The Single Best Deep Fried Item At Every Major Fast Food Chain

Does fast food get any better than when it’s deep-fried? That’s a rhetorical question but if you did answer, it had better have been a resounding and powerful “no!” Sure, you’ve got salads, sandwich shops, and all sorts of bowls offering healthier options that won’t clog your arteries or lessen your life span but where’s the fun in that? The only food for us is the fried stuff. Fried to a crisp, fried to a crunch, fried to the perfect shade of golden brown, and housing flavor that ignites the palate like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding across your tastebuds like spiders across the stars.

Or something like that.

Really though, fried food is the best. And like all of the best things, it comes with a cost — it’s bad for you. Does that mean we’re going to stop eating it? Nope. But you probably shouldn’t eat fried fast food at every meal, right? You’ve got to pick your spots wisely.

To help you do exactly that, we’re listing the single best deep fried dish — yes, fries and chicken count — at 18 major chains. Like we did with our big burger list we decided to be as comprehensive as possible, so I hit up fellow Uproxx food writers to get their takes on the few establishments I haven’t visited. Ready to dive into the scalding oil? Let’s eat!

Arby’s — Jalapeño Bites

Best Fried Food

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

We named these Jalapeño Bites Arby’s best side order, and here they are again repping the brand as the best fried food on the entire menu. We’re not psyched about starting this list with a repeat choice but what can we do? These Jalapeno bites truly are the best fried food on Arby’s menu.

These crunchy poppers are filled with tangy cream cheese and encased in spicy pickled jalapeño before being battered and dropped in the frier. The result is a briny-vegetal flavor bomb with a sweet and spicy finish that is delicious when fresh out of the fryer and still pretty tasty after they’ve cooled.

The Bottom Line:

Arby’s isn’t known for their fried food but they have a few fried bangers on the menu (including mozzarella sticks). If you want the best among these offerings get the Jalapeño Bites every time.

Find your nearest Arby’s here.

Burger King — Spicy Ch’King Sandwich

Best Fried Food
Burger King

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

You could count the number of good food options Burger King has on one hand and you don’t even need to use every finger. I know Burger King fans get their feelings hurt when I roast this fast food chain but the menu at this place is brutal. Burger King is a culinary compromise.

It’s the kind of place you eat at when you need to grab a quick bite before a flight and it’s the closest food place to your terminal. The kind of place you wander into during a road trip because you’re starving and it’s the only roadside option that has a drive-thru.

That said, they do have the Ch’King. The Spicy Ch’King sandwich, despite its stupid name, is delicious and features a legitimately spicy hand-breaded chicken breast filet that delivers on the heat and manages to come across as tender when fresh off the broiler. It’s crunchy, juicy, spicy, everything a good spicy chicken sandwich needs to be topped with tangy thick-cut pickles and a savory comeback-style sauce.

The only thing bad here is the bun!

The Bottom Line:

Burger King has a menu that consists of 98% of food that you should never order, the Spicy Ch’King is in that two percent that can actually be described as “really freaking tasty.”

Find your nearest Burger King here.

Burgerville — Walla Walla Onion Rings

Best Fried

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

Forget “best fried item,” I’d make the case for these as one of the best items in all of fast food. Made seasonally with Walla Walla’s famed “sweet onions” — notoriously so sweet you can eat them like an apple — and fried golden brown with that sort of pebbly batter that Pacific Northwest diner-style onion rings typically have, these are a goldmine of flavors and textures. You get the fried crispiness and then a totally un-acrid sweet onion flavor. An automatic add-on or pit-stop, every time you’re near a Burgerville.

Er… that is, when the onion rings are in season.

These unctuous, crunchy, sweet onion rings are only available in the peak summer months — roughly early July to late August. And there lies their only problem. They’re so far above every other fast food onion ring that they’ll spoil you for the rest of the year. Rather than order onion rings anywhere else, you’ll be searching websites for the Walla Walla weather in hopes that the onions might come in a few days early.

The Bottom Line:

A true treasure in the fast food universe, only hampered by the fact that the supply is so limited.

Find your nearest Burgerville here.

— Stephen Bramucci

Culver’s North Atlantic Cod Filet Sandwich

Culver's Fish Sandwich

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

Culver’s has a pretty solid fried-fish menu on the side. Their shrimp and fish and chip plates are actually decent for a burger and ice cream restaurant in the Midwest. There’s a good quality to the fish that’s both fresh-tasting and fried really well. Plus, the fries are great, which makes or breaks a great plate of fried fish (I’m saying this as someone from the Pacific Northwest who grew up on fast food fish and chips). But it all comes together at Culver’s in their North Atlantic Cod Filet Sandwich.

The fish is a wild cod from the North Atlantic, as the name implies. The fish actually feels incredibly fresh and has a nice moistness to it that’s countered by a properly crispy beer batter that’s also well-seasoned (though simply, with salt and pepper). There’s a little iceberg lettuce and shredded Wisconsin Cheddar. The crowning achievement is the tartar sauce. It’s tangy and tart with a mix of chopped olives, capers, and pickle, which makes it closer to a classic remoulade at the end of the day. The whole sandwich is served on a buttered and grilled/toasted hoagie bun. It’s soft yet buttery and crisp — really tying the whole sandwich together.

The Bottom Line:

There are a lot of bland fish sandwiches out there. Looking at you, Burger King. Even McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish falls down for having a soft and almost spongy vibe that’s very much an acquired taste. Culver’s North Atlantic Cod Filet Sandwich feels like a sandwich you took the time to make at home with real ingredients, much like most of Culver’s menu. It’s high-quality in form and content and really delivers a satisfying fried sandwich experience that rises above average fast-food fare.

Find your nearest Culver’s here.

— Zach Johnston

Carl’s Jr. — Hand-Breaded Tenders

Best Fried Food

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

This was a truly tough one because Carl’s Jr. has a lot of fried foods, some of our favorites include Criss-Cut Fries, Jalapeno Poppers, Hand-breaded Chicken Sandwiches, and fried Zucchini, but we’ve got to give it to the tenders, they are the best of the best.

These chicken tenders are generously hand-breaded in a garlic and onion powder-dominated flour mix that crisps up nicely and provides a great crunch. These tenders are surprisingly juicy, too — no doubt a result of Carl’s Jr. buttermilk marinade — and that attention to craft is what sets them above the other fried options on the menu.

The Bottom Line:

Crispy, tender, and dippable. Carl’s Jr has some of the best chicken tenders in all of fast food.

Find your nearest Carl’s Jr. here.

Chick-fil-a — Nuggets

Best Fried Food
Chick fil A

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

As far as I’m concerned, Chick-fil-A is where you go when you want chicken nuggets. These are the best chicken nuggets in all of fast food and in terms of flavors, surpass the Spicy Deluxe Sandwich by being juicier thanks to their bite size. The breast filet in the sandwich can get dry, but these nuggets are always bursting with flavor and taste great dipped in each of Chick-fil-A’s sauce options or completely dry — you can’t say that about a lot of other nuggets!

The secret is in the marinade. Chick-fil-A brines their chicken in pickle juice, infusing a complex salty almost umami-like quality to each bite. The nuggets are also fried in peanut oil, giving them a slight nuttiness and the perfect crispy exterior.

The only thing the sandwich has over these nuggets are that it’s a more substantial and satisfying meal. The nuggs — even with a twelve count — always feel like a side order.

The Bottom Line:

This is the one truly essential item on Chick-fil-A’s entire menu. It takes a really good chicken nugget to top a fried chicken sandwich — this is that nugget.

Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.

Farmer Boys — Fried Zucchini

Best Fried Food
Farmer Boys

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

Farmer Boys has absolutely ruined other fast food fried zucchini for me. Instead of thin fry-shaped slices, these are made from a single fresh whole zucchini chopped in equal thirds, battered, and fried, resulting in the best fried zucchini you will ever have, fast food or not.

It’s vegetal, surprisingly meaty, and crunchy with a light batter, the closest American fried zucchini comes to zucchini tempura.

The Bottom Line:

Once you have Farmer Boy’s Fried Zucchini you’ll wonder why fried zucchini isn’t even half as good as this anywhere else.

Find your nearest Farmer Boys here.

Five Guys — Salted Fries (/w a side of Cajun Seasoning)

Five Guys Fries
Dane Rivera

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

You might be confused by the title here — we are not suggesting that you go to Five Guys and order Cajun Fries. Order the Salted Fries instead, pick up four packets of black pepper, ask for a side of Cajun seasoning, and gently season them yourself. Once you got all the seasoning in, shake the bag, and adjust to taste.

Why do this? Five Guys overseasons (dramatically!) their in-house Cajun Fries. This hack improves them significantly.

You will get the perfect balance of salt, paprika, onion powder, and garlic dusted across a double-friend French fry with a crispy outer texture and a soft buttery inner. This is the best fast food French fry, I guarantee you’ll agree. Seriously, how are you going to get better than an Idaho potato chopped, peeled, soaked, and double fried in peanut oil on-site?

The Bottom Line:

Follow our seasoning tips and turn these fries into the best French fries you’ll ever order from a major chain.

Find your nearest Five Guys here.

Kentucky Fried Chicken — Original Recipe Chicken

Best Fried Food

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

This is a no-brainer for me because I’m of the mind that the only reason KFC even exists still is because of the Original Recipe chicken. This is the only thing on KFC’s entire menu worth ordering, those 11 herbs and spices might not make for the crispiest batter (this chicken has absolutely no crunch) but it does make for a very distinct and flavorful bird.

KFC’s 11 herbs include the usual suspects like onion and garlic powder, salt, and black pepper, but there is also some basil, oregano, celery salt, and thyme in here as well, giving this chicken a fragrant floral quality that is completely unique to KFC. I love it.

The Bottom Line:

Never order Extra Crispy. KFC exists for Original Recipe and Original Recipe alone. Looking for the best piece? Obviously, that choice is the leg or thigh, but honestly, get a full 8-piece bucket because the wings and breast are just as juicy and flavorful.

Find your nearest KFC here.

Jack in the Box — Curly Fries

Best Fried Food
Jack in the Box

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

Jack in the Box is always a hard fast food chain for me to review because when I was a kid, this was my place. Something about the weird American Psycho-esque presence of Jack, wearing his business suit in a high-rise office, struck me as very funny and strangely eerie. Which appealed to me as a kid in the ‘90s growing up with an older Gen X brother who was always railing against “the system” while I was just trying to eat in peace.

Sadly, Jack in the Box has changed since those days. They’re cutting corners. They used to operate under the slogan “we don’t make it until you order it,” but now it tastes like they made it an hour before you ordered it because it’s always cold. When Jack in the Box is cold, the grease starts to solidify, and then it becomes inedible and smells spoiled. They’ve also changed the recipes on a lot of their classics, including the tenders, jalapeño poppers, and bacon cheddar potato wedges, making them cheaper and more akin to freezer food.

Still hungry? Good because the curly fries are the one exception to that rule. They taste good whether they’re fresh out of the frier (they never are) or soaked in grease at the bottom of the bag. They have an onion and garlic forward flavor with the right amount of crunch.

The Bottom Line:

Jack in the Box has declined in quality over the years but the curly fries are still excellent.

Find your nearest Jack in the Box here.

McDonald’s — French Fries

Best Fried

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

As soon as my editor and I conceived the idea for this article, I knew my pick for McDonald’s was going to be the French Fries. Nuggets weren’t even in contention — this is the best dish on the McDonald’s menu. Whether you’re hungry or not, when you’re at a McDonald’s, you get an order of piping hot fries and eat them on sight. Period.

I doubt I have to tell you what makes these fries so good, if there is a single entry you’re reading in this list that is guaranteed to make you nod along in fierce agreement while you read this article on the toilet (we see you, not literally), it’s this one. But just in case you’ve never had McDonald’s fries, I think I know what makes these so special. I swear I can taste the slightest dash of sugar. It makes these salty and crispy fries supremely addicting.

The Bottom Line:

Hot out of the fryer these are very close to the best French fries in all of fast food.

Find your nearest McDonald’s here.

Popeyes — Spicy-Style Chicken

Best Fried Food

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

This might come as a shock to some but, as good as Popeyes Chicken Sandwich is (and it is the best) I still think Popeyes’ best contribution to fast food is its spicy-style chicken. This chicken packs a serious kick of heat — it marinates in cayenne seasoned buttermilk that is encased in thick hand-battered seasoned flour, resulting in some of the flakiest, most flavorful fried chicken in all of fast food.

Question: why doesn’t Popeyes batter its chicken sandwich in this same spicy breading and marinade? They have all the ingredients on hand to make their delicious chicken sandwich even better and they don’t do it!

The Bottom Line:

Yes, the sandwich is good, but if you’re only going to eat Popeyes once a year, get a bucket of the spicy fried chicken instead.

Find your nearest Popeyes here.

Rally’s/Checkers — Breaded Cajun Fries

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Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

If you’re all about the distinct blend of paprika, onion, garlic, and black pepper that is cajun fries, they don’t get much better than Rally’s. These fries are addicting, they have a super crispy exterior that houses molten hot buttery potato. They’re incredibly greasy, so much so that you can actually squeeze oil out of them, but somehow that doesn’t detract from our desire to want to eat them way too often.

The Bottom Line:

As far as we’re concerned, they’re the reason you choose Rally’s over any other fast food chain.

Find your nearest Rally’s here.

Raising Cane’s — Fried Chicken Tenders

Best Fried
Raising Canes

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

Chicken-fil-A may have the best chicken nuggets in the game, but when it comes to tenders, there isn’t anything better than Raising Cane’s. These chicken tenders are hand-battered fresh daily, using never frozen tenders marinated in a salty lemon brine and breaded in garlic, onion powder, and salt-filled breading.

They set a new standard for chicken tenders that I hope inspires all the other fast food chains to follow suit and give us non-frozen tenders. For an extra dose of flavor, definitely dip these in the Cane’s sauce, which is a savory comeback-style sauce that really helps to elevate these tenders.

The Bottom Line:

To make an already great thing even better, ask for your chicken tenders extra crispy. Because Raising Cane’s tenders are fresh, the coating can sometimes get a bit soggy — ordering extra crispy will ensure you get the crispiest bite.

P.S. Cool it with the photoshop smoke Raising Canes.

Find your nearest Raising Cane’s here.

Shake Shack —Avocado Bacon Chicken

Best Fried Food
Shake Shack

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

Shake Shack has several really great chicken sandwiches, and very good chicken nuggets, but let’s face it, when you go to Shake Shack, you’re going to order a burger. Ordering anything else feels like a compromise unless you’re lucky enough to eat Shake Shack regularly and you’ve started to stray from the standards. Having said all of that, the Avocado Bacon Chicken sandwich is one of Shake Shack’s best chicken sandwiches. Doesn’t even come close to how good a Shake Burger is, but it’s good nonetheless.

There aren’t enough avocado-topped chicken sandwiches in the fast food space, making this sandwich a bit unique, too. In addition to the fresh slices of avocado, you get thin strips of crispy applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, and thin dill pickles over a buttermilk herb mayo brushed bun. The chicken itself is very tender, and the breading features a mix of white pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder, with a hint of paprika, which pairs well with the creamy and buttery avocado and smokey notes from the bacon.

The Bottom Line:

One of Shake Shack’s very best menu items, but we wouldn’t suggest this over a Shake Burger.

Find your nearest Shake Shake here.

Sonic —Pickle Fries

Best Fried Food

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

The only other repeat entry from our list of the Best Fast Food Side Orders, Sonic’s Pickle Fries are the chain’s best fried item menu-wide. In addition to being unique to the fast food space, these pickle fries just taste great, they’re briny, salty, crispy, crunchy, and fun to dip in everything from bbq sauce to ranch, ketchup, and mustard.

Sonic is the sort of place that is better for side orders and snacks than actual meals, so definitely order a lot of different things, but make sure these pickles fries are on the list if you want the best of the best.

The Bottom Line:

Earthy, briny, vegetal, and unique. Sonic’s best fried food, hands down.

Find your nearest Sonic here.

Wendy’s — Hot Honey Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Best Fried

Why It’s The Best Fried Food:

A lot of fast food chains have tried to jump on the hot honey trend in recent years, and all of them are failures when compared to Wendy’s Hot Honey Spicy Chicken Sandwich. This is Wendy’s best chicken sandwich, it’s savory, super spicy, smokey, and a bit sweet. It has a complexity that other fast food chicken sandwiches don’t have. Popeyes might make the best chicken sandwich, but this holds the award for the most interesting and complex in flavor.

The sandwich features Wendy’s spicy chicken filet topped with pepper jack cheese, applewood smoked bacon, and earthy fried pickle chips, that help to provide a double-dose of deep fried crunch. Wrapping all the flavors together is a sweet and spicy habanero honey sauce, which features fragrant floral notes and some bright citrus undertones. It really provides more flavor than any other fast food chicken in the game.

The Bottom Line:

Wendy’s best fried chicken sandwich and in the running for the best tasting in all of fast food. It’s that good.

Find your nearest Wendy’s here.

Whataburger — Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit

Best Fried Food

Why It’s The Best Fried Food

Unless there’s a Willie Nelson deep cut I’m not aware of, there’s only one item on the Whataburger menu that has been immortalized in song. That would be the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, a favorite among millions of Texans, including Pastor Fred Thomas in his ode to the breakfast and late-night staple, “Something About the Biscuit.” The lyrics:

“Something about this biscuit / It is the best biscuit I know / This honey butter chicken biscuit, I can’t explain / Every time I pass Whataburger, I hear it call my name.”

The greasy diner-worthy biscuit is buttery, and the generous portion of honey butter (everything’s bigger in.. etc.) spread over the deep-fried chicken tastes better than it looks. If all your exes live in Texas (or, um, at least a dozen other states), it’s worth visiting them for the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit alone.

The Bottom Line:

There’s a reason it’s not called Whatachicken — but the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit is still a standout.

— Josh Kurp

Find your nearest Whataburger here.