The Best Fast Food Bacon Cheeseburgers, Ranked

The winner—much to our surprise—was clear.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist
Welcome to The Fasties, Thrillist’s second-annual fast food awards! The awards feature more than a dozen categories celebrating all the best foods that came out of drive-thru windows over the past year—from Best Chicken Nuggets to Best Bacon Cheeseburgers, and many more. Watch the full awards show and check out the full list of categories and winners.

Unless you're still living int he bacon mania that gripped the country years ago, you probably don't order a bacon cheeseburger every time you're in a fast food drive-thru. When you order a bacon cheeseburger, chances are you're specifically opting for an upgrade over the bacon-free default burger on the menu. Why? Sometimes you just want some bacon stacked on your cheeseburger. You don't need to have a good reason for it, thank you very much.

What you do need is a great bacon cheeseburger to order. For one, it needs to be a great burger—a solid foundation on which bacon can be piled. Most importantly, the bacon needs to be crispy, flavorful, high quality, and, well, numerous. And finally, the whole stack of meats and toppings must strike a delicious balance and create a symphony salty, fatty, creamy, and fresh flavors. Those are the rules. 

Okay, okay. They may not be the rules, but those are the criteria we considered in our quest to find the best bacon cheeseburger served by a fast food chain. It's also worth noting that we ordered what we viewed as the marquee bacon burger on the menu whenever possible and avoided limited-time-only offerings because we want permanent bacon, not fleeting bacon. But enough with rules and criteria. Here's what we found.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

The build: Two little strips of bacon, slider burger patty, pickles, American cheese, and mustard on a steamed bun

On its online menu, Krystal describes this snack-size burger as “a must-have masterpiece,” but we beg to differ. The meat is nearly nonexistent and is overwhelmed by the toppings. That said, the toppings—a snappy pickle, gooey cheese, and tangy mustard—are delicious. The bacon (you get two small strips) is crispy enough and the steamed bun is fine, but they’re not enough to save the overall package. You can get a better bacon cheeseburger at practically any other fast food chain.

The build: A folded strip of bacon, onion-flavored slider patty, and delicious cheese on a steamed bun

Out of the two slider/snack-sized bacon cheeseburgers on this list, White Castle's is superior. But let's face it: the Bacon Cheese Slider's tiny size leaves it ill-equipped to compete with the other burgers on this ranking, unless you order three or four of 'em and don't mind the lopsided bread-to-meat ration you'd get as a result. Speaking of meat, the small square patty sports that super-savory White Castle flavor from the chain's signature grilled onion preparation method. That beefy, onion-y combo unsurprisingly pairs well with salty, meaty bacon—of which you get just one equally small strip that's folded in half and tucked within the other layers. The melty cheese is perhaps the tastiest part (especially if you opt for the Smoked Cheddar over the standard American), and it holds this little burger together both in terms of construction and overall flavor.

The build: A quarter-pound beef patty topped with cheese, lame bacon, tomato, lettuce, pickles, onions, ketchup, and mayo served on a toasted bun

Imagine going into a McDonald’s. You order a Big Mac. Then the person behind the counter says, “Yeah, we don’t have that.” Well, that’s weirdly how Dairy Queen works. Note that some DQs are “Food and Treat” and some “Treat Only.” If there’s a Treat location near you, you’re able to order all the delicious desserts that DQ is known for (and a couple of food items, like hot dogs). If you find a Food and Treat location, there’s a much more robust eats menu, which includes this Bacon Cheese Grillburger.

The three-ish skimpy bacon strips on this burger make it appear as if the inclusion of bacon was an afterthought, even though bacon is right there in the name. You physically get bacon in every bite, but if you can’t taste it one bit, what’s the point? Instead, the taste is overwhelmingly mayo, ketchup, limp lettuce, and a tomato that may have left the vine in the 2010s. Some fast food spots make the bacon a centerpiece of the burger. This is not that burger.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

The build: Two beef patties, three strips of bacon, American and Swiss cheese, mayo, mustard, and ketchup on a bakery bun

You can order the Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger whether it’s 10am or 10pm at Jack in the Box, which is cool. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. That’s because the bacon is low-quality, flimsy, and lacks any real smoke flavor. Even worse, the burger itself makes no sense—with two beef patties, two types of cheese (American, Swiss), mayo, mustard, and ketchup, it feels like the burger is missing a couple elements. Where art thou, tomato? Maybe they could throw in a pickle or two? And if the bacon were better, it might be able to overcome the burger’s shortcomings. But it can’t.

Before you order this, you should know you can also order breakfast all day at Jack in the Box, meaning you can pick up the simple, perfect Breakfast Jack sandwich with ham, egg and American cheese on a pillowy bun. It’s not a bacon cheeseburger, but it’ll taste better than the ones the chain is serving.

The build: Two patties, two slice of American cheese, hickory-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles on a lightly toasted bun

Eating bacon should not be like trying to chew rubber from part of a shredded tire you found on the side of a highway. Luckily, A&W’s bacon isn’t that bad, but it’s a limp approximation of bacon you’d actually want to eat, and therefore it’s not a welcome addition to this cheeseburger. It’s a shame because the burger patty itself is passable and not too dried out, and the accoutrements surrounding the beef (onion, pickles, lettuce, tomato, mayo) both taste and look fresh. But the bacon! It’s a swing and a miss. Stick to ordering A&W's root beer floats and you’ll go home happy.

The build: Two beef patties, two strips of bacon, two slices of American cheese, tasty onion rings, and BBQ Sauce on a disappointing sesame seed bun

Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s sells chicken, breakfast, and even burritos (in some cities), but let’s be real—it’s a burger place. If you need further proof, the chain's Instagram might as well just be a billboard for only its burgers, and for good reason. It knows how to take a plain old fast food beef patty and add enough bells and whistles to make pulling into the drive-thru fun again. It even has a damn-good Beyond Burger.

This is a smartly constructed burger, where every ingredient plays a part in creating a cohesive, delicious meal. Let’s start with the bad news: the sesame seed bun can’t hold a candle to Mickey D’s, but it does hold the burger together. The good news is everywhere: crisp, smoky bacon with a smell so intoxicating you’d be forgiven for drooling all over yourself; two slices of melty American cheese; BBQ sauce with a pleasant sweetness; onion rings that add another layer of crunch and saltiness; and two beef patties that aren’t too thick (or dry) to overwhelm the flavor coming from every other part of the burger. In lesser hands, this burger could be an overstuffed mess. But this is Carl’s Jr., and they know what they’re doing.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

The build: Fresh beef patty, two slices of American, slivered onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and not enough bacon on a sesame seed bun

We love McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese for its impossibly juicy and meaty fresh beef, abundance of melty cheese and onions, those acidic little pickles that definitely wouldn't be very good on their own, and its overall simplicity. The good old QPWC ranked third on our list of the best fast food burgers available today, so we went into eating the bacon version of this classic—the awkwardly named Quarter Pounder With Cheese Bacon—with high expectations. Bacon makes everything better, right? And adding bacon to an already great burger could only result in an extraordinary burger. Right? Not quite.

Turns out that what makes every Quarter Pounder with Cheese so delicious—its intense beefiness and meatiness—is what holds the bacon version back. How is that possible, you ask? The burger patties and their ever-pleasing pockets of salty grill char simply overwhelms the three, inadequate half-strips of bacon McDonald's includes. The applewood bacon is crispy and of decent quality as far as fast food bacon goes, but the flavor just doesn't stand up to the big mouthfuls of beef with every bite of this thing, and you know what, we can't really blame it. There needs to be more—if not double—the bacon. All said, is it a great burger? Yes. But is it a great bacon burger? Absolutely, but you can get even better elsewhere.

The build: Two fresh beef patties, two strips of bacon, Wisconsin cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, red onion, and mayo on a toasted bun

There’s a reason caps lock was invented, and it’s because calling this beautiful Culver’s creation piled high with two smashed, fresh beef patties a burger isn’t enough—this thing is a BURGER. It will fill you up for hours, but also maybe a couple weeks? The onion, lettuce, pickles and tomatoes are actually fresh, a rarity in fast food. The Wisconsin cheese is perfection. But the bacon is just there. And for some reason, there are only two strips, so that even when you bite into a part of the burger with bacon, you don’t get enough smoky pork flavor. It’s not because the bacon is subpar—it’s clear that when you eat the pork on its own that it’s crispy and delicious. If you’re craving a fast food cheeseburger, you can't do better than Culver’s. But if you want a bacon cheeseburger, it’s best to go elsewhere.

The build: The chain's five-inch beef patty, one slice of American, three strips of bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickles, diced onions, and mustard on a large bun

It’s hard to top the original Whataburger, but cheese and bacon definitely add life to the patty party. Order the burger exactly as Whataburger cooks have conceived it and you’ll find three strips of crispy bacon crown the usual suspects of mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles, diced onion, and melty American cheese for a nice balance of textures and flavors. The bacon’s thicker than that of many fast food joints and the even distribution allows for a smoky crunch in every bite.

One of the greatest things about Whataburger, of course, is the ease with which you can customize. You can add more bacon for 50 cents a slice, get your onions grilled, have your buns toasted on both sides, go wild with sauces, and even change up the cheese selection. Or, you can ignore all of that and leave perfection alone.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

The build: Two fresh beef patties, two slices of American, six pieces of applewood smoked bacon, ketchup, and mayo on a "premium bun"

When you think fast food bacon cheeseburger, chances are the Baconator is the first to come to mind. And for good reason. This isn't just a burger that's topped with a few strips of bacon. This sizable sandwich is all about the crispy meat—to the point where Wendy's dispenses with other traditional toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles. And you know what? It doesn't need them when there are six whole strips of applewood smoked bacon crisped into greasy curls.

The Baconator doesn't boast the best bacon in fast food (keep reading for that), but it makes up for that with quantity. Eat a Baconator, and you'll take care of your beef, cheese, and bacon cravings all at once. Eat a Baconator and you'll feel full for hours. Eat a Baconator and you'll need a nap.

The build: Two beef patties, two strips of delicious bacon, two slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on a flimsy bun

Out of all of the fast food bacon cheeseburgers we ate (and, as you can see, there were many) in our research for this story, we're pleased to report that Sonic Drive-In's has the best bacon. The flavor-filled strips are big, wide, and crispy... you know, as bacon ought to be, but often isn't when it's from a fast food place. While you only get a couple strips of this pork perfection on the SuperSONIC Bacon Double Cheeseburger, it's hefty enough to appear in—and thereby enhance—every bite, though it would certainly benefit from more bacon (duh). Better yet, the relatively simple lineup of toppings—lettuce, tomato, mayo—allows the bacon's flavor to shine while providing a pleasant freshness that cuts through the fattiness of the meats. Just watch out for big chunks of lettuce (ours included a piece that wasn't shredded properly and ended up falling out of the burger upon our first chomp, making a mess).

Speaking of messes... that brings us to our biggest criticism. After taking a few, totally normal-sized bites into it, the top piece of the bun splits right down the middle jeopardizing and ultimately, undermining, its structural integrity. This bun just isn't designed for SuperSONIC eating, but hey, we're willing to exercise a bit of caution to enjoy this otherwise excellent bacon cheeseburger.

The build: Two patties, four slices of tasty bacon, two slices of American cheese, melted cheddar cheese (!!!), ketchup, and mayo on a bakery bun

If this ranking were based on the names of the burgers alone, Checkers' Baconzilla! (yes, it even includes an exclamation point) would almost certainly win. It's a great name, yes, but the fitting monicker nothing to do with this cheeseburger's high position on this ranking. The Baconzilla! soared to the No. 2 spot on pure porcine perfection.

Let's start with the bacon. You get four relatively thick strips that taste like your significant other cooked them for you on a lazy Sunday morning (yeah, it's that good). The deliciousness of the bacon is closely followed by the hamburger patties, which hit all the right notes with their own fatty and salty flavors in addition to some tasty grilled char. The ketchup and mayonnaise duo perfectly balance all the greasiness with acidic tang. What really sends this burger over the top, though, is the melted cheddar cheese sauce—we repeat: melted cheddar cheese sauce—that Checkers throws on in addition to two slices of American. All of this cheese melds with the bacon and beef for a bacon cheeseburger eating experience that's actually worthy of the great name. Though maybe it should be called the Cheesezilla! 

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

The build: Two delicious flame-grilled beef patties, six strips of thick-cut smoked bacon, four pieces of American cheese, ketchup, and mayo on a sesame seed bun

When we set off to find the absolute best bacon cheeseburger in fast food, we didn't expect to find it at Burger King, when there are other chains serving ones with names like the Baconator, Baconzilla!, and SuperSONIC Double Bacon Cheeseburger. We were so wrong. Turns out the Bacon King is the only bacon cheeseburger on this list that truly lives up to its novelty name.

The first thing we jotted down in our taste test notes is that this thing is substantial. With two burger patties, six strips of bacon, and four slices of cheese sandwiched on a sesame seed bun, you'd think that it'd be a pain to eat and a guaranteed mess in your car. But it's neither of those things. Bigger doesn't always mean better, but the Bacon King's width contributes to its great overall construction. You can eat it without worrying about a piece of bacon falling onto your lap. Most importantly, you get consistently even bites featuring all of the ingredients, delivering a perfect marriage of flavors from beginning to end.

These flavors are what made the Bacon King the clear winner. Like Checkers' bacon, Burger King's tastes home cooked and easily surpasses the level of quality you'd expect from a fast food chain. Meanwhile, the substantial amount of melty American cheese and the sandwich's kiss of mayo add nice creamy notes to this salty symphony. Burger King's flame-grilled burger patties seal the deal with that signature flavor that's reminiscent—but not quite the same—as a burger grilled in your backyard. It is exactly what a fast food bacon cheeseburger should taste like.

All said, the Bacon King achieves that magical, borderline-inexplicable fast food flavor alchemy that we haven't experienced since taking our first few bites of the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. Not only is it an extraordinary bacon cheeseburger, it's a fast food engineering marvel that's ultimately greater than the sum of its parts.

The Bacon King is, indeed, the king. Long may it reign.

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