we're gonna need more than meat and potatoes
January 13, 2012 3:40 PM   Subscribe

What is the origin of pairing hamburgers with French fries/chips? I'm finding stories about the origin of burgers and the origin of fries but nothing about why they're usually paired together.

Myths/legends about "the first place that served burgers and fries" are okay, since this seems like the kind of thing that will have a few conflicting origin stories.
posted by NoraReed to Food & Drink (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to assume that the idea of french fries as a side to a main dish originates from 'fish and chips', but it seems that french fries only really caught on within the burger/diner world in the 50s, after frozen french fries was invented in the 40s.

(I'm assuming that this is probably because fried fish and chips require the same kind of fryer infrastructure, so it makes sense that they're paired together, but making fresh french fries from scratch was probably time-consuming for a fast food restaurant)

You can tell because White Castle, one of the first fast food chains in America and the popularizer of hamburgers, doesn't have fries anywhere on this menu from 1940. A series of other diner menus in the 50s do have fries on their menu, though.

So I guess -- somewhere around the late 40s-early 50s.
posted by suedehead at 4:21 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Food Timeline has this line under the origin of fries:
"Although franchised fast food establishments had been around since the 1920s, french fries did not become an important part of their menu until World War II, when rationed meat became scarce and fast food hamburger stands sought alternatives." And that's where it ends.
It cites the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith editor [Oxford University Press:New York] 2004, Volume 2 (p. 511-2), which is in Google Books. However, I looked it up and it doesn't have any more specifics.
posted by aabbbiee at 4:23 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is only my own speculation, but I'd go along with the above and say that it probably makes sense that it has something to do with WWII rations--the rareness/pricing of meat during the war added to the cheapness and abundance of potatoes probably had something to do with adding french fries to supplement the possible lack of meat on hamburger joint menus.
posted by Emms at 4:53 PM on January 13, 2012

I have a feeling the answer can be found in this book, Hamburgers & Fries: An American Story. It's by John T. Edge, who's one of the best food historians around, and fun to read too. The book is still in print and copyright, so I couldn't read anything in the free previews about fries, but it might be worth ordering at your library.
posted by Miko at 5:04 PM on January 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

According to the Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food, while the potato chip and frying made a happy marriage as early as the 1870s, the real boost for them was the invention of the automobile, because they were easily portable. But preparing them involved lots of cutting and precise cooking, so neither the potatoes nor the lard (or other base) would burn, not to mention the safety of the cooking staff*, until WWII rationing -- as speculated above. They were cheap and widely available, but the difficulties of preparation remained. With the 1950s came cheap, precise friers and the frozen factory fry. McDonald's may have been the first to really create the hamburger and fries menu as a fast food staple, though, something that attracted the eye of Ray Kroc, who then spent the remainder of his lifetime improving the process by iteration. The biggest step was partnering with Simplot to use frozen fries and deep frying (because Simplot found it couldn't sell to consumers directly, who would screw up the cooking). Nowadays it's practically push-button, although not entirely as anyone who's had to listen to a fryer alarm in a Mickey D's knows.

* White Castle was one chain that ended their experiment due to the danger, likely explaining that menu.
posted by dhartung at 6:51 PM on January 13, 2012

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