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I Tried Every Bloomin' Onion Spin-Off at Outback & the Best One Was Better Than Steak

The steakhouse chain aims to replicate its best-selling appetizer in multiple ways, but are any of them actually good?
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It's the dish that made Outback Steakhouse famous: the notorious Bloomin' Onion. Sliced into some 200 petal-shaped sections, dredged in batter and spices, then deep-fried to a crisp, the colossal whole-onion appetizer has been greasing fingers, pleasing palates, and devastating dietitians since its inception back in 1988.

Outback sells over eight million orders of this glorified twist on traditional onion rings every year, accounting for roughly one of every four starters at the Aussie-themed chain, according to the company. Unsurprisingly, the ever-popular app has also inspired copycats, such as the so-called Cactus Blossom at Outback's steakhouse rival Texas Roadhouse.

Lately, Outback has tried to spread its iconic onion's magical fairy dust across other parts of its menu, too. At least seven other items currently include some nod to the famous fried app. Some are fellow starters. Others are full-blown entrées. Either way, they usually either come topped with crispy petals plucked from the fabled onion itself, or they're otherwise battered, seasoned, and fried just like it.

I set out to try every single one to determine whether the Bloomin' phenomenon has any real bounds, or if it should even attempt to transcend its root-vegetable, um, roots, at all. Here's how each item stacked up, ranked in descending order from my least favorite to the absolute best new Bloomin' innovation yet.

Bloomin' Fried Shrimp

Bloomin' Fried Shrimp at Outback Steakhouse
Chris Shott for Eat This, Not That!
Per Order: 990 cal, 66 g fat (22 g saturated fat), 5830 mg sodium, 53 g carbs (5 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 45 g protein

This fried shrimp appetizer is perhaps the most obvious extension of Outback's Bloomin' formula, swapping out the veggie base in favor of America's favorite de-shelled shellfish. The starter cost me $15.79.

The look: Golden brown, speckled with spice, and splattered with sauce. The fried shrimp did not look out of place upon the famed onion's usual serving tray. I counted a plentiful 30 pieces arranged around a ramekin of the chain's signature tangy dipping sauce.

The taste: Spicy and surprisingly juicy, but salty as the sea. The tender battered shrimp arrived crispy and heavily seasoned as you'd expect, but burst with briny liquid upon every bite. That was the pleasant part. The more of these that you eat, however, the more you notice how heavily salted they are. And, if you look at the nutrition facts, you'll be shocked to see that the shrimp contains even more sodium than the original fried onion—a whopping 1,690 milligrams more, in fact.

I love fried shrimp, but I couldn't bear to finish even half of these.

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Bloomin' Fried Chicken Sandwich

The Bloomin' Fried Chicken Sandwich at Outback Steakhouse
Chris Shott for Eat This, Not That!

Per Order: 700 cal, 34 g fat (15 g saturated fat), 1380 mg sodium, 62 g carbs (5 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 37 g protein

Fried chicken sandwiches are all the rage these days, especially the spicy kind. So, I fully expected Outback to easily succeed with this Bloomin'-battered bird on a bun. Drizzled with that same signature sauce and served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a side of Outback's truly excellent Aussie fries, this sandwich cost me $14.99.

The look: Darkly fried and smaller than I expected. The light-weight cutlet teetered atop a substantial pile of veggies underneath.

The taste: Overcooked. The chicken arrived plenty crunchy outside but rather dry inside, save for a tiny juicy oasis smack in the middle of the meat. Were it not for the fresh toppings and buttery, toasty bun, I would have cast it aside after a bite or two. I've enjoyed far better-tasting chicken sandwiches at fast-food joints for a lot less money. Thankfully, the fries were still good.

The Bloomin' Burger

The Bloomin' Burger at Outback Steakhouse
Chris Shott for Eat This, Not That!
Per Order: 1140 cal, 80 g fat (33 g saturated fat), 2180 mg sodium, 65 g carbs (4 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 40 g protein

Here's another no-brainer that Outback should be able to execute with no problem: pull a handful of crispy Bloomin' Onion petals and pile those atop a cheeseburger. Easy, right? Like its whole-onion forebear, this burger is a dietitian's nightmare, but probably less concerning for your financial advisor, especially compared to more meatier items on the Outback menu. It costs $14.79.

The look: Very inviting. The golden-brown onion slivers, roughly a dozen or so, seem right at home atop the melty American cheese-smothered beef patty.

The taste: Rich and juicy but where's the crunch? The burger itself was truly tasty. The onions, meanwhile, were barely detectable, which is a big problem. You'd need a much bigger serving of the crunchy bits in order to justify the $2 upcharge from Outback's standard burger. Of all the disappointments thus far, the burger is probably the most surprising. It's only ranked higher because the beef itself is so good.

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Bloomin' Fried Chicken

Bloomin' Fried Chicken at Outback Steakhouse
Chris Shott for Eat This, Not That!
Per Order: 970 cal, 70 g fat (18 g saturated fat), 2170 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (6 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 53 g protein

After the debacle with Outback's simple fried-chicken sandwich, I didn't really expect much better from the full Bloomin' Fried Chicken entrée, which is, naturally, more expensive. Served with your choice of two sides, it cost me $21.99.

The look: Much bigger and much lighter brown than the sandwich-sized breaded cutlet. The fried chicken came spattered with sauce and sprinkled with herbs.

The taste: Astonishingly good. Crispy, well-seasoned, and exceedingly juicy, this spiced chicken dish turned out immensely more satisfying than the sandwich version. It also paired marvelously with Outback's creamy mashed potatoes. Though it probably benefited from lowered expectations, this chicken is proof that the casual steakhouse chain can do a decent job with other proteins, too.

Hot Honey Shrimp

Hot Honey Shrimp at Outback Steakhouse
Chris Shott for Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition information unavailable.

This new limited-time offering at Outback takes that not-so-great Bloomin' shrimp appetizer and tries to improve it by adding a few things, including a spicy, house-made hot honey and sliced Fresno chili peppers. The souped-up starter cost me $14.99.

The look: Festive and fun! Piling on bright red chilis, green onions, and lemon slices really livens up the appearance of the formerly drab, mostly brown platter.

The taste: Remarkably more balanced. The sweetness from the honey really cuts the saltiness of the batter-fried shrimp, while the fresh chilis add a different layer of texture and a whole other level of spicy heat to the mix. It's a more complete and complex assortment of flavors than the regular version. If I were an Outback exec, I'd seriously consider scrapping the other shrimp app and making this one its permanent replacement.

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Filet Sheila

Chris Shott for Eat This, Not That!
Per Order: 840 calories (additional nutrition information unavailable)

This new menu item includes two tiny filets, topped with melted provolone, sautéed mushrooms, peppercorn sauce, and a pile of what Outback calls "fried Bloomin' Carrot Crunch." Served with two sides, the dish cost me $30.49.

The look: Totally smothered but interesting! Presumably, there's some beef under all those toppings, but what's most intriguing is the carrot component. The veggies are sliced thin, julienne-style, then seasoned and deep-fried, onion-style.

The taste: Weirdly appealing. I'm not normally a fan of drowning good-as-is beef in sauce and toppings, but I enjoyed this saucy steak a lot more than some of the other more straightforward fried-food offerings. The meat came pink and juicy inside. The cheese added some tang. The mushrooms and gravy gave it richness and lubrication. And those spiced carrots on top are a clever riff on the old fried onion: a little more tender and a lot more earthy and sweet than the standard root veggie. I could see Outback adding this topping to other dishes, like salads.

It's easily the most unique of all the current Bloomin'-themed options, but there's one entrée I liked even better.

Sirloin & Hot Honey Chicken

Hot Honey Chicken at Outback Steakhouse
Chris Shott for Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition information unavailable.

Another limited-time offering, this enticing entrée makes a striking addition to Outback's regular lineup of "Steak & Mate" combos. It's a mashup of several things I've actually liked from this daring experiment: you get that same crunchy, spicy, juicy Bloomin' Fried Chicken, flavored with the hot honey, lemon, and fresh chilis of the new and improved shrimp appetizer. Plus, you get a slab of steak and two sides to boot. Paired with a six-ounce sirloin, this chicken dish cost me $25.99. (You can also upgrade to an eight-ounce steak for two bucks more.)

The look: Colorfully garnished and glistening from all the hot honey. The golden-fried chicken really pops against the backdrop of charred beef and herb-sprinkled mash upon that stark white plate.

The taste: Sweet, spicy, savory, and simply delicious. Texture-wise, flavor-wise, there's a lot going on here. The hot honey gently moistens the crunchy breading, making it incredibly easy to eat, and the chicken itself seems even juicier and more flavorful than the regular Bloomin' fried chicken. This chicken dish is so good that I feel sorry for the steak it comes with, which tastes incredibly bland by comparison.

Memo to Outback: Make this spicy chicken dish a permanent part of your menu, but leave off the superfluous sirloin. That beautiful bird is good enough on its own.

Chris Shott
Chris Shott is the Deputy Editor covering restaurants and groceries for Eat This, Not That! Read more about Chris