I tried hash browns from 6 fast-food chains, and the best seemed to defy science

·7 min read
chick fil a hash browns next to mcdonalds hash browns
I tried hash browns from six different chains. Savanna Swain-Wilson
  • I tried hash browns at 6 popular fast-food chains including Burger King, Taco Bell, and McDonald's.

  • Burger King's were way too greasy, and Taco Bell's were very soft and bland.

  • Chick-fil-A almost got it right, but McDonald's breakfast potatoes were crispy and so flavorful.

Burger King's hash browns were a greasy disappointment.

Burger King hash browns in original bag on a wooden table
Burger Kings serves bite-sized hash browns. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

I rarely think it's a good sign when a piece of food is so oily it seeps through the bag and onto my fingers.

I understand this is fried fast food, so my expectations weren't exactly high, but Burger King's hash browns tasted oily, soggy, and sad. The real nail in the coffin was the artificial aftertaste that overpowered every bite.

Honestly, they hardly tasted like potatoes at all, which was a massive red flag since hash browns are one of the simplest foods.

Verdict: I can't see myself ever wanting to eat something like this early in the morning.

On the plus side, they were decently crunchy. But between the excessively salty taste and the fact that they were drowning in oil, I couldn't eat more than a couple of pieces.

Taco Bell's hash brown made me wish I ordered a different potato option from the menu.

taco bell hash brown on wrapper
Taco Bell's hash brown was a little soggy. Savanna Swain-Wilson

I'm not exactly opposed to potatoes being on the softer side, but this hash-brown patty was so flimsy and oily it was practically falling apart in my hand.

Still, I was willing to give it a chance because I am a huge fan of Taco Bell's other potato items. The spicy potato taco is one of my favorite things on the menu.

Unfortunately, after tasting this, it's clear hash browns aren't the chain's specialty.

For whatever reason, I couldn't help but devour the entire thing. Even with all the grease, it managed to avoid the artificial taste of Burger King's hash browns.

But that's a pretty low bar to use for judgment though because this potato patty was far from a standout. In fact, compared to the others, I thought it was in desperate need of more seasoning.

Ketchup certainly helped to enhance the very subtle salty notes that were there. But on its own, it was dull, oily, and underwhelming.

Verdict: I can't see myself going out of my way to order this again.

If I'm getting Taco Bell for breakfast, I'm probably getting an item that already has potatoes in it anyway. The hash brown seems like a pretty pointless menu item unless I'm seriously craving extra carbs.

The hash browns at Carl's Jr. were just OK.

carl's jr. hash brown in package
The hash browns didn't exactly stand out. Savanna Swain-Wilson

The tiny hash-brown medallions seemed like an outlier on Carl's Jr.'s menu, which is probably best known for its jumbo-sized burgers and equally large breakfast sandwiches.

Maybe that's intentional. After all, when you're eating a heavy bacon-and-egg sandwich, you probably want a less intense side.

But I can't help but wonder if I'm being too generous. These hash browns were fine to munch on between bites of other food, but they weren't anything to write home about.

Verdict: It seemed as if they were designed specifically for anyone who treats hash browns as a vehicle for ketchup, and I'll give Carl's Jr. that — these potato pucks were just the right size for dipping.

Otherwise, they're a forgettable, under-seasoned entry on this ranking. They were all crunch from top to bottom without the soft potato center that makes hash browns so yummy.

Jack in the Box's hash brown got the flavor right, but it was way thinner than I expected.

hand holding jack in the box hash brown in package
I didn't get a ton of bang for my buck at Jack in the Box. Savanna Swain-Wilson

The Jack in the Box hash-brown patty represented a shift into higher-quality breakfast potatoes.

It was served super warm and had a solid potato flavor with a noticeable butteriness, but thankfully without any weird oily taste. I also liked that it came in a fun square shape since it made it different from any other hash brown I tried.

For a moment, I thought this could potentially give my favorite a run for its money. But the texture ruined everything for me.

I practically had to squint to see the little potato bits in between the fried exterior. Eating it felt like biting an undercooked potato chip.

There was a slight crunch on the outer crust, but the overall texture seemed slightly more chewy than crispy. I got the impression it'd been sitting out for a while before it was served.

Verdict: Overall, it was passable. Far from amazing, but good enough to order as a side or stuff inside your breakfast sandwich.

But it also lost points in my book because it was slightly smaller than other hash browns I tried, and for $1.99, I expected a bit more from Jack in the Box.

The hash browns at Chick-fil-A were made for dipping.

chick fil a hash brown in box
The hash browns had the right texture and flavor. Savanna Swain-Wilson

Chick-fil-A may be best known for its chicken, but it has some decent hash browns. Having sampled these previously for a different taste test, I can confirm they're still as tasty as the last time.

Like Burger King and Carl's Jr., Chick-fil-A has miniature hash-brown discs rather than single, palm-sized patties. But unlike the two other chains, Chick-fil-A's hash browns actually offered the right texture and flavor.

They were small but sturdy, with each piece boasting a perfectly crispy, ever-so-slightly browned crust that gave way to a yummy, soft, and moist potato center. All this made them ideal for dipping into ketchup.

As far as flavor goes, I thought these hash browns hit all the right marks, even if they weren't out-of-this-world amazing. Since they're fried in peanut oil, they had a much more mellow taste overall, but I wouldn't call them bland — they just tasted the most like real potatoes.

Even though there was a noticeable presence of oil on the box, I didn't find them greasy at all.

Verdict: The crisp texture and dippable quality made these hash browns difficult to put down once I started eating them.

On top of that, at $1.39 an order, they seemed like the best deal for the price.

My only complaint is related to the box they came in. I learned the hard way that if you leave these hash browns trapped under the lid for too long, they become soft potato nuggets.

McDonald's hash brown had the best texture and flavor.

Mcdonald's hash brown in original wrapping
No other chain could beat the classic when it comes to hash browns. Savanna Swain-Wilson for Insider

Anyone who's eaten a McDonald's hash brown knows the chain is pretty much the gold standard for fast-food breakfast potatoes.

It's easy to chalk up the nearly universal love for these to nostalgia, but McDonald's absolutely knows what it's doing.

My hash brown was served sizzling hot, with visible oil droplets sliding down the creases of the potato crust. Its rich honey-golden hue signaled fried-food deliciousness.

It also had a bold, savory flavor — likely due to the beef flavoring McDonald's adds to its fry oil — so I was willing to overlook the blatant greasiness.

The best part is the excess oil didn't seem to have any negative effect on the texture. Maybe that comes from decades of perfecting the recipe, but nothing about this patty was soggy, which seems to defy science.

I found the teeny-tiny ridges between each fleck of potato gave McDonald's hash brown a super satisfying bite. The salty, buttery potato flavor also pairs beautifully with pretty much any item on the breakfast menu.

Verdict: Having consumed many of these potato patties throughout my life, I can confirm they live up to their nostalgic reputation.

If you like the comfort of ordering food and knowing exactly what you're going to get, go for this classic.

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