Utah Field Guide: Fry Sauce

When we were 10 years old, Robbie Willis and I used to sneak over to Dairy Queen and split a large order of fries. We were odd kids, a fact evidenced by our choice to forego Dairy Queen’s more sensational fare, like chocolate-dipped ice cream, banana splits and sundaes. In the land of sweet, my childhood chum and I sought savory. 

These were good fries, too, from the pre-out-of-the-freezer era, freshly cut and perfectly salty. But it wasn’t just the fries that drove us to eschew the sweet-toothed tendencies of our peers. It was the sauce—the fry sauce—that completed the circle. This paper cup of smooth-whipped mayonnaise and ketchup was the perfect accent to each lace of deep-fried potato. Like chocolate and peanut butter, beer and pizza, cigarettes and coffee, fry sauce and fries are a truly powerful sensory yin and yang. And, if you grew up within a day’s drive of Temple Square, it’s always been on the menu.

Fry sauce’s invention is claimed by Don Carlos, the founder of Utah-based hamburger chain Arctic Circle. In 1950, Carlos’ signature burger was dressed with mayonnaise and ketchup. To save labor, he combined the two, calling the combo “pink sauce.” From this primeval goop, fry sauce emerged. The moment was as accidental and brilliant as Charles Goodyear’s discovery of vulcanized rubber. Carlos nonchalantly dipped a fry into his time-saving concoction, and the rest is history. 

Yes, it’s just ketchup and mayonnaise. But there are rules. Within the boundaries of this seemingly simple (and, yes, for some, disgusting) combination there are subtle variances. The first and simplest is your ketchup-to-mayonnaise ratio. For example, Crown Burger, an excellent purveyor of fry sauce, lands on the mayonnaise side of the argument, while Hires Big H, another quality sauce maker, leans toward the red side. Many fry sauce experts add other layers like vinegar and spices to the base, and some include pickle relish, both dill and sweet, in the mix. This latter addition walks the very fine line between fry sauce and Thousand Island dressing, however, and is discouraged. Miracle Whip? Miracle Whip is not an option. Oh yes, there are rules. 

Arctic Circle, which still carries its original recipe, became the host to spread the viral sauce around the Intermountain West. Even the mighty McDonald’s has served fry sauce on a limited regional basis, and 58 years after Carlos dipped a fry in his pink sauce, the fry sauce pin (along with its green Jell-O counterpart) would become the most coveted item of Olympic memorabilia for collectors during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. 

The Dutch put mayonnaise on their fries (we would never do that, gross!) and the French have their aioli (French french fry sauce?). Here in Utah, we like our fries dressed with a simple mixture of ketchup and mayo, a combo so powerful two 10-year-olds once chose it over ice cream. Believe it.

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Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pughhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Editor. He covers culture, history, the outdoors and whatever needs a look. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the co-author of the history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake."

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