Utah: Boss of the Pink Sauce

Utah: Boss of the Pink Sauce

Previously, I wrote about burgers, fries, and shakes, and how that particular meal is as Utahn as using the Wasatch Mountain range to stand in for an actual sense of direction. We love our burger and ice cream combos deeply. They’re available all over the place, in every corner of the state, and they’re delicious--but the most essentially Utah part of the meal comes in a little cup with the fries. It’s all about the fry sauce, a major edge our state has on the burger-fries-milkshake market. When Utahns talk about burgers, we’re also talking about fries, and when we talk about fries, we’re talking about what we dip them in. Shakes are a bonus, an add-on nod to the indomitable Utah sweet tooth, but less crucial to the perfect experience than the gloopy pink condiment for which we are famous.

Fry sauce is most often mayonnaise and ketchup, mixed--in the tiny rural Utah town where I grew up, we actually called fry sauce “mix.” Most restaurants add seasoning, many substitute barbecue sauce for some or all of the ketchup, and you might see pickle relish or hot sauce swirled in there. The exact makeup of each burger joint's fry sauce is usually locked up: Tonyburgers will tell you that their house BBQ sauce is what makes the hickory sauce they offer with fries special, and Hires Big H will sell you a bottle of its "famous" sauce featuring "secret ingredients," but no one is handing out their recipe.

For science and for love, I attempted a blind taste test of a few classic, popular, local purveyors of fry sauce. I picked up fries and sauce from Hires Big H, Tonyburgers, Crown Burgers, and Arctic Circle. It was my first time at Arctic Circle, but it calls itself the creator of fry sauce, so including it felt necessary. It's also where my favorite fries of the four came from—thick but crisp, brilliant yellow, and perfectly salty.

French fries, from top: Crown Burgers, Hires Big H, Tonyburgers, Arctic Circle

I tried all the fries and sauce first, to get a feel for the differences. Then I put on a blindfold—it felt bizarre to have the top half of my face covered but not the bottom, for once—and ate a fry from each restaurant, dipped in its corresponding sauce.

Too easy.

Two of the sauces, those from Tonyburgers and Crown Burgers, are very similar and would have presented an identification challenge, but the Tonyburgers fries stood out too much. They're considerably thinner than the other three, so it was easy to tell which dipped fry was a Tony and which was a Crown. The other two sauces are pretty distinct. The Hires sauce is the mildest; to me, it has a milky essence. Arctic Circle's is the tangiest; I'd swear it's mixed with Miracle Whip, not mayo.

I retried the blind test using a single Hires fry broken into four pieces, for consistency, and, sure enough, I easily identified the Arctic Circle and Hires sauces but confused the other two. Crown and Tony are indistinguishable to me, but they're also my favorites, slightly spicy and zippy, a french fry’s flavorful soulmate.

You don’t have to spend an afternoon swimming blind through fry sauce (although I totally recommend it) to recognize that it’s the dream partner to fries. What you could spend an extremely enjoyable stretch of time doing is sampling fries and sauce from delicious spots close to you. Even if the specific mayo-and-ketchup mix isn’t for you, our local fry sauce rage shows that you can and should be dunking in so much more than plain ketchup.

Try the traditional pink stuff from any of the places in my taste test above, or go adventuring with the following suggestions.

Lucky 13 Bar and Grill, SLC and West Jordan: The thick, fresh-cut fries at Lucky are fantastic and their fry sauce is both creamy and piquant, especially when you stir in some zesty house hot sauce. The bar and grill in Salt Lake’s Ballpark neighborhood are adults-only, but the new Iron Door restaurant in WJ is family-friendly.

Moochies Meatballs and More, SLC and Midvale: A good place for a solid cheesesteak, meatball sub, or chicken parm, but a killer place for fries and sauce. The creamy greenhouse jalapeno sauce is your move.

Laziz Kitchen, SLC: This Lebanese restaurant is one of Salt Lake’s best, in part because of the herby, za’atar-spiced, extra crunchy fries served with garlicky toum sauce for dipping. Eat them on the side of a kafta or falafel burger.

Bruges Waffles and Frites, Downtown and Sugar House: Get a big basket of delicious Belgian frites and try a few of their ten-plus dipping sauces. My favorites are lemon pepper dill, zango (lime, mango, and chili), and Samurai (spicy basil, mustard, cayenne, and garlic).

Grid City Beer Works, SLC: This brewery has an incredible menu with standard meaty pub fare, elevated, plus lots of plant-based offerings--their Reuben-style Vegan Rachel is one of the best sandwiches around. Grid City also has great fries with a curry aioli sauce you’ll love.

For everything saucy and more, follow me on Instagram at @fig.eats.