We Tried 7 Methods for Making Crispy Oven Fries and Discovered an Easy Trick for Crunchy Perfection

published Sep 28, 2022
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Graphic showing 7 different ways to make oven fries.
Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

I am a bona fide french-fry fanatic. Thick-cut batons, skinny shoestrings, crinkle-cut cuties — be still my heart! Dunked into ketchup, homemade mayo (don’t knock it until you try it), aioli, or hot sauce, they’re the perfect side for everything from burgers to steak to fish. They’re easy for restaurants to perfect, but people typically don’t do a lot of frying at home, instead opting for easier oven fries.

Now, I’d never met a fry I didn’t love … until I made some unsuccessful oven fries. They’re trickier to get right than potatoes that are dunked into hot oil. Oven fries can easily end up soggy, or they can burn or dry out in the arid heat of the oven. If you’re not careful, they can also stick to the pan, leaving all their crispy goodness behind. To find the best approach for reliably delicious, crispy oven fries, I searched the internet and found seven interesting and very different methods to try. Which would rise to the top? Read on to find out.

So, What Is the Best Way to Make Crispy Oven Fries?

There were several methods that yielded delicious, crispy oven fries, but one stood above all others and has become my new go-to. (I’ve made them three more times after my initial test). Boiling the cut potatoes first in salted, acidulated water before baking produced the crispiest, most evenly cooked oven fries. Keep reading to learn more about that method, as well as the other techniques I tried.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

A Few Notes on Methodology

The potatoes: For all but one method (which called for Yukon Golds), I used russet potatoes, using 1 1/2 pounds for each test. That amount will fill but not overcrowd a standard 18 x 13–inch half sheet pan. With the exception of one method, which called for wedges, I cut the potatoes using a mandoline, getting uniform sticks around 3/8-inch thick.

 

The tests: I followed the prep and cooking directions from the internet sources but kept the seasonings minimal, using only kosher salt and black pepper. I used whatever type of oil was called for in each recipe. I tasted a few fries (or several of them — I really like fries) on their own first and then with ketchup.  

Ratings: I judged each method on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing perfection. The main criteria for my ratings was the texture of the oven fries. Other lesser considerations went to ease or difficulty of preparation and the amount of time the method took. 

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Oven Fries Method: Microwave-Steamed and Tossed with Cornstarch

  • Total time: 50 minutes
  • Rating: 7  

About this method: For this intriguing method, I followed the instructions from Baker Bettie. I microwaved the cut potatoes for a few minutes in a covered bowl, drained them on paper towels, then tossed them with oil, cornstarch, and seasonings. I then poured them onto a preheated sheet pan and baked them at 425°F for 35 minutes, flipping once halfway through cooking.

Results: I had some issues with the potatoes sticking together after their stint in the microwave. I did my best to separate them, but they were almost tender at that point and broke easily. So the ones that were stuck together didn’t get as crisp, and the ones that remained separate got quite crunchy. If you like a little of both textures — some very crunchy fries, some very tender fries — this is the method for you.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Oven Fries Method: 10-Minute Cold-Water Soak

  • Total time: 45 minutes
  • Rating: 7.5  

About this method: After rinsing the potatoes until the water ran clear (2 rinses for me, agitating the potatoes in the bowl), per the instructions from A Couple Cooks, I soaked the potatoes in cold water for 10 minutes. I then drained them and patted them dry, tossed them with oil and seasonings, and spread them onto a parchment-lined sheet pan to bake at 425°F for 30 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes.

Results: The fries were moderately crisp, with a teensy bit of chewy-crisp skin on the outside. There was some variation in crispiness and browning, with some fries being more crunchy than crisp. Overall, it was a fairly quick method with pretty good results — not the crispiest, but not soggy either.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Oven Fries Method: 10-Minute Hot-Water Soak

  • Total time: 55 minutes
  • Rating: 7.5   

About this method: I used the directions from From Scratch Fast for this test, minus the cheese and herbs called for in the recipe and seen in our photo. After cutting the potatoes, I placed them in a large bowl and covered them with very hot tap water, letting them soak for 10 minutes. I drained them (there was a lot of starch in the bottom of the bowl), rinsed them, and patted them dry, then tossed them with oil and seasonings and baked them on a parchment-lined sheet pan at 450°F for 35 minutes, flipping them after 20 minutes.

Results: I didn’t notice a huge difference between this method, with its 10-minute hot-water soak, and the previous method calling for a cold-water soak for the same amount of time. Overall, the higher oven temperature made these fries slightly crispier. A few in the batch were softer, despite my best efforts to stir them and distribute them, but I liked that textural difference. 

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Oven Fries Method: 30-Minute Cold-Water Soak and Two-Temperature Baking

  • Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Rating: 8   

About this method: This technique from Spend with Pennies has you first soak the cut potatoes in cold water for 30 minutes, then drain and pat them dry before tossing with oil and seasonings. You spread the potatoes onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes, then you crank the oven up to 425°F and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes (without having to turn or flip the potatoes). 

Results: Even though I didn’t flip the potatoes during cooking, they were somehow evenly, thoroughly cooked — crisp on the outside, with a soft-tender texture inside. They weren’t the crunchiest of the bunch, but they were solidly crisp, and I liked that I didn’t have to stir or flip them.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Oven Fries Method: Boiled in Salted Baking Soda Water and Roughed Up

  • Total time: 55 minutes
  • Rating: 9  

About this method: This technique, pulled from From My Kitchen Little, begins by adding baking soda to a pot of heavily salted water and bringing it to a boil. The cut potatoes go in and boil for a few minutes, get drained, and go back into the pot. At that point, they’re drizzled with oil, sprinkled with seasoning, and shaken a bit to rough up the exterior surface. The “furry” fries go onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 450°F for 40 to 45 minutes without stirring.

Results: The roughing-up part of the technique broke a good bit of the potatoes, so I ended up with lots of shorter fries. But the texture was fantastic — very crisp like the coated seasoned fries you get at restaurants (without any cornstarch coating). If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear they were deep-fried. My only knock against these is the breakage. (See our test of the best way to roast potatoes for more on the benefits of roughing up potatoes.)

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Oven Fries Method: Tossed with Microwaved Cornstarch Slurry

  • Total time: about 1 hour
  • Rating: 9.5  

About this method: I’d never heard of anything like this technique from Cook’s Illustrated. It begins with Yukon Gold potatoes (all other methods use russets), which are cut into planks à la steak fries. Then a combination of water and cornstarch goes into the microwave, where it cooks in 20-second intervals until starting to thicken, then removed and stirred until pudding-like. The potatoes are tossed with this thick “goo” and arranged onto a sheet pan coated with cooking spray and spread with oil. The pan is covered with foil, and the potatoes steam-bake at 425°F for 12 minutes. The foil is then removed, and the fries are baked for about 36 more minutes, flipping at the halfway point.

Results: The covered stint of cooking ensured that the potatoes got tender. At the point that I removed the foil, the potatoes looked hopeless— covered in that opaque jellied goo. But the end result was incredible. The cornstarch coating was incredibly crispy, with a texture like the thinnest candy shellac glaze. The Yukon Golds were buttery and rich, with a creamy interior texture that enhanced the effect of the crispy exterior. The results were fantastic, but the overall method was a bit fussy. If you like a little bit of a project (with superb results), this method is for you. 

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Oven Fries Method: Boiled in Salted Acidulated Water First

  • Total time: 1 hour
  • Rating: 10  

About this method: For this method, I used the instructions from Eating Well. I started by preheating a sheet pan as the oven came to 425°F. Then I added a bit of cider vinegar and salt to a large pot of water, brought it to a boil, and added the cut potatoes. After the potatoes cooked for a few minutes, I patted them dry, tossed them with oil and seasonings, and spread them onto the hot sheet pan (which I coated with cooking spray, although the recipe didn’t call for that). The potatoes baked for 40 minutes, getting flipped after 20 minutes.

Results: Each and every fry was wonderfully crispy. The exterior crunch was irresistible, while the fries’ fluffy, baked potato–like interior was deliriously good, too. The potatoes cooked evenly, with no scored bits, no softer or lesser-cooked fries. I gave one fry to my dog, and it sounded like he was eating a Cheeto (this is a sound with which I’m admittedly very familiar). The recipe ensures that the extra step of boiling the potatoes is worth the little bit of effort, stating that “[t]he salt helps extract excess moisture from the potatoes while the vinegar strengthens the exterior and helps the fries hold their shape.” I’m a believer.

I also feel like placing the potatoes on a preheated, unlined pan enhances the crispy effect — direct contact with hot metal helps with crisping. And none of the potatoes stuck. This method took only slightly longer than some of the other methods, and the results are superior.