What Are Boardwalk-Style Fries, And Who Invented Them?

Places like Ocean City, Maryland, and Wildwood along New Jersey's Jersey Shore are known for their boardwalks, those long, wooden paths that run along the beach, flanked by everything from souvenir shops to restaurants and hotels. While some shops are tacky, others historical, and some just downright too wild to see anywhere else, you'll almost always find yourself lost in a world of arcade games, amusement park rides, tourists, sunbathers, seagulls, and tram cars.

Of course, you shouldn't walk the boardwalk on an empty stomach. Needless to say, you might find yourself eating everything from funnel cake, to pizza, to ice-cold lemonade as you walk up and down the sand-covered walkway. You may notice that there are plenty of candy stores selling fudge and saltwater taffy — treats that have gained a reputation as being a "summer town candy" thanks to their strong roots within the Atlantic City boardwalk. In fact, should you crave something to eat the next time you're visiting New Jersey's boardwalk this summer, you'll have an option of nearly 52 pizza restaurants to keep you nourished while you beat the heat.

Beyond all the soft pretzels, pizza, and saltwater taffy, though, you may have heard about something called "boardwalk-style french fries." But just what is meant by boardwalk style? Is it because the salt on the fries comes right from the ocean, or because they're served a certain way? What's the story behind these special fries?

Thrasher's Fries claims to be the inventor of boardwalk fries

Go to Ocean City, Maryland, and head right for the boardwalk. Walking along the pier long enough and you'll notice people carrying large paper cups full of french fries, the name "Thrasher's" written on the side of the cups. Ask around, or perhaps look for any long lines, and you'll come across Thrasher's French Fries, serving up bucket after bucket of hot, salty, fresh-cut fries.

According to Thrasher's lore, the business came about in 1929, when Georgian native J.T. Thrasher opened up a food stand in Ocean City along the boardwalk. His goal, apparently, was to create the best-tasting french fry anyone had ever tasted. Hiring female students from a Christian-affiliated school in his home state of Georgia to work the stand, Thrasher ran the business until selling it to an entrepreneur named Franklin Hastings. It was Hastings who moved the business to its current location at the boardwalk, where it was then purchased by Charles Jenkins in 1974. In short, Thrasher's has been part of the Ocean City scene for several decades.

It is because of this long history on the boardwalk and Thrasher's focus on making a good fry that the brand has been cited as inventing the boardwalk-style fry. Many tourists and locals alike do claim that Thrasher's fries are some of the best they've ever had. To that point, The Washington Post wrote in 1996 that Thrasher's fries are "the only fries worth their salt."

What makes a boardwalk-style fry?

Now that you've heard the story about Thrasher's and its part in creating the boardwalk-style fry, the only questions left are: what exactly constitutes a boardwalk-style french fry, and can you make them at home?

Unlike some fries that are sliced from potatoes and tossed straight into the fryer, boardwalk-style fries are first "blanched" in a mixture of cold water and vinegar before taking a double dip in the fryer. This means that the potato slices soak in this solution before being dried and sent to the fryer. Blanching the potatoes in cold water helps to ensure that they won't absorb oil when fried, thus staying crispier and more deeply browned while avoiding sogginess. 

Interestingly, Thrasher's isn't the only company to sell boardwalk-style fries. Five Guys is also said to treat their fries in the same way Thrasher's does. According to Food Republic, this method helps to ensure that excess starch is removed from the potato before frying, allowing the inside to cook without burning the exterior.

While some recipes and die-hard Thrasher's fans say that vinegar is the only appropriate condiment to serve with boardwalk-style fries, you're free to experiment with any kind of seasonings or condiments you want — just long as you blanch your spuds first and fry them twice.