Sonic Drive-In receives national attention thanks to its quirky TV advertising and, if you’ve never been to a Sonic, you may find yourself easily salivating over the delicious-looking coney dogs, burgers, tots, milkshakes, and more that end up spinning across your television screen. However, tried-and-true Sonic fans — as well as Sonic employees — know that there are a few items on the Sonic menu that you’ll want to avoid, first-timer or not. While Sonic does a few things very, very well, some of the chain’s menu items are lackluster at best, dangerous at worst (either for your heart health or your stomach).
To help you best decide on your next Sonic meal, we’ve compiled a list of the top 14 items you should never order at Sonic, from menu items that are rarely fresh to those that are known for cross-contamination to even those that just can’t stand up to some of Sonic’s better options.
Your Sonic Blast could contain some items that are very much not actually food
The Sonic Blast is one of Sonic’s most beloved menu items. Ice cream swirled with a range of toppings and add-ins, like candy, if you’ve yet to try one, think of them as essentially Sonic’s version of a Dairy Queen Blizzard. However, it’s not uncommon for diners to find unusual items in their Sonic Blasts. According to one Redditor, "[I] started eating it, and found like a little shred of plastic in my mouth after taking a bite (like, just a little plastic fiber.) No matter, I … just keep on eating, only to realize that I’m four bites in and EVERY single bite has had multiple plastic strips in it."
Sonic employees came to the Redditor’s rescue to explain what exactly was going on. Apparently, employees say, all those ingredients crammed into your ice cream can make a Sonic Blast a bit difficult to mix up. The result is a blender working extra-hard to blend everything and, sometimes, the Blast cup is damaged in the process. Unfortunately, in many cases, the employees just dump the mixture into a new cup before it gets to you, leaving remnants of the old, damaged cup in the mixture, whether it be paper or plastic.
The vanilla ice cream in general isn’t really a winner
However, Sonic’s ice cream problems go beyond the Sonic Blast and its plethora of paper and plastic bits. Employees report that the vanilla ice cream is pretty suspicious all on its own and, if you’re really conscious about food safety and kitchen cleanliness, you may just want to opt for a different Sonic dessert the next time you stop by. While Sonic did make a big change to "real" ice cream in 2010, according to CBS News, following years of using a product that was not legally considered ice cream (they could get away with calling it "soft serve," though), the real ice cream still isn’t ideal. Sonic was still using real ice cream in 2016, but that didn’t matter to a Sonic employee on a Reddit thread who called the vanilla ice cream "nasty." So what exactly made this "real ice cream" so nasty?
"We use bags of milk that we pour in this machine that then turns it into soft serve. But I worked at one location that just about never cleaned the machine out," confessed the employee. "We added new milk into the old milk over and over without first dumping the old milk out. At the end of the summer, we found mold and a dead fly in the milk tray." Nasty indeed.
Sonic’s chili may sit around for a while before making it to your car
It’s not just the vanilla ice cream that could potentially be older than you might like. Turns out, the Sonic chili — a necessary ingredient for Sonic’s famous coney dogs — sits around for a while, too. According to a Men’s Health article that looked at Reddit responses to a thread on things to avoid at popular fast-food chains, one Redditor said that the Sonic chili, very much like the vanilla ice cream mix, "comes in a bag" and then "gets warmed up in a metal tub, and then sits for 10 hours until we run out and replace it." And while no one expects fast-food chili to be made to order (after all, chili takes a while to cook), most diners would probably agree that 10 hours is a little too long to let the chili set before refreshing the batch (preferably after removing the old stuff).
As unappetizing as that may be, the Sonic chili coney has remained popular enough to become its own Slim Jim flavor.
Be wary of the condiments if you’re allergic to onions
But the same Sonic employee on Reddit wasn’t finished spilling the dirt on the drive-in fast food restaurant. The former employee went on to say, "If you’re allergic to any kinds of foods be weary [sic]. Onions are in the same dressing station as the rest of the condiments and cross contamination is not our problem."
This is unfortunate, as onion intolerance — and intolerance to allium plants in general, including onions, garlic, leeks, chives, and scallions — is a growing issue for many diners, as a Popular Science article points out. But is it really, as bad as the Redditor claims, "not our problem"? According to Healthworks Collective, a restaurant like Sonic would only be liable for an allergic reaction if it was "acting negligently" — in other words, ignoring expressed concerns on the part of the diner or not taking precautions against common allergens (or simply posting that they’re unable to meet those precautions, if that’s the case).
Milkshakes could be a major concern if you have a food allergy
Probably more concerning than the onions are the Sonic milkshakes — if you have a peanut allergy. The former Sonic employee found fault not just with onion cross-contamination in the dressing station but said, "the same goes for peanuts with the shakes." This could be a much larger deal. While Popular Science’s take on the growing sensitivity to onions and other allium plants details how exposure to those plants can result in unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, anyone familiar with a peanut allergy knows that exposure — even in the smallest amounts — can sometimes lead to death.
Health.com calls peanut allergies the most widespread of all food allergies in the United States and one quoted doctor even calls the growth of peanut allergies an "epidemic," affecting 1 in 70 children. But, unfortunately, even if you did experience some sort of allergic reaction to peanuts at Sonic, it’s unlikely that you could take any legal action. That’s because Sonic posts on its website that "blended/mixed drinks and frozen desserts may come in contact with milk, egg, soy, wheat, gluten, peanuts, and tree nuts" — which essentially puts the chain in the clear.
This cheeseburger is the highest-calorie dinner item on the Sonic menu
If you’re watching your waistline, you may want to steer clear of Sonic’s Super Sonic Bacon Double Cheeseburger with mayonnaise. Called "the most unhealthy item you can get at Sonic," this cheeseburger is packed with flavor, sure — but it’s also packed with calories and sodium. In fact, it’s the highest-calorie savory item on the Sonic menu (unless you’re planning on taking out a family-size serving of chicken wings all on your own). The cheeseburger boasts 1,240 total calories, 87 grams of fat, 35 grams of saturated fat, 265 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,690 milligrams of sodium.
According to the FDA, depending on your gender, age, and amount of regular activity, then, this burger could account for more than half of your recommended caloric intake. As for the saturated fat, the American Heart Association recommends those on a 2,000-calorie diet consume no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day. At 35 grams, it’s easy to see how the Super Sonic Bacon Double Cheeseburger with mayo is definitely not the most heart-healthy option on this menu.
The popcorn chicken is low in calories, but makes you pay in sodium
"Okay," you think. "So I’ll avoid the cheeseburgers, since they’re high in calories and saturated fat, and maybe I’ll go for something a bit healthier, like chicken. Chicken is usually healthy, right?" You check the total calories found in a large-size serving of Sonic’s jumbo popcorn chicken and see that it contains 640 calories for the lot. Not bad.
Unfortunately, what you save in calories with the jumbo popcorn chicken, you pay for in sodium. A large serving of the jumbo popcorn chicken contains more sodium than any other item on the Sonic menu — 2,140 milligrams. Compare that to the 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day that the American Heart Association recommends and you have a problem. The popcorn chicken also boasts 37 grams of fat, a bit of trans fat (which the U.S. government recommends eating as little of as possible), and even some sugar.
Depending on your health goals, you might actually do better by opting for the higher-calorie cheeseburgers over the popcorn chicken.
Those tiny M&M’s in your Sonic Blast pack a big, sugary punch
You don’t really expect a Sonic Blast to be low-calorie. After all, it’s ice cream topped with crushed candy. However, you may not expect your Sonic shake to be as unhealthy as it really is and to account for the majority of your day’s calories, either. That’s the case, though, when you order a large Sonic Blast topped with either M&M’s or Oreos. The two options tie for Sonic Blast with the most calories, both coming in at 1,780 calories for the serving. The M&M’s version has a slight edge over the Oreos option, though, with its higher sugar content — 197 grams, or the equivalent of 50 teaspoons.
But don’t think that you need to avoid dessert at Sonic completely in order to cut back on calories. Going with a small or mini-sized Sonic Blast can cut your caloric intake down quite a lot. If you can’t resist the large size, though, try the Sonic Blast with Snickers; it contains the least calories for the same size, with 1,600 calories.
If you’re in a hurry, don’t order the boneless wings
One of the largest appeals of fast food is that it’s, well, fast. So, if you’re in a tremendous hurry the next time you stop by Sonic, one of the chain’s skating carhops recommends on Quora that you skip the boneless chicken wings. Why? She notes, "There [are] things that will take longer to cook. Wings usually take 6–9 minutes to cook depending on the thickness of the wings, the number being cooked at once, and the fryer temperature. They aren’t sold with consistency enough [to] precook any. So 9 times out of 10, if you come after 6 p.m. you’ll be waiting for wings."
On one hand, this could be a good thing. If this Sonic employee is correct and Sonic’s boneless wings aren’t pre-cooked, you’re guaranteed fresh wings every single time. However, if you’re in a hurry, this could be enough to turn you off, as you could be waiting for your order up to 10 minutes or longer after you place said order.
Don’t expect your crispy chicken to be fresh from the fryer
Along these same lines, while you can expect your Sonic chicken wings to be relatively fresh, you can’t expect the same of other crispy chicken items on the Sonic menu, such as the Chicken Slinger sandwich or the crispy tenders. That’s because, as another Quora user and prior Sonic skating carhop pointed out, Sonic expects its employees to fill orders within three minutes. However, cooking the crispy chicken takes at least five minutes, if the employees cook the chicken until it reaches the proper, safe temperature. As such, if your chicken made it to your waiting vehicle in fewer than five minutes, it’s not fresh.
As the employee states, "If you ordered crispy chicken and it didn’t take 5 minutes to get to you, it didn’t come straight from the fryer. That’s not to say that it’s old, it just wasn’t thrown in the fryer the minute you ordered it …"
Why go for the French fries when you can do so much better?
Sonic is one of the only fast-food restaurants where you can order tater tots and the tater tots are, admittedly, one of the items that Sonic does really, really well. Whether you order them plain and salted, smothered in cheese, or topped with chili, Sonic’s tater tots are reliably crispy, hot, and just downright tasty. So, with this in mind, why in the world would you go to Sonic and order the chain’s french fries? The tater tots are widely considered to be the superior option; as one reviewer for The Buffalo News said, "If nothing you’ve read thus far is bringing you to Sonic, the tater tots should do the trick … Someone is bound to toss a few of these in a volcano and create a religion surprisingly popular among Hollywood celebrities. Put them in your face or risk dying without ever seeing the light." Comparatively, another reviewer laid down the truth regarding the french fries, simply saying, "The Sonic french fries … are no good, I’m sorry to say."
There’s no such thing as a sugar-free Slush at Sonic
Maybe you order sugar-free items because you’re cutting down on your sugar consumption. Maybe you have a medical condition that requires you to eat less sugar. Whatever the case may be, if you order a sugar-free Slush at Sonic, you should get what you’re ordering … right? Unfortunately, that’s not going to be the case. According to employees on Reddit, the Sonic sugar-free Slushes aren’t actually sugar-free. This is a tricky area, because Sonic offers sugar-free syrups that you can add to your sugar-free drinks, including mango, raspberry, and blackberry syrups. So, it would stand to reason that if you add these sugar-free syrups to a Slush as your flavoring option then — voila — you have a sugar-free Slush.
However, as an employee pointed out, "If you get these syrups in Slushees, the slush mix is full of sugar so it won’t be sugar-free … Sometimes employees lie to diabetics who want sugar-free Slushees, even though it’s really not." So, the culprit here isn’t the sugar-free syrups; instead, it all comes down to the slush mix, making a Sonic sugar-free Slush virtually impossible.
The strawberries in your Sonic dessert may look a little different
If you have a reliable, all-time favorite Sonic strawberry dessert, you may have noticed that the strawberries look a little bit different than they once did. According to an article from the University of Arkansas, Sonic has been experiencing food shortages related to the COVID-19 pandemic, having trouble getting its hands on items like ketchup, cherries, and, yes, strawberries. Employees on Reddit are pointing out that, as a result, Sonic has switched to different strawberry providers and ingredient manufacturers, which has resulted in some suspiciously low-quality strawberries. Employees share that the strawberries "have to be artificially colored or something because the drinks are way more pink than they used to be" and "they are horrible tasting." But, in some instances, as customers also chimed in on the thread, this won’t even be a worry for diners, because some Sonic locations have stopped selling strawberry-based items altogether, at least for the foreseeable future.
You’d do best to not start your day off with a Sonic breakfast burrito
What could be better than starting your day off with a filling, healthy breakfast? Not much, right? Well, don’t look for that healthy breakfast at Sonic, at least not if you plan on ordering one of the chain’s breakfast burritos. Eat This, Not That named the Sonic Ultimate Meat & Cheese Breakfast Burrito one of its worst overall fast-food burritos (in terms of nutrition), thanks to the burrito’s high-fat content, trans fat content (which, remember, the government recommends you eat as little of as possible), and whopping more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium.
And if all that salt wasn’t enough to scare you off, one Quora user who previously worked as a Sonic crew member claims that "You should definitely avoid our burritos. They are made from eggs in a carton that aren’t always kept at a safe temperature." Of course, egg storage complaints have to be taken with a grain of salt, given that raw eggs are kept at room temperature in many other countries around the world (it all has to do with the egg’s shell coating), even if that’s not the case in the United States.