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How do Belgian fries differ from the French fries we are accustomed to eat in the US and Canada in such places as McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and so on? Is it the variety of potato, the preparation involved or something totally different? What oil do they use in Belgium?

I remember having them while I was visiting family in Belgium. The fries were somewhat crispy and thicker than over here.

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All of the sources I read say the same thing... what makes them different is that they're fried twice.

From Saveur:

Frites are the supercharged cousin to paltry American-style fries: made from soft Belgian potatoes called bintjes, they're thick-cut and—this is key—double-fried (in the olden days, in molten horse or ox fat, though modern options range from lard to vegetable oil). Served in a paper cone with mayo and ketchup, properly executed frites—the ones that have been fried, dried, then carefully fried again—are an addictive riot of textures: soft and fluffy on the inside, surrounded by a crunchy, greaseless crust, dipped in luxuriously flavorful sauces.

From Epicurious:

There is no fancy skill involved in making these crispy fries, but there is a trick. The potatoes are fried twice. The first time cooks them through and makes them tender. The second time, which can be done hours later just before serving, turns them golden brown and deliciously crisp.

From a site dedicated to the Belgian Fry:

So high time time for a (simple) definition of what makes fries Belgian Fries:

  1. freshly cut, irregularly shaped
  2. cooked (fried) twice
  3. fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside
  4. a distinct potato taste
  5. at least 10 mm thick
  6. preferably served in a paper cone

Some sites mention the importance of certain fats or types of potato but the one similarity for all sites is the fact that they're double fried.

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    Indeed. Thicker (crunchy on the outside, mushy on the inside), and double fried. First time at somewhere between 150 - 170C (I've heard some people go as low as 140C), but at a lower temperature than the 2nd time in any case, which would be around 180 - 190C. The potato mentioned by Saveur is actually a Dutch potato – Willem van Rumpt Feb 8 '16 at 6:06
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    There are places where restaurant-grade fries are NOT double fried? – rackandboneman Feb 8 '16 at 10:39
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    An exceptionally rare downvote from me, because this answer is definitively wrong. As a previous comment notes, most decent restaurant fries are double-fried. Even McDonalds are double-fried (as Kenji's research has shown). Perhaps there's something more specific about the double-frying technique employed in Belgian fries (I don't actually know), but it's certainly not a distinguishing characteristic. – Athanasius Jan 9 at 0:51
  • @Catija: Respectfully, I find your comment surprising and incredibly confusing. First, I don't actually know what the correct answer is, and I haven't done the research to find one, so I can't write a correct one. Second, I did in fact offer a "trouble spot," i.e., your answer has provided good sources, but it claims a single primary distinguishing characteristic that is actually shared by a huge number of common fries that people would not call "Belgian style." The sources are good, but the interpretation is wrong. That's my suggestion for improvement. – Athanasius Jan 9 at 1:06
  • @Catija: And, if you look at my previous comment, I did offer a possible suggestion for improvement -- i.e., maybe there's something more specific about the double-frying technique. But that technique itself is an incredibly common one and not unique enough to explain the difference from the "average fry" the question asks for. – Athanasius Jan 9 at 1:07
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Yes, the oil can be a major difference. Many Belgian fries were cooked in horse fat, or a combination of horse & beef fat.

Although most American fries are cooked in vegetable oils, McDonalds previously used part beef fat.

I would argue that using animal fats for cooking is one of the major differences between Belgian and American fries ... but there's also a secret step between the first and second fry -- you shake up the potatoes to sort of 'bruise' them, which will rough up the surface and create a crispier texture in the second fry.

You can't really get away with this 'bruising' step with slender french fries -- even the American 'steak fries' tend to be too long for this ... you just end up with little bits of potato, rather than 'fries'.

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    Animal fats are rarely used even in Belgium anymore @Joe. – GdD Feb 9 '16 at 14:12
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    Although it is not used that often anymore (because people believe it is less healthy than vegetable oil), it is still considered to be giving the best flavor to the fries, and for that (and its "authenticity") still used in quite a lot of places. – Mien Mar 4 '16 at 10:40
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Most fast food fries ARE cooked twice, they are lightly fried at the factory, drained and flash frozen. Then cooked agsin at the restaurant. As far as i can tell, a high percentage, but not all fast food fries are Belgian style. AND in the factory they may use lard for extra flavor, but in the restaurant they generally use vegetable oil.

Some restaurants cook the fries from fresh potatoes. So obviously there are exceptions.

As for thickness, I think that here are thick and thin fries everywhere, that depends on who is cooking them.

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  • This does not add much to the answers already given. Please do not repeat answers. Leave a comment if it is not really an answer. – user34961 Aug 16 '17 at 6:27
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    The factory fry process does not even cook the fries. thats why the majority of countries around belgium that serve thick cut fries even though they are factory bought are still soft and soggy. The belgian process cooks the fries in the first fry then crisps them in the second – callyouout Jan 8 at 19:02

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