outstanding and/or the fries are terrible. Either way, I will make an exception today in honor of National Onion Ring Day and pay the extra $1.50 at Whataburger for some rings. I hope you get a chance to celebrate, too!