Fast Food Signature Sauces Ranked From Worst To Best

At some point in history, some fast-food restauranteur decided that plain ketchup just wasn't enough. Skip the mayo, ditch the honey mustard — the people need more. It doesn't really matter who that restauranteur was, because now we have a plethora of fast-food signature sauces to choose from, whether you want something cheesy, zesty, sweet and sour, creamy, spicy, or anything in between. You likely have a favorite signature sauce that you order religiously, but does your favorite fast-food signature sauce stand amongst some of America's favorites?

Just like fast-food chains' cult followings, signature sauces have wildly loyal fanbases who truly believe that their favorite sauce is the best of the best. Some, though, despite their following, don't rank well when it comes to other signature sauces on the market, whether it be for lack of uniqueness, a dull flavor profile, or an overall small (if passionate) fanbase. See where your favorite sauces stack up on our list of fast-food signature sauces ranked from worst to best.

KFC's Finger Lickin' Good Sauce didn't last long — for good reason

When it comes to picking the worst of the worst, the outcome is clear. KFC's Finger Lickin' Good Sauce just didn't last long for the brand and for good reason. In 2015, KFC introduced its new Finger Lickin' Good Sauce, which, from the ingredients list, looks basically a bit like a unique take on mayonnaise. As per Fewd Snobs, the ingredients include the brand's 11 famous herbs and spices, oil, egg, vinegar, tomato, and a healthy dose of high fructose corn syrup. Reviewers at the time called it "somewhere between a mayonnaise and honey mustard" — not exactly original.

Maybe that's why the sauce was ditched in 2020, as Cleveland.com reports. After a fair amount of market testing, the sauce was replaced by the new KFC Sauce. Why lose the name? The brand cited COVID-19 as the primary reason, as they didn't want to encourage patrons to lick their hands in the middle of a pandemic. The replacement sauce is quite a bit different from KFC's Finger Lickin' Good mayo-honey mustard combo, with more tang and smoke.

No one asked for White Castle's Zesty Zing sauce

Google any fast-food signature sauce and you'll find that the first things that pop up are copycat recipes. Everyone wants to make their own version of their favorite sauce at home. After all, doing so means you'll have a basically endless supply, no trip to the drive-thru required, no relying on a teenage drive-thru worker to actually give you the extra five packets of sauce that you asked for.

But the one sauce that you really won't find many copycat recipes for? White Castle's Zesty Zing sauce. Instead, when googling this signature sauce, you'll more likely find copycat recipes for the zesty sauce that people actually want: Burger King's Zesty Sauce.

So why the lack of love? It might just be that the White Castle Zesty Zing sauce has more in common with the KFC Finger Lickin' Good Sauce than you might think. Both contain high amounts of soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup, and the ingredients in the Zesty Zing sauce are likewise very similar to mayonnaise, with some flavor from the added vinegar and tomato. White Castle's sauce stands out thanks to a bit of horseradish, but that's really the only thing that makes this signature sauce only slightly better than the Finger Lickin' Good Sauce.

Arby's Sauce is an old favorite left in the dust

Arby's Sauce is a classic, sure, but that's part of the reason why it falls so far down on our ranking of best fast-food signature sauces. Many a fast-food diner may remember going to Arby's and ordering a classic roast beef sandwich and dipping that sandwich into Arby's Sauce with every bite — but when was the last time you did so? And when was the last time you heard someone raving about Arby's Sauce? With so many new signature sauces out there and no update in sight for Arby's, Arby's Sauce simply gets left in the dust. Even the list of ingredients for Arby's Sauce is boring; the first ingredient is water, followed by some corn syrup. All the flavor comes from tomato paste, vinegar, garlic, and onion. That's it.

There is at least a small following for Arby's Sauce, which sets it above some of the other signature sauces on this list. The demand was great enough that Arby's even started bottling and selling its Arby's Sauce direct to consumers, according to a 2013 press release.

Jack in the Box's Frank's RedHot Buffalo Dipping Sauce fails to impress

Jack in the Box's Frank's RedHot Buffalo Dipping Sauce is good, especially if you like Frank's RedHot  — because they're the exact same thing. You're not getting anything different at Jack in the Box that you're going to get when you just buy regular Frank's RedHot in the store. Jack in the Box had an opportunity here to really impress — as the brand does with many of its menu items that are unfailingly bad for you, but oh-so-good — but it dropped the ball here. 

The sauce you get at Jack in the Box contains very nearly the exact same ingredients as the regular Frank's RedHot Buffalo Wings Sauce that you can buy in any grocery store. The only two differences are some modified food starch and carrot fiber in the Jack in the Box variant. Otherwise, the two are identical. So, save yourself a trip to Jack in the Box to get your sauce fix and just buy up all the Frank's RedHot you want during your weekly trip to the grocery store.

Taco Bell's Nacho Cheese Sauce is a lackluster lie

Whatever your feelings on Taco Bell's nacho fries, the nacho cheese sauce accompanying those fries is lackluster at best and maybe a bit of a lie. Is it really cheese? Surely, no Taco Bell employee is lovingly melting down some freshly grated cheddar over a stovetop in the back of the Taco Bell kitchen. Instead, Taco Bell reveals that this always-liquid cheese product is made from some normal cheese ingredients, like non-fat milk and whey, then weighed down with stuff like cellulose gum and vegetable oil. All of the (little) flavor that this sauce contains comes from paprika and jalapeno puree. 

As for the texture of the sauce, some reviewers have little love for Taco Bell's cheesy offering. As Fast Food Menu Prices noted, when it was allowed to get to room temperature, the cheese "left a thick skin that the fries were unable to penetrate. Worse still, when warm, the cheese slid right off the fries."

McDonald's gets its Sweet & Sour sauce right the first time

Okay, now we're starting to get into the good stuff. Many, many fast-food restaurants offer their own version of a sweet and sour sauce, but McDonald's manages to really get it right, with the perfect sweet and sour flavor to match the brand's rather bland chicken nuggets. Maybe it's because McDonald's took a cue from Chinese restaurants that also often serve up chicken that's seasoned with a delicate touch.

The sweet and sour sauce that you might usually get from your favorite Chinese takeout joint typically includes soy sauce, rice vinegar, and some sweeteners like brown sugar or pineapple juice (via Dinner then Dessert). It's a great accompaniment to mild fried chicken or even a veggie egg roll. The McDonald's version is also made with some sweet, fruity elements, like peach and apricot flavors, along with vinegar and soy sauce, as well as a few spices. In other words, McDonald's doesn't try to make something new and unique with its Sweet & Sour sauce, like so many other fast-food restaurants have done. Rather, McDonald's took the time to perfect its offering and wound up with a winner that, while not a good pick for anything and everything on the McDonald's menu, works extremely well with the chicken nuggets.

Horsey Sauce is Arby's saving grace

In terms of Arby's signature sauces, Arby's Horsey Sauce reigns supreme — not because it's anything necessarily special, but because it's 100% honest about what it is. The Horsey Sauce is one of the few horseradish sauces that you can get at a fast-food restaurant and it goes very well with many of Arby's menu items across the board. Recognizing this, Arby's sold its Horsey Sauce by the bottle, as per a 2013 press release. It also plays pretty well with other foods, adding a bit of an edge with the sinus-clearing horseradish without overcompensating for itself. 

As food review blog Sweety High says, "The creamy sauce packs a toned-down version of horseradish-y kick, making it sharp and mild all at once. It's basically fast food horseradish aioli, and it's delicious on anything." For the fans who are buying this stuff by the bottle, surely this statement rings true.

Burger King's Zesty Sauce blows its competition out of the water

Sure, White Castle has its Zesty Zing sauce, but when it comes real zest, you can't pass up Burger King's Zesty Sauce. A delightful surprise, this signature sauce is often served with the chain's onion rings. The flavor profile of the Zesty Sauce makes it a little more like what you might see at a chicken chain versus a burger brand, but don't just take our word for it. 

Burger King's Zesty Sauce is the real deal, so much so that, in 2019, Burger King was facing a Zesty Sauce shortage. Delish reports that the shortage was the result of inclement weather in the Midwest, which impacted horseradish farms and led to reduced crop yields. Burger King fans immediately took to Twitter to complain. Restaurant suppliers warned that, if those fans began stocking up on their beloved sauce, they would see a long-term shortage, as opposed to a merely short-term delay. Luckily, the shortage is no longer an issue and you can currently find Zesty Sauce at any Burger King in your neighborhood.

Zaxby's Zax Sauce receives high marks

Regional chain Zaxby's serves up chicken strips and chicken sandwiches, just like the many other chicken chains around the country, and just like those other chains, Zaxby's offers up its own chicken-dipping signature sauce. Where Zaxby's is concerned, the Zax Sauce is, according to copycat recipe connoisseurs across the board, made with a mix of mayonnaise, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and black pepper. It's pretty simple but pretty good. Yet, it's not as good as what you'll find at other spots. 

However, despite this setback, the Zax Sauce holds its own. If you only have a Zaxby's in your area versus a Raising Cane's or Chick-fil-A, you'll still be in good hands. As one reviewer at Naples Daily News rather eloquently said, "Neither too spicy nor too sweet, it tastes of baseball games, barbecues, and picnics." According to QSR, the sauce also comes in a new spicy variant, the Spicy Zax Sauce, released in tandem with a new Zaxby's Signature Sandwich in 2020.

Wendy's Creamy Sriracha stands the test of time

In the mid-2010s, sriracha was all the rage, Thrillist reports. Around that time, everyone began adding sriracha to their menus, whether as part of a signature sauce or some other concoction. Wendy's was among them, releasing items like its sriracha chicken sandwich and sriracha bacon fries in 2016

However, as The Real Fast Foodie reported, the brand's Creamy Sriracha sauce came first, in 2015. Made with sriracha sauce and a creamy blend of eggs and vinegar like you might see in an aioli, it's not surprising that reviewers like Elliot's View basically called the sauce "a spicy mayo." However, it's a spicy mayo that's stood the test of time. 

While the sriracha trend has come and gone, Wendy's still offers its Creamy Sriracha sauce as a dipping option for chicken nuggets and other menu items, much to the delight of sriracha fans who are here for the long-haul. When you look at the other signature sauces that Wendy's offers, it's easy to see how this one takes second place, right after the next best sauce on our list.

Wendy's S'Awesome Sauce has earned a big fanbase

A relatively new addition to the fast-food signature sauce world7, Wendy's S'Awesome Sauce is, well, awesome. Released as an accompaniment to the chain's then-new chicken fingers, according to Brand Eating, S'Awesome Sauce was a signature sauce that both surprised and excited diners' tastebuds on its release, so much so that Wendy's would go on to add it to other menu items, like bacon cheeseburgers and fries (via Culture Map Houston). Wendy's describes the sauce as "combining tangy, sweet, and smoky into one savory flavor." That flavor profile has drawn comparisons to both McDonald's Signature Sauce and Chick-Fil-A Sauce. 

While you may not be able to find Wendy's 2017 chicken strips on the menu anymore, the S'Awesome Sauce remains. As one Redditor says, "I swear I've gone to Wendy's three times this past week, which I found weird, but I remembered it's because the new S'awesome Sauce is literally amazing."

McDonald's Hot Mustard made a comeback thanks to its fans

McDonald's Hot Mustard was a specialty sauce staple back in the day, but when the sauce's future was threatened, in the early 2010s, loyal fans brought it back from the brink of extinction — gaining it a top spot on our list of best fast-food specialty sauces. As Burger Beast details, around 2011, McDonald's began releasing a lot of specialty sauces geared toward its chicken nuggets, causing the outlet to wonder if hot mustard was going to be removed from the menu. 

This did indeed happen, prompting thousands of fans to cry out in protest. One Change.org petition from 2014 with more than 10,000 supporters states that "Since the beginning of McNuggets, Hot Mustard has been around [...] McDonald's, bring back Hot Mustard, for crying out loud!" McDonald's finally listened and you can now find the hot mustard sauce on the menu once again.

Whataburger Spicy Ketchup isn't just ketchup

If you have hot mustard, you need spicy ketchup, too, right? Whataburger fans are serious about the southern chain that does simple food right, from the brand's giant burgers to its delicious milkshakes, and it's no surprise that Whataburger took its ketchup a step further as well. Beyond the "fancy" Whataburger ketchup (seriously, the bottle says "fancy" right on it), Whataburger's Spicy Ketchup was added to the menu in 2013  after a successful special release in 2011.

What makes Whataburger's ketchup so special? It's thick, rich, spicy thanks to some jalapeno, and not as cloyingly sweet as some regular ketchup. You can now buy Whataburger's spicy ketchup online and via regional grocery stores like H-E-B, or if you're like some Whataburger customers, you can just start collecting as much of the stuff as possible on your next Whataburger run.

Raising Cane's Cane Sauce is second only to one

Raising Cane's is a small but growing chicken chain that serves up a simple menu of chicken fingers, sandwiches, fries, and Texas toast. It's all served up alongside the addictive Cane Sauce. According to Insider, "According to rumors (the actual recipe is closely guarded), the sauce is a mix of mayonnaise, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and garlic powder. The result is a tangy, vinegary condiment that wouldn't seem out of place as a salad dressing."

The Cane's Sauce has even won awards, being named the third-place best dipping sauce in the Thrillist inaugural fast food-ranking event. Upon honoring Cane's with the bronze, Thrillist said "It's an infinitely more complex version of Thousand Island dressing (thanks to the depth of flavor from the Worcestershire) and it's one of the most perfect sauces to dip chicken in that's ever been created." Pretty high praise for this sauce, indeed.

Chick-fil-A takes gold with its Chick-fil-A Sauce

If you didn't see this one coming, shame on you for not paying attention. Chick-fil-A boasts a cult following and so does its Chick-fil-A sauce, which is why it ranks first on our list of signature fast-food sauces. Called a "smoky mustard dipping sauce" by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the practically legendary Chick-fil-A sauce was first invented by an owner-operator in Virginia in 1983 and became so popular that diners began asking for Chick-fil-A Sauce at other locations. The single location was making up to 18 gallons of sauce per day, they needed a single employee to manage the sauce requests, and some customers would straight-up leave if they were out of the sauce. 

Eventually, that owner-operator gave up the sauce recipe to Chick-fil-A corporate and the rest is history. The restaurant is still trading on the sauce's popularity, too. In 2020, Chick-fil-A announced that it would begin selling bottled versions of its sauces in Florida grocery stores.