Fast food hash browns ranked from worst to best

Done right, hash browns may be the most fantastic fast food breakfast item ever created. They're hot, they're crispy, and they almost never need ketchup. Plus, they come in fun shapes. It's not often you get to eat food that comes in the form of a rectangle.

Not all fast food hash browns, however, are created equal. For something that basically has one ingredient, there's a surprising amount of variation out there. Grease level is a major factor, as is salt. Flat versus round is also important. Then there's potato preparation, which can make or break a good hash brown. Some of them are perfectly flaky, yet some aren't even hashed. Half the time they taste like old french fries that got squished together and re-dipped in fry oil. One thing's for sure though, everyone loves a good hash brown, and we've tried them all. Here they are, ranked worst to best.

Carl's Jr. Hash Rounds

Imagine a bagful of sizzling hot, golden hash brown nuggets, each one featuring an impossibly light and crispy exterior, a delicately fluffy yet moist interior, and an ever-so-slight dusting of salt to round out the natural potato flavor. Now picture the exact opposite, and you'll know what to expect from Carl's Jr. These aren't crispy and fluffy. They're crunchy and dense. They're the oat cakes of hash browns, woefully lacking in anything resembling substance, let alone taste. Also, the potatoes appear to be mashed, and mashed potatoes are about as exciting as dirt. We're actually mad at Carl's Jr. After all, this is a place that once tried to push a Flamin' Hot Cheetos Burger on people. We know they can get creative, but it's like they hate the potato. It's the only explanation we can think of for why they would put something out there so unlikable. The one consolation is that they only cost a little more than $1. Next.

Dunkin' hash browns

We have to hand it to Dunkin'. They do try, as you can see by the flecks of herbs in their hash brown circles. According to the Dunkin' blog, the signature to their "seasoning profile" is a proprietary blend of sage, garlic, and parsley, among other untold ingredients. They also claim to source their potatoes from the U.S. Northeast and Pacific Northwest, inexplicably adding how "cool" this is. What's not cool is how they taste suspiciously thawed out from a previous frozen state, kind of like shrimp do. Maybe we're wrong, but hash browns shouldn't taste like something that flatlined and got deep-fried back to life. The crispiness is there, but there's a definite lack of fluff. They're even slightly bendy, and bendy food just doesn't taste fresh no matter how many herbs you put in it. So the next time you're at Dunkin', do the smart thing and get yourself a warm, sugary donut instead.

Del Taco Hashbrown Sticks

Del Taco's hash browns taste exactly like what you might think — an afterthought. We're not even sure they're trying here. Not that we blame them, considering the competition out there in fast food breakfastland can be awfully fierce, and most people who get up before 10:30 in the morning probably aren't aware Del Taco even has breakfast. They're also called hash brown "sticks," a word that should not, in our opinion, be applied to food unless it refers to that which holds together a kabob. Sticks are small and dry. Maybe it's psychological, but these feel pretty small and dry, as well. In fact, they're the exact same shape and size as something you'd find in your cat's litter box. But they are fairly crispy, and crispiness is generally acknowledged to be the signature of a good hash brown. That, and lack of grease. One Yelper claims that even though Del Taco served her lukewarm hash browns (there's nothing worse than a lukewarm potato product), at least they didn't give her mouth a "weird oily film" like some others do. We just wish they'd make them a little heartier, and a little more potato-y. In the meantime, we'll stick with tacos, thanks.

Taco Bell hash browns

Speaking of Mexican fast food restaurants with mediocre hash browns you may not have known existed, there's Taco Bell. Yup, Taco Bell also does breakfast, including hash browns. They had to do something. There's a whole morning crowd out there to feed and nobody eats Burrito Supremes at 8:00 a.m. They eat eggs and potatoes. So, like Del Taco, Taco Bell is simply supplying a demand, except with no taste or imagination. Their hash browns are bland, slightly mealy, and as dry as the paper they come in. Also, kind of thin. This is not what we were expecting. Seriously, it's Taco Bell. Would it be so wrong to want a little bit of grease? Or a lot more salt? We're definitely underwhelmed. Two taste-testers for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette agree, calling them "Standard food service fare, deep fried and in need of ketchup," and "Dried out and flavorless." But hey, at least they're only $1.

Burger King hash browns

(Yawn) Sorry, where were we?

Oh yeah. The hash browns from Burger King. Boooring. Burger King calls them "a blissful breakfast favorite," but this is clearly marketing mumbo-jumbo and not at all indicative of what these nugget-sized hash browns taste like. Yes, they're crispy. But they're also tragically plain, and curiously not even that potato-y. That's what happens when you use no seasonings whatsoever, except salt, which doesn't really count. Salt is a given. This is fast food. It probably wouldn't surprise you to know that a medium serving of Burger King's hash browns actually contains 580 milligrams of sodium. That's roughly a quarter of your day's sodium intake down the drain, all for 10 ultimately flavorless deep-fried nuggets. They also come with 250 calories. Would you rather eat bland hash browns, or indulge in a Starbucks Grande Frappuccino, which actually has 10 fewer calories? Easy question.

Chick-fil-A hash browns

Chick-fil-A is a phenomenon. They're the In-N-Out Burger of chicken fast food restaurants, easy and mega-delicious. People are obsessed with Chick-fil-A, and for good reason: It's some darn tasty chicken. Again, chicken. The hash browns are a different story. For one thing, they come in a box, which only works if you  eat them right away. Wait any longer, and you'll have what amounts to a sad pile of shredded potato balls that have lost their crisp. If they manage to stick together, that is. There's also an unidentifiable graininess to them, almost like dirt, but since potatoes are white and we didn't see anything that wasn't white, we presumed it was, in fact, not dirt we were tasting and that it would be okay. It's just a shame these don't have a little more flavor. One reviewer who ranked all 30 items on the Chick-fil-A menu put the hash browns at number 28, followed only by the yogurt parfait and the frosted lemonade. "Meh," he said. "Mostly filler." We agree.

Arby's Potato Cakes

Arby's Potato Cakes come in the shape of triangles and we have no idea why. You don't normally see triangular food, unless it's been sliced out of something circular, like a pizza. Not only that, the container they come in isn't triangle, which means the two Potato Cakes you get in an order don't really fit. This throws off the entire presentation. But on the bright side, Arby's Potato Cakes are much thicker than the average hash brown — the flat ones, at least — and super fluffy. The grease factor is minimal, as is the salt, and they also have a bit of sweetness to them. Best of all, they're hearty. They're a handful of chunky, starchy goodness, and pretty much what you'd expect from a fast food chain that specializes in large and sloppy meat sandwiches. After all, no one goes to Arby's thinking they're going to "hold back." Try them alone, or with a little ranch sauce. You won't be sorry.

Sonic Tots

Generally speaking, cafeteria food sucks. It's notoriously boring, not to mention gross. There's not a reason in the world for a restaurant to invoke the heyday of cafeteria food, because in reality there wasn't one. Tater tots, however, are the exception. The name alone makes us smile. And while we're not quite sure how the Ore-Ida people feel about the fact that their name (and shape) has basically been stolen by Sonic, their Tots are awesome. These little cylinders are lightly crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside, and beyond delectable. But what really makes these so great, as one blogger writes, is "that culinary 'X' factor born from nostalgia and simplicity." And if simplicity isn't your thing, here's a crazy hack for you: Extreme Tots. Ask for it by name, and Sonic will top those tots with chili, cheese, ranch dressing, onions, and jalapeño peppers. It'll be your new favorite guilty pleasure.

Jack in the Box hash browns

One word: Yowza. The hash browns from Jack in the Box aren't your usual, let's-just-shred-some-potatotes-and-form-them-into-a-patty-and-drown-them-in-hot-oil-and-leave-it-at-that kind of thing. They're more like the how-in-the-world-do-they-make-potatoes-taste-this-freakin'-amazing kind. The smell alone is mouth-wateringly potato-y, as you'll find out if you order them in your car. (That smell does kind of stick, though, so watch out for that.) Not bad from a fast food restaurant whose "spokesperson" is a large, white clown head. Jack in the Box may actually have ended up closer to the top of this list if it weren't for the fact that they're way too thin. Like, paper thin. Not to sound gluttonous, but Jack in the Box could easily double up on the thickness. Or, just make them less wide and shorter, and we'll happily go with the illusion that they've doubled it. Until then, we might have to spring for two at a time. They're that good.

McDonald's hash browns

Just for a moment, forget the rest. McDonald's hash browns are ridiculously perfect. They're a handful of slightly sweet, buttery potato bits, dipped in magic, and enveloped in magnificence. One bite will simultaneously zing you back to being 10 years old again, and make you grateful to be at an age — we assume — where no one can tell you anymore you're not allowed to eat at McDonald's. They're the standard to which all other hash browns should be measured, although what makes them so fantastic isn't exactly measurable. Is it some kind of special salt? Or maybe the beef flavoring they use in the fry oil? Are they made with a secret recipe of exotic seasonings only known to a few select people in the upper echelons of the McDonald's organization who have undoubtedly signed non-disclosure agreements? Whatever it is, they're what you call inspired. "Glistening with oil," one Taste writer says, "their crunchy golden crust belies a soft, pale filling of potato bits that look like they've traveled through a wood chipper, been glued together with some sort of starch, and fried to crunchy oblivion." Tons of recipes exist for you to duplicate these at home, but don't bother. You won't even come close.