Dairy Queen Vs Carvel: Which Makes The Better Ice Cream Cake?

When two of the biggest ice cream outlets on the dessert scene offer ice cream cakes, it can be a challenge to know which chilly treat is a more worthy purchase. With Dairy Queen and Carvel serving up sweet stacks of frozen delight to serve at your special occasion (even if your special occasion is a Tuesday night snack attack), there's a definite pecking order between these two ice cream creators. Both chains have pedigree to spare. Originating in 1940, Dairy Queen is such a familiar name in the history of fast food that it's become known by the initials DQ, while Carvel opened its first shop all the way back in 1936 and created the first franchise ice cream shop in 1947. If you're going to have options for ice cream cakes on your party menu, these are two of the best spots for the job.

It may come down to a matter of taste, but we had the feeling that either Dairy Queen or Carvel produced a better ice cream cake. So we put their taste to the test, standing ice cream cakes from both brands side by side to determine the cool winner. Read on to find out which is the better treat.

Both Dairy Queen and Carvel ice cream cakes are widely available

Carvel's 337 locations may exist only in 19 states, but the wonder of a Carvel ice cream cake is that you don't need to have a shop nearby to buy one. Carvel stocks its selection in grocery stores like Kroger, in the frozen food sections of big-box retailers like Walmart, and with some online retailers, making simple work of grabbing a frosty cake whenever you need one. At Kroger locations, the cakes are in the deli. While all contain a whimsical sprinkle-laden border, some are pre-piped with a frosted "Happy Birthday!" on top. Others contain simple circles or a fully blank top, ready for a customized message to be added by the bakery crew. You'll also find a variety of sizes, everything from an adorable 6-inch cake that serves five to a half-sheet size that serves 18.

Meanwhile, Dairy Queen makes no secret that it operates a gob-smacking 4,272 locations in 49 states (none in Vermont). That number is nothing to sneeze at no matter how cold it is inside the restaurant ... which is where you'll have to go to get a DQ ice cream cake. Unlike Carvel, DQ sells its creamy creations only at its own locations. You can order 8-inch or 10-inch round cakes, a 9-inch heart-shaped cake, or an 11-by-14-inch sheet cake to satisfy various sized crowds. You can also pop in for a single-serving cupcake on in-between occasions when you're a party of one.

Cakes from both spots are made of similar stuff

Don't be fooled by the name. There's no actual cake in these ice cream cakes. Even in a homemade ice cream cake, including cake is optional and usually frowned upon by aficionados who know that ice cream cakes consist only of layers of frosted ice cream. Some clever ice cream cake makers use ice cream sandwiches, but Carvel and Dairy Queen stick to the basics with ice-cream-only cakes dressed up with a bit of fancy filling and tasty topping.

Despite Carvel's range of in-store ice cream flavors and the ability to customize your cake with any flavor at one of its shops, its ice cream cakes sold at grocery stores use a limited flavor set. A chocolate-and-vanilla affair like the one we tested is filled with a layer of fudge that holds chocolate cookie crisps. The ice cream is topped with a layer of frosting, plus decorative frosting piped around the top edge and adorned with a smattering of sprinkles. Other featured cakes available in Carvel shops include Strawberry Crunchies, Fudgy the Whale, and Cinnabon. Dairy Queen offers ice cream cakes in several Blizzard-inspired flavors, including Oreo and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. The basic format is identical to Carvel's, with frosted chocolate and vanilla ice cream surrounding a middle of fudge and cookie crumbles. To keep things even, we opted for the basic recipe for both.

DQ prices are better overall, but Carvel has a better range

Ice cream cakes are something of a luxury item, so they don't come cheap no matter where you buy them. Depending on the size, you can find sensibly sized versions to serve small groups, larger iterations to feed bigger crowds, and even personal-sized takes to get just enough to feel satisfied.

Carvel's store-stocked cakes at Kroger range from a 6-inch round cake called Lil' Love, priced at $17.99. The label suggests five servings, which end up being almost bite-sized. You can also find an 8-inch round Happy Birthday Celebration cake for $26.99, a rectangular Original Ice Cream Cake for $31.99, and a half-sheet Celebration Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Cream Cake for $35.99. According to Carvel's site, servings for larger cakes range between 14 to 16 people and 35 to 40 people. Dairy Queen's site displays a similar selection, though ice cream lovers can get a cupcake-sized version for about $3.29 to enjoy without having to share. Other sizes include $24.99 for an 8-inch round, $25.99 for a 9-inch heart, and $31.99 for a full sheet.

Prices for both brands may vary by location, of course. At $29.99, our 8-inch Dairy Queen test cake cost slightly more than the prices listed online.

Dairy Queen's ice cream cake has a slightly better nutritional profile

You may not be eating an ice cream cake for its nutritional content, but you'll still want to know what's in your dessert, especially if either Carvel or Dairy Queen offers a preferable option. Due to its compact shape, Carvel's miniature cake can be consumed in its entirety with ease, but even a small slice is rich enough to give cautious eaters reason to think twice. The sheer height of Dairy Queen's 8-inch ice cream cake is a great cue that a single, sensible slice will be more than enough to satisfy a sweet tooth without impacting the daily recommended allowance of indulgent eating.

According to the nutrition facts on the box, a slice of Carvel's Lil' Love ice cream cake will net you 270 calories and 15 grams of fat, 10 of which are saturated, equating to 52% of the daily recommendation. You'll also be consuming 23 grams of sugar, which is 39% of what you should be taking in each day. Meanwhile, a slice of Dairy Queen's larger ice cream cake plates up 370 calories and 13 grams of fat, 8 of which are saturated, equating to 40% of the daily recommendation. There are 42 grams of sugar present as well, but the inclusion of milk ingredients means you receive 200 milligrams of calcium and 150 micrograms of vitamin A. 

Carvel's ice cream cake is odd-flavored

Carvel's ice cream cake has a thick layer of whipped cream covering the upper tier of vanilla ice cream, beneath which lies a crunchy-gooey combination of fudge and cookie crumbles. Beneath that, a base of chocolate ice cream provides a foundation that was immediately slippery when taken out of the freezer. Though the cake was small, slicing through the fudge and crumble layer was a difficult task; it felt as if the fudge was a little too thick and the cookies not crumbled up finely enough for the knife to pass through. The looseness of the chocolate ice cream made it difficult to cleanly lift the slice from the cardboard box and onto the plate.

The rough texture of the center layer also made it difficult to pass a fork through, but we persevered for the sake of food science — we can't let things like sticky chocolate keep us from pursuing happiness. But as promising as the combination looked, it took only one bite to realize how artificial the Carvel frosting tasted. The texture was also disturbingly oily, not light and fluffy like real whipped cream or buttercream or even smooth and melty like Cool Whip. As expected, the fudge layer with the cookie crumbles was difficult to chew, and the flavor of the chocolate ice cream seemed to disappear altogether.

Dairy Queen's ice cream cake is a fresh-tasting classic

Dairy Queen's ice cream cake showed much more distinct layers with chocolate ice cream on top, a more forgiving layer of fudge and chocolate cookie crumbles in the center, and a base of vanilla ice cream. Similar to the Carvel cake, the Dairy Queen cake also had an outer layer of whipped frosting, with only a modest chain of piping around the top and bottom edge. This encased the entire cake in a soft shell that protected the inner ice cream and seemed to keep it firmer. The difference was notable and made for a much more satisfying experience.

Slicing into the Dairy Queen cake was much easier, which was not surprising, considering the lush texture of the ice cream in both layers. Even the fudgy filling gave away to the knife without a struggle, allowing for clean slices that looked more presentable on a plate than Carvel's had. And the flavor of the chocolate ice cream came shining through first, while the gooey fudge and crumbles combination added a luscious texture and an extra blast of chocolate before I reached the cloud-like bottom tier of vanilla. The ingredients had a much more natural taste and texture, and all elements were fresh and flavorful.

Verdict: Dairy Queen is the reigning champ in the ice cream cake realm

Carvel does its best to present a worthy challenge with its ice cream cake, but Dairy Queen has a clearly superior product. It isn't too surprising, considering the familiarity of the DQ brand with the ice-cream-eating public. It feels like the company takes its ice cream cakes as seriously as it takes its cone- and cup-based offerings, ensuring the same quality experience no matter which frozen form you prefer. That attention to detail was certainly present in the cake we tested, from slicing to serving to tasting.

As in-store options go, Dairy Queen's inclusion of familiar Blizzard flavor combinations in its cake line feels like a stronger enticement that the few variants Carvel offers. But when tasting the basic offerings side-by-side, we found there was no doubt that one cake was a superior product and left the other out in the cold. So while Carvel's Lil' Love ice cream cake may maximize cuteness with a combed whipped cream top and colorful confetti, Dairy Queen's standard combination comes through where it really counts: in flavor, texture, and overall enjoyment. In this ice cream cake battle, DQ has the cake you'll want to warm up to.