Along with the internet and no-spill wine glasses, the modern breakfast sandwich ranks among one of the most momentous inventions of the 20th century.
Some food writers credit Chinese railroad workers and loggers with dreaming up the breakfast sandwich to satisfy their pining for egg foo young. Other historians claim that American pioneers created the dish in an attempt to mask the flavor of spoiled eggs during long journeys. But McDonald’s is largely credited for establishing the breakfast sandwich as an American culinary staple. It was McDonald’s humble Egg McMuffin that went down in history for getting the country addicted to breakfast sandwiches and paving the way for the entire fast food breakfast industry.
Following the success of the Egg McMuffin, one by one, competitors like Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s introduced their own breakfast menus. Today, you can get some version of a breakfast sandwich at nearly every major chain, in addition to other delicious post-dawn delights like burritos, biscuits, hash browns, and everything in between.
Still, certain chains have been less successful than others. To help you start your day with some delicious drive-thru dining (while avoiding rubbery eggs and soggy biscuits), here is a definitive list of fast food breakfast menus, ranked from worst to best:
Did you know Subway served breakfast? Neither did 19 percent of Subway customers. The sandwich chain launched a breakfast menu in 2010, but the menu was so unsuccessful, Subway started letting locations opt out of serving breakfast in the summer of 2018.
The decision to phase out breakfast may be as good for Subway’s finances as it is kind to unsuspecting earlybird customers who wander in, searching for something edible. Subway’s breakfast offerings consist of four sandwiches with ingredients like bacon, steak, and egg. These sandwiches can be served on any one of Subway’s signature uninspiring breads. The meat tastes (and probably was) sitting out on the assembly line all morning. The egg blend is bland and rubbery, and reportedly contains a disturbing number of scary ingredients like propylene glycol (also found in antifreeze), glycerin (found in soap), and dimethylpolysiloxane (found in Silly Putty). Not exactly the type of stuff you want to line your tummy with before heading off to school, work, or crime fighting.
15. Jack in the Box
Okay, remember when we told you that McDonald’s gets all the credit for masterminding the breakfast sandwich and spearheading the entire fast-food breakfast industry in general? Well, turns out, Jack in the Box had been serving a less successful version of an egg, meat, and cheese morning sandwich for at least a year before McDonald’s rolled out its Egg McMuffin. What’s more, Jack in the Box has been serving breakfast all day for more than two decades. It’ll be a while until McDonald’s can make that claim.
So why haven’t Jack in the Box’s breakfast offerings enjoyed the same lovin’? As anyone who’s gazed blearily down at the contents of their brown paper Jack in the Box bag in the early morning can tell you, the chain’s morning selection is just a little lackluster. It’s got your standards: English muffin breakfast sandwiches, biscuit sandwiches, croissant sandwiches, hash browns, and mini pancakes. All hearty, familiar, and fast — but unremarkable.
It even has a couple of breakfast burritos, one of which is served with a promising sounding "creamy Sriracha sauce." But while the Sriracha sauce has a distantly Sriracha-like flavor, it doesn’t pack much heat. This makes it especially disappointing to spicy-fanatics who saw the words "Sriracha" and dared to hope.
When Starbucks first opened, it served up coffee and espresso drinks, and not much else. It wasn’t until 2003 that the chain started offering breakfast sandwiches at its Seattle locations, but these days you can find all sorts of goodies at Starbucks.
Their sandwiches consist of the usual suspects — meat, egg, and cheese on ciabatta, biscuit, English muffin, and croissant. But what sets theirs apart is that they’re made with high-quality ingredients. The breads are fresh, flaky or soft as needed, and not too dry. There’s cheese, of course, but we’re talking Swiss, Gouda, and cheddar, not the mysterious processed American cheese you find elsewhere. But there are some disappointments. The scrambled eggs you get on your sandwich are actually "puffed scrambled egg patties" that contain milk, food starch, soybean oil, and other additives. Oh, and they’re all pre-made and frozen before being shipped to the store and re-heated.
Their baked goods (also frozen) include simple offerings like muffins and bagels, as well as patisserie items like almond croissants, danishes, scones, and sweets. Or, if you’re looking to be a little more nutrition-conscious, you can try a cup of oatmeal, a yogurt parfait, or an egg and cheese protein box. Basically, they’ve got something for everyone — though none of it is really better than passable.
Their beverage offerings, of course, can’t be beat. Serious coffee snobs can get a cup of single-origin pour over, while their caffeine-averse friend slurps on a strawberries and creme blended Frappuccino. They also serve tea. Basically, if you’re thirsty in the a.m. or craving a little pastry action, they’ve got you covered with something that’s not bad, but not great either — as long as you don’t mind a re-heated breakfast.
Of course, you can always make your own copycat version of your favorite Starbucks breakfast items if you want to ensure they’re fresh. Our recipes for Starbucks copycat pumpkin scones, pumpkin bread, lemon loaf, and egg bites are all better than anything you’d pick up through their drive-up window.
13. Dunkin’ Donuts
Dunkin’ Donuts is the type of restaurant that people have strong allegiance to. When the east coast chain opened its doors for the first time in Los Angeles, people waited in line for up to 30 hours to get a taste of the menu. So, what do they have to offer?
The chain lives up to its name, serving up a basic selection of donuts, pastries, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches in the morning, along with beverages. Though it does have a new menu of handcrafted espresso drinks, where Dunkin’ Donuts shines is with their flavored coffee options. They specialize in seasonal drink flavors like PEEPS Marshmallow coffee, and as anyone who’s from New England (the birthplace of DD) can tell you, their coffee is best served iced, even if there’s snow on the ground. It’s pretty acidic and a little bitter when enjoyed black, so it’s one of those places that caters heavily to people who prefer cream and sugar in their java.
The Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast sandwiches are, sadly, a little lacking. Their basic meat, egg, and cheese numbers come served on an English muffin, bagel, or croissant, and they also have mini Wake-Up Wraps of egg, cheese, and the optional meat. We’ve noticed that the English muffins have an off taste at this chain, and while the croissant option is a little too greasy, the bagels tend to be dry. What gives? The donuts are consistently good, though, and the muffins are out of this world (at 460 calories a pop, they better be good!).
For your best bet at Dunkin’ Donuts, order a donut and a flavored iced coffee to start your day. American may run on Dunkin’, but not on their breakfast sandwiches.
If you weren’t aware that Wendy’s serves breakfast, it’s because it’s a fairly recent addition. The franchise began dabbling in breakfast back in the ’80’s, but pulled the menu from most restaurants after struggling to make a substantial profit in the competitive fast-food breakfast market. It got another try with a nationwide breakfast rollout in 2020. Unfortunately, their breakfast menu is still a work in progress.
Wendy’s offers their own take on a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, a much-sought item on the breakfast menu of its Texas rival, Whattaburger. But Wendy’s version doesn’t quite stack up to its Whataburger doppelganger.
More successful items on the Wendy’s morning menu include the seasoned homestyle potatoes and the Classic Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich, which is served on a warm breakfast roll with American cheese, freshly cracked eggs, and applewood smoked bacon. Plus, Wendy’s serves its own brand of Redhead Roasters coffee, which has been lauded as one of the better coffees offered at a fast-food establishment.
11. Burger King
Envious of McDonald’s success, Burger King was the next major fast-food chain to give breakfast a go. After some initial floundering, Burger King unveiled the Croissan’Wich n 1983. As the name suggests, the sandwich, which is still served today in many variations, was served on a croissant, and included egg, cheese, and sausage, bacon, or ham. For many smaller-town Americans, Burger King’s Croissan’Wich was their first experience eating a croissant—a culinary rite of passage indeed.
Of course, the croissant of the BK Croissan’Wich isn’t exactly as magnifique as the croissants you’d find at a quaint cafe on the streets of Paris. The Croissan’Wich croissant is soft and often served flattened, but hey, a croissant is a croissant, oui?
Since the Croissan’Which, Burger King has beefed up its breakfast menu to include everything from breakfast burritos to sourdough breakfast sandwiches. Some of these items, like the French Toast Sticks with hot syrup, are winners — though we’re pretty partial to our own five-ingredient version of those. Others, like the pancakes, which are frozen and reheated, are predictably ehhhh.
Upon first glance, Sonic’s breakfast menu looks like your average breakfast menu. There are a few burritos, a couple of breakfast sandwiches, and French toast sticks. But Sonic adds a few touches that make its menu stand out.
For starters, both the SuperSONIC and Ultimate Meat & Cheese burritos include bonafide tater tots, a breakfasty spin on the California burrito which comes stuffed with french fries. And the SuperSonic even comes with REAL VEGETABLES like tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos. ¡Que increíble! The Breakfast Toaster is another favorite, a breakfast sandwich served between two thick slabs of Texas Toast.
To top it all off, Sonic is another one of those magical establishments that serves breakfast all day. In fact, it serves its entire menu all day, which means the intrepid among you could pair a breakfast burrito with chili cheese fries, or an Oreo peanut butter shake, or your favorite flavor of slush. And after placing your order, one of their infamous roller-skating carhops will even wheel it straight to your car, where you can gnaw down your breakfast in privacy without having to brave the harsh, morning sunlight.
9. Carl’s Jr.
Carl’s Junior’s all-day menu is not for the faint of heart, the small of stomach, or the devoted of Weight Watchers participants. And it’s breakfast menu is no different. The menu can be divided into three categories: hearty made-from-scratch biscuits, massive burritos, and more.
The "and more" section of the breakfast menu is where Carl’s Jr. truly shines. "And more" consists of the chain’s infamous breakfast burger, an impressive tower of cheese, bacon, egg, hash browns, and a beef patty. Carl’s Jr. claims it was the first major hamburger fast food chain to put an egg on a burger and initially offered the item during regular breakfast hours. In 2017, however, the franchise announced it would serve its breakfast burger all day long. Now, when it’s 3:30 p.m., and you’re craving a breakfast that packs in more than half your daily recommended calories, you can have a breakfast burger without waiting for breakfast the next morning. That’s the kind of world we live in.
Just to clarify, we’re talking about Jack’s here, not Jack in the Box. If you try to order a steak biscuit from your local Jack in the Box, you’re in for some disappointment. Jack’s motto boasts that "It’s all about the South," and the restaurant has nearly 200 locations scattered throughout Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia.
Any restaurant that tries to do too much is always in danger of jeopardizing quality. Somehow, Jack’s manages to do both burgers, fried chicken, and breakfast without dropping the ball on taste. The breakfast at Jack’s isn’t especially complex, and customers have their choice of pancakes, a breakfast wrap with eggs and sausage, hash browns, the Big Breakfast Sandwich, a breakfast platter, and an array of biscuits. The pancakes and breakfast wrap are nothing special, so your best bet is going with some sort of biscuit or the sandwich.
The biscuits at Jack’s are made from scratch each morning, and while not quite as good as Bojangle’s or Chick-fil-A, they are rather tasty. Buttery, fluffy, and fresh, you can’t go wrong with a classic bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit order. If you want to venture outside your comfort zone, though, consider their limited-time-only bologna biscuit.
This Southern fast food chicken restaurant stands apart from most fast food places serving breakfast, as it doesn’t technically have a breakfast menu. You may not see "breakfast" on the Bojangles‘ menu board, but make no mistake about it, if you drive by one at 7 a.m., you’ll almost certainly see the drive-thru line stretching around the building. And, when it comes to breakfast at Bojangles’, it’s all about the biscuits.
If biscuits are on your mind in the morning, you really can’t go wrong with Bojangles’ and you’ll find them in the top three (if not number one) on just about any fast food biscuit power ranking. The biscuits are made from scratch every 20 minutes (quite possibly by a sweet old grandmother) and are perfectly flaky on the outside, soft on the inside, and buttery without being greasy. Whether you opt for fried chicken, sausage, country ham, gravy, or pimento cheese, you can bet that it will taste great with these biscuits.
If you prefer sweet over savory, consider ordering a cinnamon biscuit or Bo-Berry biscuit with drizzled icing. Plus, they’re available all day, so even if you sleep until noon, you can still enjoy a Bojangles’ breakfast.
In addition to the Christian conservative movement, Chick-fil-A is devoted to one thing: chicken. You might protest that chicken has no place on a breakfast menu, but the poultry-partial franchise works hard to prove you wrong.
The star of the Chick-fil-A menu is arguably its Chick-n-Minis, which are effectively your standard Chick-fil-A nugget tucked into warm, mini rolls and coated in honey butter. But then again, if that’s all you’re after, you could always make your own copycat Chick-fil-A nuggets and a fresh batch of biscuits, and skip that wrap-around line.
Beyond the Chick-n-Minis, Chick-fil-A offers chicken-centric breakfast items like a chicken, egg, and cheese bagel and hash brown scramble with chicken nuggets and jalapeno salsa. In 2016, Chick-fil-A updated its breakfast menu with The Egg White Grill, a multigrain English muffin sandwich featuring grilled chicken breast and egg whites. The new item did ruffle some feathers, as the egg white sandwich replaced the popular Spicy Chicken Biscuit.
If you, like some bloggers, happened to be disturbed by the mother-and-child-reunion combination of chicken and egg, Chick-fil-A does offer some chicken-free breakfast items. Go healthy with a Greek yogurt parfait or fruit cup, or go the opposite way with a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit.
We’ve gotta give credit to Panera when it comes to breakfast. In a world of breakfast clones, they’re making an effort to be different. While everyone else is doing pancakes and biscuits, Panera is serving up wraps with chipotle chicken, scrambled eggs, and avocado. They do have a lot of breakfast sandwiches, but customers have more options than just a biscuit or English muffin to hold their sandwich contents in place.
Customers who want a breakfast sandwich can get their scrambled egg and sausage, or egg white and spinach fix on both toasted brioche and ciabatta rolls. Unlike some of the fast food entries on our list, Panera uses fresh eggs on all of its sandwiches, which make a world of difference in terms of taste over the liquid egg product that comes in a carton. And if a loaded breakfast sandwich isn’t your thing, a bowl of oatmeal, cup of Greek yogurt with berries, or toasted bagel with cream cheese is also available.
CNBC reported in 2019, that Panera had revamped its breakfast menu to compete in the ultra-competitive breakfast wars, and items like the Spinach & Bacon Souffle are a welcomed alternative to the normal fast food breakfast fare. The food at Panera might not always be as fresh as they market it to be, but their breakfast options are pretty solid. The only downside is that if you try to order it after 10:30 in the morning, you’ll be out of luck.
4. White Castle
Whereas other fast food chains are going with biscuits or burritos when it comes to breakfast, White Castle is sticking with what it knows best — sliders. The Castle has been cranking out breakfast for over 30 years and currently offers five breakfast sandwich/slider choices with some tempting add-ons like hash brown nibblers and mini Belgian waffles with dipping syrup.
Speaking of Belgian waffles, it would be wrong if we didn’t point out that White Castle’s waffle sliders are without a doubt the stars of their breakfast menu. White Castle is pretty secretive about the specific bakery that provides its waffles, but the company goes so far as to import them from Belgium. The waffles are definitely on the sweet side with a smooth vanilla undertone. And with real eggs scrambled fresh in-house, you can’t go wrong with the classic bacon, egg, and cheese waffle slider. If you’re looking for something even heartier, the chicken and waffles slider with country gravy is a knockout.
Following McDonald’s lead, White Castle was wise enough to start serving cravers its breakfast menu all day back in 2015. Should you be unfortunate enough to live in some part of the United States without a White Castle, you can still buy items like the sausage, egg, and cheese slider in the frozen foods section of some grocery stores such as Kroger. But let’s be honest — they’re nothing like the real deal.
3. Taco Bell
Say what you will about Taco Bell, but you’ve got to give the Tex-Mex(ish) chain points for creativity. Their breakfast menu, launched only in 2014, is daring in its omission of classics like traditional breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, and oatmeal. At a time when most Americans are foggy-eyed, cranky, and not in the mood for shenanigans, Taco Bell has boldly experimented with non-conventional morning meals like the Waffle Taco and the Breakfast Crunchwrap.
Though the Waffle Taco has disappeared from the menu, Taco Bell has kept its Breakfast Crunchwrap and introduced a number of other sorta-Tex-Mex-inspired breakfast creations, like the Grand Scrambler (a monstrous breakfast burrito with your choice of meat plus eggs, potatoes, cheese, pico de gallo, and sour cream) and the Mini Skillet Bowl (eggs with pico, melted cheese, and potatoes). For those hankering for something sweet, T-Bell offers Cinnabon Delights, which are basically two donut holes filled with icing. And if you happen to like to take your morning meal with a punch in the face of sugar and caffeine, you can wash it all down with a Mountain Dew Kickstart Orange Citrus, a sort of carbonated fake orange juice.
For those living in the dark, lonely states without Whataburger (there are currently 40 of those sad states), we’ll do our best to explain the breakfast tour de force that is the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit.
Imagine a biscuit: golden brown on the outside and fluffy and buttered on the inside. Then, picture a thick, crispy chicken breast tucked inside that biscuit and drenched in a honey butter sauce that may or may not contain crack. So awe-inspiring is the biscuit, that a pastor in McKinney, Texas wrote a soulful, three-minute ballad to the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit called "Something About This Biscuit".
Beyond the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, Whataburger offers an extensive breakfast menu of other winners, like the crunchy hash brown sticks, Breakfast on a Bun (your typical egg, cheese, and sausage breakfast sandwich, but on a bun), and its notorious taquitos, revered as manna from heaven by many Texans.
That titan of fast food chains that started it all, McDonald’s still reigns supreme when it comes to fast food breakfasts. Since making breakfast history with the Egg McMuffin in 1971, Mickey D’s went on to mastermind gems like portable hash browns, biscuit breakfast sandwiches, and the majestic McGriddle.
To satisfy the public’s insatiable, all-day-all-night hunger for their breakfast dishes, McDonald’s introduced all-day breakfast in 2015. No longer do hungover breakfast seekers have to roll out of bed and speed over to McDonald’s, only to discover they’d stopped serving breakfast at 10:30 a.m. Today (depending on the location), you can feast upon a Sausage McMuffin or Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Bagel at any hour of the day or night.
For those of you who are craving some morning McDonald’s but hesitate out of concern for your, you know, arteries and stuff, you may be happy to learn McDonald’s even offers some healthy(ish) options, including fruit and maple oatmeal and an Egg White Delight McMuffin, made with "100% freshly grilled egg whites and 250 calories." Though reasonable healthy, they still, somehow, manage to be totally tasty, too.
And if you’re not fortunate enough to live near a McDonald’s that serves breakfast all day, you don’t have to set your alarm. You can just whip up your own McDonald’s-style breakfast with our copycat recipes for their Sausage McMuffin with Egg, hash browns, and breakfast burrito.