For many a fast food lover out there, nothing trumps spice. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about chicken sandwiches, a cheeseburger, or simply a side dish — if you tell us it’s spicy, we’re probably going to order it. Spicy dishes add some much-needed excitement into the often bland world of fast food flavors, and a strong kick of heat goes a long way toward making your meal something to remember.
The best spicy food hits you with a rush of heat that then lingers on the palate. If the Scovilles are high enough, spice can actually cover for other culinary shortcomings or convince you to tamp the heat down with a cold vanilla shake — both of which benefit the fast food brands. And since the Popeye’s spicy chicken mayhem led to a full-on deluge of spicy options crowding fast food menu boards, we decided to separate the hot trash from the good stuff.
To help keep this list focused we limited each fast food chain to only one spicy entry each. Naturally, we went with the spiciest option currently available on that particular menu. We also disqualified any dishes that weren’t inherently spicy, meaning if they required additional self-applied hot sauce or seasoning they wouldn’t be considered. Each dish was ordered as is and then given a rating of one to five for both the dish’s heat and overall flavor.
The numbers were then added up for a final score and a few parting words on the experience. Let’s start ranking!
10. Taco Bell — Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos
What the hell is going on here Taco Bell? How is the Mexican-inspired fast food restaurant the place with the least amount of inherently spicy food? To be fair to Taco Bell, yes, you can instantly turn anything on the menu into something spicy with the use of Taco Bell’s variety of hot sauces, but even still — this menu leaves a lot to be desired in the spice department.
Throw some fresh jalapeños into a burrito, or slices of Serrano chilis in a taco for God’s sake, Taco Bell! When your spiciest dish is Doritos branded, you’ve got a problem. This taco isn’t spicy, it has that tongue-tingling aftertaste that is distinct to Doritos, but overall we would classify it as more stale than spicy.
The Finale Score 3.5
A truly sad effort from Taco Bell. Taco Bell has jalapeños on the menu and they can be added to any order but they’re pickled, which weakens the heat and gives them a sort of off-putting tang — so this is the spiciest it’s going to get at Taco Bell without the use of hot sauce. It’s a real shame.
Find your nearest Taco Bell here.
9. KFC — Nashville Hot Tenders
I love Nashville-style hot chicken, and while I don’t think you need to go all the way to Nashville to find a great spicy bird, turns out you can’t go to Kentucky. KFC’s Nashville Hot Tenders are a disgrace to the very concept of Nashville hot chicken. Where it should be spicy and smokey, it’s just… wet.
Each tender drips with sauce and the overwhelming flavor of vinegar dominates each bite. It’s not in the least bit spicy it’s just awful.
The Finale Score: 4
Unless you like wet tenders that taste like vinegar and artificial smoke, don’t order these.
Find your nearest KFC here.
8. McDonald’s — Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Last year McDonald’s unleashed three new chicken sandwiches and while the spicy is by far the best tasting of the trio, overall this sandwich leaves a lot to be desired.
In the heat department, it delivers – McDonald’s sandwich features a spicy pepper sauce brushed on each bun that packs a distinct spicy kick. The heat is immediate and a black pepper flavor dominates the aftertaste which tames the spice in a nice balanced way. The sauce is so good McDonald’s should make it a dipping option!
Unfortunately, the chicken patty here is downright awful. The meat flakes off the filet in this unappetizing way and the texture is akin to rubber. The end result is overly chewy to the point of being a distraction.
The Finale Score: 5
It’s not worth ordering, but if your friend ever gets one ask them if you can dip a fry in that sauce before they take a bite. It’ll be the spiciest and best-tasting experience you can have at McDonald’s. And, for your friend, the saddest.
Find your nearest McDonald’s here.
7. Carl’s Jr. — Hot Honey Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich
Carl’s Jr.’s Hot Honey chicken sandwich is great, the chicken is juicy and hand-breaded in crater-filled batter that soaks up the sweet hot honey sauce perfectly, while bacon adds sumptuous smokiness and extra crunch with a nutty Swiss cheese-induced aftertaste. It’s just not hot enough for us. Honey is a great compliment to spiciness, but the sweetness it imbues into the overall flavor absolutely dominates the burn.
Heat is treated more like a supplement to the sweetness, it balances out the honey and keeps it from tasting overly candied. Overall Carl’s Jr. doesn’t have anything to add to the world of spicy foods, and that’s a huge let down from a place that always delivers on flavor across their sandwiches and sides.
The Finale Score: 6
It tastes good, but if spicy food is what you’re after this majorly misses the mark.
Find your nearest Carl’s Jr. here.
6. Wendy’s — Spicy Nugget
Wendy’s was the only real casualty of our “One dish from each fast food restaurant” rule as the chain has a host of spicy options. Ultimately we had to go with the hottest, which is the classic Spicy Nugget. Yes, Wendy’s spicy chicken breast filet uses the same hot cayenne-pepper forward breading used on the nuggets, but the more meaty chew of the filet masks some of that spice. With the nugget, the experience is a lot more direct.
The weird processed chicken paste (it is what it is) in this nugget is airy and little more than texture, which puts the focus entirely on the spice from the cayenne pepper. The only thing holding this one back from climbing higher is the spongey overly processed chicken housed inside this perfectly spicy breading.
The Final Score 6.5
They’re hot enough that you’ll want a sip of your Frosty between bites, but we’re dealing with highly processed chicken here, so this isn’t something you want to make your meal. Instead order a four-piece order and eat it as a side, it’ll instantly elevate your experience.
Find your nearest Wendy’s here.
5. Burger King — Spicy Ch’King Sandwich
Burger King’s Spicy Ch’King sandwich is one of the chain’s best menu options… it’s just not very spicy. The dominant flavor of this sandwich is black pepper, and the spicy glaze that is brushed across the filet adds more sweetness to the overall experience than it does heat. Overall it’s a nice compliment, but ultimately Burger King’s glaze just feels a little safe and the sandwich doesn’t come off as very spicy on the palate.
It’s as if BK wanted to make a spicy sandwich, but didn’t want to alienate those who can’t handle the heat. Don’t cater to those weaklings Burger King, that’s what the non-spicy version of the sandwich is for!
The Final Score: 7
It’s a lot like Carl’s Jr’s sandwich but leans more heavily on the savory spectrum of flavors than the sweet side that Carl’s Jr’s Hot Honey sandwich lives in. We have a few suggestions for how to improve this sandwich, Burger King: utilize more of the spicy glaze, and add a slice of habanero pepper jack cheese. Then you’ll have something that truly delivers what the name promises.
Find your nearest Burger King here.
4. Wingstop — Atomic Wings
If this was a ranking that simply listed the spiciest foods in fast food, Wingstop’s Atomic sauced wings would take the top spot, no contest. But this isn’t that and while these wings are indeed spicy, the flavor of the sauce is straight-up wack. Every spice lover wants a food so spicy it’s almost hallucinogenic, we’re all secretly looking to live out our 15 minutes of Hot Ones fame, but sometimes in the quest for mind breaking heat, we forget about the most important aspect of good food: flavor.
The Atomic sauce has an awful aftertaste that really ruins the experience. There is a slight hint of citrusy habanero in there, but this sauce hits you with too much sweetness at one time and doesn’t deliver the heat until it has completely drenched your palate. Unfortunately, by the time that happens a dirty bitter flavor dominates and stains your tongue. It’s just not enjoyable to eat in any way. Luckily the chicken makes up for it, it’s juicy tender bone-in chicken so it beats a lot of the processed stuff out there.
The Final Score: 7.5
This score still seems too high because, at the end of the day, I’d straight up suggest that you don’t order these. Even if you love extreme heat. If you want the best spicy experience from Wingstop order the slightly less hot Mango Habanero flavor. It’s not as extreme as Atomic, but it tastes worlds better and features a more balanced experience.
Find your nearest Wingstop here.
3. Panda Express — Kung Pao Chicken
Panda Express’ Kung Pao Chicken is probably the most balanced dish on this ranking. Featuring a mix of bell pepper, zucchini, peanuts, chili peppers, and green onions, this chicken stir fry bounces between tongue-tingling heat and savory sweetness as umami-packed kung pao sauce delivers the spice while the fresh veggies cleanse your palate between bites.
Fresh veggies aren’t the norm in fast food, but they’re a welcome addition here that adds a lot of complexity to this dish. I just wish at the end of the day that it was a bit spicier. It probably doesn’t compare to the spicy kung pao at your favorite Chinese restaurant — there’s people-pleasing tameness here that I think ultimately holds this dish back from really blowing minds.
The Finale Score: 7.5
It’s delicious, adequately spicy, balanced, and one of your only opportunities to eat veggies in the fast food universe. If Panda Express kicks up the heat a bit this might be worthy of the top spot.
Find your nearest Panda Express here.
2. Popeyes — Spicy Chicken Sandwich
This is the sandwich that single-handedly changed the fast food landscape. So many chicken sandwiches in the last three years have been inspired by Popeyes’ masterpiece, and not a single one has been able to dethrone the king. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-tasting chicken sandwich in all of fast food but if you’re looking for fast food’s spiciest sandwich, thiss fails to deliver.
This sandwich just isn’t that spicy — its only source of heat is a thin mayo-based spicy sauce that is brushed on both buns. This is puzzling to us considering Popeyes makes a delicious spicy chicken batter for its bone-in and chicken tenders, they just for some reason have decided that they don’t want to bread their chicken breast filet in it. Why, Popeyes? Why?!
The Final Score: 8
It pains us to rank Popeyes delicious chicken sandwich this low, but that’s just how the math works out and until this sandwich gets the spicy breading it deserves, it’s just going to have to be comfortable not being the spiciest dish in all of fast food.
You can’t win them all, Popeyes! Well, you could, but you just don’t seem to want to for some reason.
Find your nearest Popeyes here.
TIED FOR 1st: Arby’s — Diablo Dare Chicken Sandwich
Arby’s doesn’t really do spicy all that well. Let me correct that, Arby’s didn’t do spice that well until they hit us with the Diablo Dare sandwich. Available in both chicken and brisket form, the Diablo Dare is hands-down, fast food’s spiciest sandwich. The sandwich is built with multiple layers of spice, ghost pepper jack cheese, a generous shake of cayenne pepper seasoning, spicy habanero barbecue sauce, and roasted diced jalapeños peppers, giving each bite a wince-inducing hit of heat that will produce sweat on your brow and double your mealtime as you struggle to get through it.
There isn’t another fast food dish that delivers on heat this well anywhere out there. Unfortunately, the sandwich’s protein holds it back from truly being perfect. The chicken here isn’t that great, it’s more breading than meat while the brisket is too dry and overly sweet. If Arby’s could figure out how to make a better fried chicken filet, they wouldn’t just have the spiciest sandwich in the fast food universe, they’d have the best tasting one.
Step up your game, Popeyes, because Arby’s is coming for you.
The Final Score: 9
It’s the spiciest fast food sandwich you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating but you’ll have to move fast, it’s only available on Arby’s menu until February 6th, 2022. Here is to hoping it earns a permanent spot.
Find your nearest Arby’s here.
TIED FOR 1st: Chick-fil-A — Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich
Chick-fil-A’s Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich used to be fast food’s best tasting and spiciest chicken sandwich, but it’s been knocked off its throne in each respective category. Popeyes famous chicken sandwich is nowhere near as spicy as this, but it has a way better flavor, and Arby’s Diablo Dare chicken sandwich is several levels hotter than this, but nowhere near as delicious. That leaves Chick-fil-A’s delicious Spicy Deluxe with what feels like a stolen win as it hovers in a weird sort of limbo. Before we talk about why it doesn’t deserve the top spot, let’s talk about what it does right.
Chick-fil-A marinates its chicken in pickle brine, and it leaves each piece from the nuggets, to the tenders, to the chicken sandwich filets bursting with flavor. It’s slightly tangy, tender, and juicy with a complexity and distinct flavor that no other fast food chain even comes close to replicating. This chicken breast filet is one of fast food’s best tasting. The spicy breading is full of cayenne and black pepper with notes of smokey paprika that together combine to deliver a journey of flavors. But alas… it could be spicier. Even with the inclusion of pepper jack cheese to this sandwich, it just doesn’t taste dangerously spicy enough to deserve the top spot in a ranking of fast food’s best tasting spicy dishes.
If Arby’s Diablo Dare didn’t exist, maybe we could give this sandwich the top spot, but until the first week of February, the Diablo Dare does exist.
The Final Score: 9
If you’re looking for a spicy sandwich that delivers on heat while tasting delicious, Chick-fil-A’s Spicy Deluxe won’t let you down. But if you’re looking for a sandwich so spicy eating it feels like a challenge, this won’t get you there. It’s much more balanced in its approach and it’s better for it, even at the cost of being hotter.
Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.
The Bottom Line — So What Is Fast Food’s Best Spicy Dish?
After February 6th, I guess we’re going to have to give it to Chick-fil-A’s Spicy Deluxe Sandwich. It might not deliver the spiciest experience per bite, but it’s the best tasting inherently spicy dish in all of fast food. But ending our ranking with a tie just won’t do, so we’re going to bend the rules just a bit for a tiebreaker that will deliver everything we wish the Diablo Dare and Spicy Deluxe could: that perfect balance of heat and flavor.
Tie Breaker: Five Guys — Cheeseburger
If you want the spiciest dish in all of fast food, you’re unfortunately going to have to take things into your own hands. Five Guys’ menu is fully customizable (which is why it was disqualified from this ranking), which makes creating the perfect spicy burger incredibly easy. Let’s build it:
- Start with the Five Guys cheeseburger, that’ll give you two patties of beef and two slices of American cheese.
- Ask for fresh and grilled jalapeño peppers, grilled onions, grilled green peppers, and your choice of mayo, ketchup and mustard, or A1 steak sauce. You’d think hot sauce would be the most obvious choice (which Five Guys has), but it can throw your burger off balance, so it’s important to balance out the heat with savory steak sauce, sweet ketchup, earthy mustard or the neutral flavor of mayo.
- Or feel free to go nuts and add all of them together, plus the hot sauce.
The Finale Score: A perfect 10.
It doesn’t get spicier than this. The heat from this sandwich will come courtesy of the jalapeños, which aren’t pickled so they retain the maximum level of heat. Five Guys also makes no attempt to remove the fleshy spine or the seeds of the pepper. It’s everything that the Arby’s Diablo Dare sandwich is, plus a juicy, perfectly salted, and flavorful meat patty.
Find your nearest Five Guys here.