McDonald’s French Fries: The Meaty Secret Exposed (Plus Some Options For Vegetarians And Vegans)

McDonald’s French fries are so good that just a few are enough to convince you that you’re eating the best fries in fast food. A year ago, I would’ve told you that this was just hype — McDonald’s taking the top spot because no one dares to doubt them. But we pitted McDonald’s fries against five other fast food favorites in a blind taste test and the winner was undeniable. There is just something special about McDonald’s fries that sets them apart.

Originally, I was convinced they added just a hint of sugar to make them so addictive (I still sort of believe this) and I know in the past McDonald’s fried their French fries in beef tallow, but that’s something they gave up in the ‘90s (for a recipe to try tallow fries yourself, see here). I made reference to my “sugar theory” in our original blind taste test and received a lot of emails from McDonald’s fans who were happy to tell me that the fries are still fried in some sort of beefy flavoring — so shout out to the readers for putting this on my radar: McDonald’s French fries are fried in vegetable oil and something called “Natural Beef Flavor.”

“Natural Beef Flavor” is a lot like the “natural flavors” you find on other food labels. It is an umbrella term designed to shorten ingredient lists and can generally contain a bunch of different ingredients or chemical additives that might otherwise confuse consumers. The rule is, as long as it’s recognized as safe by the FDA and doesn’t contain a common allergen, it’s all good. When Eater spoke to a food chemist Gary Reineccius, they learned that: “Natural beef flavoring isn’t necessarily from beef at all… Food scientists identified the amino acids found in beef, added some very common sugars — starch hydrolysate — put it in a pot, added some citric acid to drop the PH, controlled moisture content and heated it to the same temperature as meat.” And that gives you “natural beef flavor.”

Sounds… natural. Right?

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan who loves McDonald’s fries and now you’re jumping for joy, sit down, because according to McDonald’s ingredient list, the brand’s “natural beef flavor” contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk. In their own fine print, the brand states “We do not promote any of our US menu items as vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free.” So while we can’t say for sure if McDonald’s “natural beef flavor” actually has meat in it, the fact that they aren’t willing to say otherwise makes it pretty safe to assume that the food isn’t handled in a fully vegetarian or vegan manner.

This is unfortunate news if you’re a strict vegan or vegetarian. Luckily, there are a few fast food options that are safe for you to eat and just as delicious. Here are some of our favorites!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Food Rankings From The Last Month

Five Guys — Salted and Cajun Fries

French Fry Vegan

Vegan & Vegetarian?


Five Guys’ has an incredibly simple menu that features hot dogs, bacon, burgers, and French fries. That’s it, as such the fries aren’t sharing oil with any other food products and are fried in 100% peanut oil.

Although McDonald’s won our fast food French fries blind taste test, Five Guys were absent from that tasting, and had they been included I’m sure they would’ve taken the number one spot. These fries are perfect — fresh and cut on sight, perfectly crispy on the outside, and soft and buttery on the inside. Five Guys twice fry these things and it makes all the difference.

They might not be as eerily addictive as McDonald’s fries, but from a flavor, texture, and quantity standpoint, you get a whole lot more here. Unfortunately, they’re triple the price.

Find your nearest Five Guys here.

In-N-Out — French Fries

French Fry Vegan
In N Out

Vegan & Vegetarian?


In-N-Out’s French fries are some of the most polarizing in all of fast food and call me crazy but, I don’t get it. Do you mean to tell me you have a problem with a potato that is peeled and cut daily and fried in 100% sunflower oil? Why? Who hurt you?

Yes, sometimes In-N-Out fries can be over or undercooked, especially when the restaurant is busy. This gives them a cardboard-like or mushy texture, that’s not ideal, but more often than not these are pretty solid French fries that just need a bit of black pepper and salt to turn them from bland to delicious.

Find your nearest In-N-Out here.

Chick-fil-A — Waffle Fries

French Fry Vegan
Chick fil A

Vegan & Vegetarian?


Chick-fil-A is one of the rare chicken places that use a completely separate fryer for its fries and hash browns. The brand has an entire website page dedicated to identifying which of its menu items are vegetarian and vegan. Chick-fil-A is known for frying its chicken in peanut oil, the fries are actually fried in canola.

The results are still pretty damn good. They’re always hot and fresh, and have a buttery potato-forward flavor with a crunchy exterior and a soft fluffy inner.

Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.

Taco Bell — Nacho Fries

French Fry Vegan
Taco Bell

Vegan & Vegetarian?

Yes! (For now)

Taco Bell’s nacho fries are fried in soybean oil and as of now, there aren’t any meat options in the menu that are sharing oil with the fries. This isn’t always the case though, Taco Bell has had wings on the menu in the past, and we’re willing to bet they’re going to have them again.

On those occasions, we think it’s pretty safe to assume Taco Bell isn’t adding a whole new fryer to fry the chicken in. So you’ll have to pay attention to the current promotions but if you’re willing to do that extra level of work, what you’ll get in return are some pretty good French fries!

The fries are seasoned with a mix of paprika, salt, garlic, onion powder, and cayenne pepper, which offers a zesty, slightly spicy, and sweet flavor that are as addictive as McDonald’s “natural beef flavor,” without all the mystery.

Find your nearest Taco Bell here.

Burger King — French Fries

French Fry Vegan
Burger King

Vegan & Vegetarian?

Yes, but…

Is it the “natural beef flavor” that has made McDonald’s so dominant over Burger King? The brand was once McDonald’s greatest competitor and now the King consistently ranks among the worst restaurants in the fast food universe. I blame the burgers. But we’re not here to talk about how the Whopper falls short, we’re here for the fries, and BK’s are… pretty good.

They can be over-salted, but when they’re fresh they’re delicious. Slightly thicker than McDonald’s, Burger King’s fries are crispy and buttery, with a decadent greasy flavor that makes them pretty addicting if you like greasy food. The brand advertises these fries as ‘vegan’ and has separate fryers for the french fries, here is the but…

The fryers share an oil filtration system which “creates a risk of cross-contact when the oil passes through the filter.” So these fries are vegan and vegetarian but there may be the slightest amount of cross-contamination there. That won’t be a big deal for everyone, but it will for some so we felt like we had to point it out.

Find your nearest Burger King here.