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We Tried Popular Spicy Fast-Food Items and This Is the Best One

For the lovers of heat, our winner is a must-try.
FACT CHECKED BY Mura Dominko

In recent years, spicy fast-food options have become more commonplace than ever. It may have started off with classics like spicy Tex-Mex offerings and Southern-inspired eats, but hot sauces, jalapeño slices, and spiced up breading have now found their way into other, unexpected menu items like burgers, chicken sandwiches, and even fries.

With spicy novelty options spreading like a tasty wildfire across the fast-casual industry, I took to my delivery apps to find out which currently popular hot offering truly achieves a harmonious flavor profile.  This isn't a ranking of the spiciest items available, but of the best-tasting spicy items. And don't miss This New Plant-Based Chain Claims to Be the Next McDonald's.

7

Burger King's Jalapeño Poppers

burger king
Kaley Roberts/ Eat This, Not That!

There's no way to put this lightly: these were a major let-down. As a lover of all things spicy, jalapeños are at the top of my list. But these babies were strangely bereft of the popular pepper they're named for. Instead of being filled with jalapeño, Burger King's Jalapeño Poppers are small fried curds that are largely hollow (except for a bit of oozing nacho cheese).

Sure, they're convenient and tasty to the extent that they're bite-sized and fried, but my first thought when taste-testing was: is there any jalapeño in this? After a bit of inspection and barely any taste indication, I determined that yes, there is a small piece of jalapeño inside each of the poppers. Its flavor, though, is limited to the aftertaste—and even then, I wouldn't call these poppers "spicy."

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6

Jack in the Box's Spicy Sriracha Burger

jack in the box sandwich
Kaley Roberts/ Eat This, Not That!

The inherent issue with sampling fast food? Taste can vary by location, by day, by time. So while I'm reluctant to write off Jack in the Box's Spicy Sriracha Burger completely—the concept alone is so promising!—I will say that the specific burger I was served did not live up to the hype.

Served between two pieces of buttery grilled toast instead of a bun, this burger derives its heat from jalapeño slices as well as a creamy Sriracha-based sauce. However, my first bite of this burger tasted burnt, dry, and not at all spicy. But I soldiered through, past the rubbery bacon, and by the time I got to the center of it, the heat kicked in. In fact, the middle of the burger tasted like a different sandwich altogether—the patty was smothered in spicy sauce, which the sourdough toast absorbed on a level that wouldn't be possible with a standard burger bun. Ultimately, bites five, six, and seven saved this burger from coming in dead last.

5

KFC's Nashville Hot Chicken

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Kaley Roberts/ Eat This, Not That!

Chicken is KFC's wheelhouse, and apparently, so is spice. These tenders are truly hot, and unlike many of the other items we ranked, don't depend on a sauce to make them that way. The heat is baked into the breading, making these a stand-alone indulgence with a powerful, fiery-mouth aftertaste. The breading wasn't just hot and flavorful, though—it was crispy in a way that perfectly contrasted the soft chicken meat beneath it.

The only drawback? For me, KFC's chicken is too melt-in-your-mouth buttery, to the point where it just tastes greasy. But this is fully a personal take, and if you like KFC chicken and spice independently, you'll love how they come together in the Nashville Hot Chicken.

4

McDonald's Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich

mcdonalds spicy chicken sandwich 3
Kaley Roberts/ Eat This, Not That!

Oh, the spicy crispy chicken sandwich. McDonald's has been pouring their marketing resources into this bad boy, which came out in late February. I was hopeful that Mickey D's invested the same amount of R&D in the sandwich itself as they did on its elaborate rollout and, after digging in, I wasn't disappointed.

The breaded chicken is juicy and interesting—it has more of a smoky aftertaste than anything else, which sets it apart from the other fast-food chicken patties. The potato roll is moist and soft and completes the sandwich, while the pickles on top of the patty add some dimension. But when it comes down to the heat with this under-five-dollar delight, it's all about the sauce. This is not a negative, per se—who doesn't love a dripping portion of chipotle-mayo-esque sauce—it's just a simplistic albeit effective way to spice up a sandwich.

3

Popeyes' Spicy Chicken Sandwich

popeyes spicy 4
Kaley Roberts/ Eat This, Not That!

Points for Popeyes on aroma alone. Before this creation even left the bag, it filled my entire apartment with glorious fried chicken notes (and sure, some may see this as a negative). When I did take it out, though, I was surprised. Popeyes' take on the spicy chicken sandwich looks next-to-nothing like its competition.

For starters, the chicken looks like an actual, legitimate chicken breast. Fully breaded, thick, and juicy, it almost makes the sandwich too big to eat, which is one way it outdoes the Mickey D's version. Another feature that makes it better? The pickles are bigger and better, too.

Similar to its golden-arches counterpart, Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich derives all of its spice from the sauce. The difference here, though, is that the sauce is slightly hotter and the chicken's breading has divots that it seeps into, increasing the heat factor. Overall, even though they are almost identical concepts, Popeye's old favorite still edges out McDonald's new creation.

2

Five Guys' Cajun Style Fries

cajun fries
Kaley Roberts/ Eat This, Not That!

There's something undeniably magical about the way Five Guys serves their fries: in a heaping pile that spills out over the top of an extra-tall soda cup, filling the bottom of a brown paper bag with grease and goodness. When I realized Five Guys had hopped on the spice train by modifying their already-perfect fries, I was excited. The Cajun Fries were, in many ways, even more legendary than the regular offering.

They arrived in the signature grease-stained brown bag, and when I opened it, you could smell the heat. These babies are caked in cajun flavoring and were the saltiest, hottest french fries I've ever had. They were also less greasy than usual—maybe the flavoring covers that up a bit—and had a layered flavor that went deeper than just spicy. This makes them one of the best spicy options on our list.

1

Arby's Spicy Gyro

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Kaley Roberts/ Eat This, Not That!

Believe it or not, Arby's Spicy Gyro wins for a few reasons. First, the customization factor: your spicy gyro can be made with lamb, beef, or turkey, which gives everyone something they'll like. I went with turkey, feeling like it was an opportunity to be a little healthier, and it was a game-changer.

The light meat, stacked inside a soft, warm pita alongside lettuce, tomato, and onion, had less of a fast-food vibe and was more resonant of a homemade sandwich. The creamy tzatziki added a Greek dimension, and the spicy red hot chili sauce delivered more of the spice and less of the heat. Arby's creates their spiciness in the same way all other fast-food spicy-sandwich purveyors do: by leaning into the sauce. But something about the way it folds into the pita with the rest of the fresh-tasting ingredients sets this spicy offering apart. For under $5, it's a must-try.

For more, check out the 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are.

Kaley Roberts
Kaley Roberts is a food writer. Read more