BBQ, honey mustard, and ranch are all flavors you know and love. But every fast-food place puts its own spin on each of them, which means you can have an overwhelming amount of choices when you are trying to dip a fry in sauce while also replying to a text and Instagramming your food and maneuvering your car out of the drive-thru.
Because I care about you and your rapidly sky-rocketing insurance premiums, I decided to help narrow your choices. Over multiple trips to every major fast-food place, I judged each of their condiments on originality and, because its the blank, delicious canvas of the drive-thru world, French fry dippability. Then I stacked the winners from every chain against each other in an ultimate death match. Also, I got a lot of heart burn. Get your French fry-dipping hands ready:
Originality: This wins zero originality points. But a good honey mustard doesn't need to be original to make this ranking. French fry dippability: The natural-cut fries here shine when dipped in the honey mustard. Some other chains have weak honey mustard sauces with artificial flavors galore, but this features some nice sweet notes that cut (into) the mustard notes. Overall flavor: Honey? Check. Mustard? Check. Pairs well with fries? Check. We've got a winner.
10. Sonic Drive-In honey mustard
Originality: For a fast-food place that separates itself from the pack with inventive menu items (Nerds in your slush, anyone?), it's strange to me that it doesn't put a spin on its honey mustard. Alas. French fry dippability: Like Carl's Jr., Sonic has natural-cut fries that pair well with its honey mustard. Sonic gets the slight edge over Carl's because its fries are slightly more delicious, and were delivered by someone on roller skates. Overall flavor: There's a nice sweetness to Sonic's honey mustard that makes me want to dip another fry into it immediately. Solid offering from Kevin Durant's favorite fast-food chain.
9. Wendy's buttermilk ranch
Originality: You could take this out of its container, pour it into a bowl, and dip a carrot in this at the fanciest of garden parties and no one would bat an eyelash and, since that's the real judge of a classy buttermilk dip, this blows other fast-food ranches away. French fry dippability: While I've never been a fan of dipping fries into ranch, this changed my mind. It's like the Belgian custom of dipping fries into mayo, but Americanized, and probably more unhealthy. Overall flavor: The buttermilk shines here, as this is an incredibly ranch-y ranch sauce, not some watered down ranch that tastes like it was from an incredibly hidden valley no one ever wanted to visit.
8. Burger King Zesty
Originality: Horseradish is not a typical fast-food ingredient, so this wins major points. It's also not an ingredient found much in life, outside of a Passover Seder. French fry dippability: If you don't like the idea of dipping fries in mayo, stay away. Otherwise, it's extraordinarily dippable. Overall flavor: The guy at the counter warned me it's quite horseradish-y, and he wasn't not wrong. This sucker has a bite, like Eddie Murphy in that movie where he's a vampire and bites things, but the end result is a mix of horseradish and cream, and surprisingly pleasing.
Originality: Teriyaki sauce at a non-Asian-themed restaurant? And a fast-food place at that? This is the sort of originality we're looking for in a condiment. A million imaginary bonus points for you, Jack, plus one gold star sticker. French fry dippability: I have no idea why I've never dipped fries into teriyaki before I went to Jack in the Box, but this was one of my more life-changing fast-food experiences to date. Overall flavor: This is one of the more complex condiments I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. It went from tasting like a mouthful of chemical teriyaki flavors to an authentic teriyaki flavor to an incredibly delicious aftertaste I didn't want to stop. At moments I loved it and at others I hated it, and, like a Freshman year of college relationship, it was, at least, always interesting.
6. McDonald's Habanero Ranch
Originality: McDonald's has a veritable treasure trove of sauces to choose from. And it's also got the Big Mac Special Sauce, which didn't rank as the best because it's mayo and French dressing, and that's mad boring. This sauce, however? It's creamy, spicy, and there's nothing else like it at any fast-food place. French fry dippability: Did McDonald's make this specifically for fries? Because all I want to do is dip fries in it, and then I want to dip more fries in it and then I maybe want to take and nap and wake up and dip more fries. Overall flavor: The heat in this sneaks up on you. It starts off creamy and tangy before it kicks in, and then it lingers in a not unpleasant way. I don't know who the flavor geniuses are at McDonald's (Schmidt from New Girl?), but they deserve kudos for this one.
5. KFC Summertime BBQ Sauce
Originality: If you've ever looked at the ingredients of a condiment at a fast-food place (AND WHO HASN'T?), you'll notice the first thing listed is almost always an oil. That's not a great sign of what's to come. The first ingredient here? Tomato puree. And in the fast-food game, that counts as original. French fry dippability: KFC does potato wedges, not fries. And those wedges would be tasty dipped in motor oil. Thankfully, they also don't disappoint when paired with its BBQ sauce. Overall flavor: Huge tomato notes abound in this tiny container, which makes sense considering it's made primarily from tomatoes (and not soybean oil). And when it's paired with the Colonel's chicken or wedges? You've got a serious contender for one of the better condiments in the game.
4. Arby’s Sauce
Originality: The fact that I have a coworker who has eaten this stuff with alarming regularity over the course of some three decades while also claiming to dislike BBQ sauce means that there’s something very original going on. Probably because nothing tastes like Arby’s Sauce. French fry dippability: With those signature curly fries, anything too thick’s going to have trouble permeating the curves. The thinner sauce really gets in there, and melds perfectly with the seasoning. Overall flavor: It wasn’t until doing a cursory search for what exactly Arby’s Sauce is that I realized it’s supposed to be -- BBQ sauce? That makes a tiny amount of sense, since its marketed as a very distinct combination of tangy and sweet. But it’s not thick like most fast-food BBQ sauces. And it doesn’t taste like flavored ketchup. It just tastes, um, like Arby’s Sauce.
Flavor: You’ve had Thousand Island dressing, right? Well this is like that, if they amped up the relish action in it, and gave it an extra tang. French fry dippability: It’s like dipping your fries in a delicious aioli at a much fancier place with Belgian undertones. Also, get your fries well-done, or suffer from fry dippability issues. Originality: This is basically a secret hack, as you only really get the flavor of the spread if you order your fries “Animal Style.” But they have spread packets if you ask them, and you should definitely ask them.
2. Whataburger spicy ketchup
Originality: Reinventing the most popular tomato-based sauce wheel is a high order, but Whataburger's flavor scientists go as hard as Edison in the innovation department. Adding a simple spice kick makes the most forgettable of condiments unmistakeable. French fry dippability: This is a fantastic sauce, but its weakness is that it's a little too fantastic. It overpowers Whataburger's humble, unseasoned fries. Basically this is the Kool-Aid Man of ketchups, and if you want a condiment that barrels through your fries and screams “Oh yeah!” then this is your guy. Overall flavor: Spicy ketchup's secret weapon is red jalapeño pepper puree, but that implies a sriracha-ish fire. It's mild enough to not need a soft drink, and just gives a smooth, tingly mouthfeel. If I didn't know better, I'd guess chipotle pepper was the firepower.
1. Chick-fil-A Sauce
Originality: The Southern chicken joint has a lot to offer in the way of condiments. Polynesian, ranch, BBQ -- they're all tasty. But its self-titled Sauce, a honey mustard masterpiece, is the real draw. It's not original in the least, but it makes up for it in other ways. French fry dippability: Oh, you bet your sweet bippy. Those waffle fries love being dipped in Chick-fil-A Sauce, and I know this because I anthropomorphize my food. Its nuggets are even better dipped in the sauce. Overall flavor: This is what all honey mustard wants to be when it grows up, other than a fireman or something. Also, it's served cold, which makes a huge difference. Chick-fil-A gets it right with this condiment in so many ways, especially taste-wise. It's a smooth blend of mustard tang and sweetness. There's not a hint of artificial flavor in this sucker. It pairs with the chicken; it pairs with the fries. Hell, I'd bathe in this -- it'd probably make me smell fantastic.
Lee Breslouer is a senior writer for Thrillist and wishes all fast-food places would serve their sauces cold. Follow him to more useless info at: @LeeBreslouer.