What oil does PDQ fry in?

PDQ is a popular quick service restaurant chain known for its fresh, never-frozen chicken tenders and signature sauces. One of the most frequently asked questions about PDQ is what type of oil they use to fry their famous chicken tenders and french fries. Understanding what oil a restaurant uses is important for customers who may have food allergies or preferences. This article will explore the frying oils used at PDQ and how they impact food quality and nutrition.

What Type of Oil Does PDQ Use?

According to PDQ’s website, their restaurants use a blend of canola oil and soybean oil for frying. This oil blend was chosen for its ability to withstand high frying temperatures and its neutral flavor that doesn’t overpower the taste of PDQ’s fresh chicken and fries.

Many fast food and quick service chains opt for partially hydrogenated vegetable oils for frying because they hold up well to repeated high-heat cooking. However, partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats, which have been linked to negative health effects. In response to growing health concerns, PDQ chose to avoid partially hydrogenated oils and instead blends oils that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are considered healthier types of fats.

Benefits of Canola Oil

Canola oil is derived from rapeseed, but the term “canola” specifically refers to rapeseed oils that have been bred to be lower in erucic acid and glucosinolates, two compounds considered unhealthy in large doses. By definition, canola oil must contain less than 2% erucic acid and less than 30 micromoles of glucosinolates per gram.

Compared to other vegetable oils, canola oil is lower in saturated fat and higher in monounsaturated fat. Research shows that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

In addition to its favorable fatty acid profile, canola oil contains high amounts of vitamin E, an antioxidant. Antioxidants help protect cells from damage and inflammation.

Some key benefits of canola oil:

  • Low in saturated fat (7% of total fat content)
  • High in monounsaturated fat (63% of total fat)
  • Contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
  • High smoke point – ideal for high-heat cooking methods like frying
  • Neutral flavor that doesn’t alter food taste

Using canola oil for frying enables restaurants like PDQ to avoid oils with trans fats and take advantage of canola’s nutritional qualities.

Benefits of Soybean Oil

Soybean oil comes from soybean seeds and is another common component of oil blends for frying. It has some similarities to canola oil:

  • Low in saturated fat (15-16% of total fat)
  • High in polyunsaturated fat (61-62% of total fat)
  • Contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
  • High smoke point around 450°F

Research indicates soybean oil may help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol when used in place of saturated fats. In addition, soybean oil is a good source of vitamin E, providing around 20% of the daily recommended intake per tablespoon.

The combination of canola oil and soybean oil allows PDQ to use oils that have oxidative stability for high-heat cooking methods and health benefits from their unsaturated fat content.

How Frying Oil Impacts Food Quality

Choosing the right oil for frying directly affects the taste, texture, and overall eating experience of fried foods. When cooking at high temperatures, oil breaks down and reacts with oxygen in a process called oxidation. As oil degrades, it can create off-flavors and an unpleasant smell.

Oils with high smoke points and stability at frying temperatures, like canola and soybean oil, hold up better to repeated heating and frying. The result is chicken, fries, and other menu items that taste fresh with each order.

Beyond flavor, the type of frying oil impacts food texture. The moisture content of fried foods is partially dictated by the oil they absorb. Oil viscosity determines how much the food will soak up oil while frying. Thinner, lighter oils like canola and soybean penetrate food less than thicker oils during frying time. This creates a crispy exterior without an overly greasy internal texture.

Frying Oil and Nutrition

While frying adds extra fat and calories compared to other cooking methods, the specific oil used for frying makes a nutritional difference.

According to the USDA, 100g of PDQ chicken tenders fried in canola/soybean oil contains:

  • Calories: 228
  • Protein: 17.1g
  • Carbs: 8.3g
  • Total Fat: 13.3g
  • Saturated Fat: 2.4g

The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to no more than 13g per day. PDQ’s tenders fried in canola/soybean oil provide under 3g of saturated fat per serving.

In comparison, chicken fried in partially hydrogenated oils would contain trans fats shown to raise LDL cholesterol. Canola and soybean oil don’t contain any trans fats.

While no fried food is truly healthy, PDQ’s frying methods result in lower amounts of detrimental fats compared to alternatives.

How Often is the Oil Changed?

To maintain high quality standards, PDQ filters and replaces their frying oil daily. As oil is used throughout a day and exposed to heat, air, and food particles, it starts to break down. Used oil becomes darker, thicker, and begins to accumulate build up.

By changing their frying oil every 24 hours, PDQ ensures food is cooked in fresh, clean oil. This prevents undesirable changes in flavor, texture, and nutrition that would occur from reusing degraded oil. More frequent oil replacement is one factor that sets PDQ apart from some other quick service chains.

Is PDQ Frying Oil Sustainable?

In recent years, sustainability has become a higher priority for many restaurants looking to reduce environmental impacts. Food services use an enormous amount of cooking oil annually, driving demand for crop production.

Canola and soybean oils are some of the most widely available and affordable vegetable oil options. But some health and environmental advocates have raised questions about the sustainability of these crops.

Common concerns around canola and soybean farming include:

  • Intensive irrigation needs
  • Dependence on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides
  • Monocropping that depletes soil health
  • Genetic engineering of some seeds
  • Habitat destruction to expand farmland

These are all valid considerations when evaluating the sustainability of vegetable oils. More restaurants may look towards alternative oils from plants like sunflower, peanut, and avocado.

However, canola and soybean oils do have some advantages over tropical oils like palm and coconut oil. Compared to the tropical crops, canola and soybeans are typically farmed in areas with more plentiful water supplies.

Ultimately, no crop is perfect. But customers concerned about sustainability can voice their preferences and encourage restaurants to consider shifts that reduce environmental impacts.

Is PDQ Nut Allergen Friendly?

For customers with food allergies, especially nut allergies, avoiding allergen cross-contact is critical. PDQ states on its website that all chicken, fries, and other menu items are prepared separately from peanut oil.

Peanut allergies affect around 1% of Americans. Reactions can range from mild symptoms like hives to potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis. Restaurants that use peanut oil for frying risk cross-contact with all menu items.

By frying exclusively in canola and soybean oil, PDQ avoids this risk. Their food preparation and cooking areas do not have any cross-contact with peanut oil or other nuts.

PDQ also indicates that guest orders specifying allergy needs are prepared separately to prevent any accidental contact. Employees change gloves, sanitize work areas, and take other precautions when handling allergen-free requests.

Those managing peanut or tree nut allergies should still inform staff of their allergy needs for an extra level of precaution. But PDQ’s procedures make dining there lower risk compared to chains using shared peanut oil fryers.

Does PDQ Use Hydrogenated Oil?

While canola and soybean oil are common in commercial kitchens, another type of oil you won’t find at PDQ restaurants is hydrogenated oil.

Hydrogenation is a process that converts vegetable oils into semi-solid or solid fats by adding hydrogen. Partially hydrogenated oils were long favored by restaurants and food companies because they are inexpensive, have a high smoke point, and resist spoilage.

However, scientific evidence shows that the process of hydrogenation also creates trans fats. The FDA reports that trans fats raise levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and lower HDL “good” cholesterol, increasing the risk for heart disease.

In light of this evidence, the FDA instituted a ban on partially hydrogenated oils in 2018, with a compliance deadline of January 2020. Any restaurant menu items containing artificial trans fats are now unlawful.

By choosing trans fat-free canola and soybean oil for frying, PDQ was ahead of the curve in removing hydrogenated oils from their kitchens. The oils they rely on today provide the same versatility without the negative health effects.

What Are the Downsides of PDQ’s Frying Oil?

While PDQ has made commendable choices to avoid less healthy oils, no oil is perfect. Some potential downsides of their canola/soybean oil blend include:

  • High omega-6 content: Some health authorities recommend balancing omega-6 intake with more omega-3s.
  • Heavy use of genetically modified crops: Over 90% of soybean and canola crops grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered.
  • Potential for allergic reactions: Soybean oil can cause reactions in those allergic to soy.
  • Resource intensive farming: Canola and soybean farming utilizes significant amounts of land, water, and agricultural chemicals.

However, for a quick service restaurant chain serving massive volumes of food, canola and soybean oil are responsible choices that avoid many of the biggest health and environmental pitfalls of alternatives. PDQ’s efforts to filter and refresh oil daily also minimize some downsides of reuse.

No oil satisfies every criteria from nutritional profile to sustainability. In light of realistic options at industry scale, PDQ has chosen commendable oils that balance health, safety, customer expectations, and business operations.


In summary, PDQ restaurants fry their signature chicken tenders, fries, and other menu items in a proprietary blend of canola and soybean oils. This oil combination was chosen for its ability to withstand high frying heat, neutral flavor, low saturated fat content, and lack of trans fats.

By avoiding heavily hydrogenated oils, peanut allergens, and changing their fryer oil daily, PDQ has made responsible choices for oil quality and safety. Their procedures also help deliver consistently delicious fried foods that have limited negative health impacts compared to many fast food alternatives.

However, all industrial vegetable oils have downsides in terms of resource use, environmental sustainability, and nutrition. Consumers can encourage further progress through thoughtful purchasing decisions and feedback encouraging use of eco-friendly oil alternatives.

Oil will remain a hot topic as restaurants balance customer health, taste, and affordability when bringing menu inspiration to life. PDQ’s commitment to fresh, never frozen chicken and meticulous frying makes them a standout in the quick service category.

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