The unsung hero of the fast food game is undoubtedly the ice that accompanies our drinks. It can complement the highs of a wonderfully greasy meal or makes the lows all the more tragically low. After all, it’s one thing to have a cold flavorless pizza, but to sip on an extremely watery soda with it adds insult to injury. For people who like to crunch on ice after they finish their meal, the quality and texture of ice can be a deciding factor in which restaurants they frequent.
Perhaps awe, as patrons, should begin to appreciate ice cubes so we can also figure out just what exactly makes them good and what makes them great. BES Group focused on how clean the water behind fast food’s most prominent ice cubes is (it’s often not as clean as you would hope). A student contributor at NPR used fast food ice cubes as a means to reflect on her childhood. Over here at Mashed, we are sticking to the question of who is serving up the best fast food ice cubes and where you can expect to have the best fountain drinks. Below is a definitive ranking of 12 different fast-food titans and the ice cubes that landed them here. Read on to see where your favorite ice is placed on the list.
12. Dunkin’ Donuts
It makes sense that coffee giants like Dunkin’ Donuts would have some cubes worth talking about. In recent years, iced coffee has only taken a more prominent place in America’s drinking habits. When you run on Dunkin’s, how good are the ice cubes that are clanging around in your requisite iced coffee as you are on said run? The reviews are mixed.
Dunkin uses a standard cube that keeps its coffee cool and yummy without melting too quickly. While there’s nothing wrong about the ice cubes per se, the chain has come under fire for using too much ice. The question of how much ice really came into cultural question when one Dunkin’ employee posted a TikTok showing just how much ice is in a Dunkin’s iced coffee. There’s just about twice as much ice as there is coffee. For some, this was simply unacceptable. Thankfully, the solution can be as simple as making sure to order the iced coffee with less ice. It seems like the donut chain may have been at least somewhat aware of the controversy, as it launched coffee ice cubes in 2016, presumably in the hopes of letting people enjoy iced coffee that gets stronger with time (via Brand Eating). Sadly, the caffeinated cubes are no longer for sale.
In-N-Out is a bit of an isolating choice, as the splendors of this fast food haven are limited to the Western half of the States. Nonetheless, the ice cubes from this Pacific coast favorite are good enough to put it on the national map. As per the company website, In-N-Out’s ice comes in cubes that have been made carefully to be smooth and uniform.
So popular are In-N-Out’s ice cubes, that the burger joint even offers up bags of ice that can be purchased separately. The chain offers the same quality ice that it serves up at the shop in convenient bulk form. The kitschy bag decorated with a polar bear decked out in a cozy hat and scarf can also only be praised as a wonderful aesthetic move. The restaurant says that if you want, you can go ahead and crunch on the ice as its own snack. Really, the biggest drawback of these ice cubes is that you can’t get them everywhere in the United States.
People have a lot of love for Popeyes, specifically for its chicken. For a moment though, all anyone could talk about were the chicken joint’s ice cubes, or rather, the antics surrounding them. Landing in what can really be known as fast food infamy, one Popeyes employee took to dunking a basket full of ice cubes into the kitchen’s deep fryer. While no damage was done to the restaurant, and more importantly people working there, it was certainly a potential trend that went way beyond entertainment and edged precariously into danger.
But, it’s worth taking a peek under the plastic lid and seeing exactly what Popeyes has going on ice-wise. Thankfully when it comes to exploring fast food refreshments, dedicated Redditors over at the cheekily titled r/Hydrohomies sought to rank the best ice cubes around. Compared to other lists, like ours, this Reddit list is a bit more limited and scope as it only takes into account the crunchiest ice cubes you can find. While the Reddit post lists Popeyes’ cubes as an underwhelming "C," other posters disagreed with the ranking presented in the thread, so you might like Popeyes ice more than that grade would lead you to believe.
9. Burger King
Burger King is another burger chain that doesn’t limit its ice cube sales to soda pop. Instead, for those who are looking for some ice cube to bring home en masse, Burger King offers up, pun intended, whopping 5-pound bags of ice for as little as $1 at the time of writing (via Talk Radio News). As per the aforementioned site, the ice that the burger royalty is peddling is the standard cubed ice. On this list of absolutely well-made ice that is nothing short of magnificent, it’s, admittedly hard to justify ranking this run-of-the-mill ice highly. After all, you can easily make it in something as simple as an ice cube tray.
But there is something to be said, especially given the current economic state, for the price-conscious bags of ice to-go. Internationally, there’s also some buzz going on about Burger King ice. Burger King of Japan took an innovative approach to a major heat wave by adding a layer of shaved ice to the Whopper (via Chewboom). Descriptively named the Ice Whopper, perhaps it’s the cool push that States’ BK needs to truly up its ice game.
8. Taco Bell
For some, it may feel sacrilegious to rank anything from Taco Bell at the top of any list of good eats. But, to the naysayers, the greasy guilty pleasure restaurant is certainly capable of providing some of the best eats around, at least in all things junk food. Where would we be, culturally, without the likes of Doritos Locos Tacos or Baja Blast? Speaking of which, Baja Blast, much like revenge, is a dish best served cold. And how else would it be chilled other than with the simple ice cube?
Taco Bell opts for standard cubed ice, though in varying sizes and states of breakability. For those who prefer their drinks cold, it’s simply divine. There are some larger ice cubes to keep the drink cold while the more crushed ones give ice eaters a delicious snack.
That being said, not everyone is impressed. One Redditor lamented in 2022 that the Taco Bell app did not have a "no ice" feature and they were constantly struggling with the gargantuan amount of ice in their drinks. So buyer beware: Taco Bell has good ice cubes, but they often come in obscene amounts.
7. Jimmy John’s
Jimmy John’s is one of the more laid-back chain restaurants, the kind that takes a backseat to other more luminous eateries on the list. But for the dedicated ice cube lovers that are on the hunt for the next best crunch, the sandwich palace is simply impossible to not mention. Two years ago, one ice lover took to Jimmy John’s subreddit to praise it specifically and solely for its ice cube offerings.
While the board couldn’t come to a conclusion as to what specific style of ice is served by the sandwich masters, one tweet from the official Jimmy John’s Twitter indirectly notes that officially the shop serves up crushed ice. It seems like this was a good decision. One Redditor even chimed in and observed in the same thread that, allegedly, one customer would come into Jimmy John’s regularly only to buy four cups of ice. That not only speaks to dedication, but to quality. There are certainly plenty of great things about Jimmy John’s ice, and really only a few places that can top it.
The golden arches have all but become synonymous with fast food. McDonald’s undoubtedly has a lot of menu items, both secret and specialty, that are worth talking about. When looking at ice cubes, for example, we would simply be remiss not to mention Mickey D’s bags of ice. According to Shopping B.xplained, the bags of ice sold at the burger clown palace are one of the best deals around. Priced at the time of writing between .99 and $1.50, it is possible to order a huge 8-pound ice bag at the drive-thru or counter according to the aforementioned source. For those looking for a good deal on ice cubes for a function, McDonald’s is among the better options.
When it comes to the ice cubes themselves, there are a few things to note. McDonald’s ice is standard cubes, meaning that it is the classic style most people equate generally with ice. But, there are some special aspects to the cubes. In a piece with PureWow, one food writer observed that the ice cubes sold through McDonald’s tended to be cleaner and more prone to good breakability than their generic store brand counterparts. So, as far as cubed ice on the fast food market goes, you simply can not go wrong with this fast food icon.
Chipotle is one of those casual places that is built on choice: It starts as you walk up to the counter and ends with visiting the soda fountain, cup in hand. Although there’s really only one type of ice that you can get at this otherwise choice-heavy chain. As per the restaurant’s official site and the photo above, it appears that it sells primarily square ice cubes (via Chipotle). While some ice lovers, or chewers, would write this off as basic, there are benefits to opting for the classic ice cube style. As Bar and Restaurant points out, ice cubes have a smaller surface area and will melt much more slowly than crushed ice. This means that there’s less of a risk that the drink will be watered down, which given the boldly flavored lemonade at Chipotle, would be nothing short of tragic. Standard cubes will maintain the drink’s even and cool temperature, so you’re sure to have some relief from the hotter dishes.
An added bonus is the amount of (relative) freedom at Chipotle. It’s up to you to decide how much ice is going into your drink, so you can actively figure out what amount of ice works best for your fast food soda needs. But do be kind and patient if your particular Chipotle’s running low on ice. According to one Reddit board, Chipotle employees are responsible for filling up the ice in the soda fountain themselves.
4. Pizza Hut
Ice isn’t necessarily the first thing that come to mind when talking about one of the country’s most famous pizza chains, Pizza Hut. But for soda fountain aficionados, the Hut has something undeniably good to offer in way of refreshments. On Escapist Magazine’s public forum, one man nostalgically reflected on the different ice cubes he enjoyed in his childhood at many different fast food establishments. Among those listed, he noted that Pizza Hut had some of the "most fun" ice cubes. The Hut served up unique ice cubes with holes in the middle that allowed the patron to entertain themselves by fishing out ice cubes with their straw back in the day.
Over on the public question board Quora, one curious fast food connoisseur, asked the big question: Why do Pizza Hut ice cubes melt so slowly? While there isn’t any straightforward answer from the company, one commenter theorizes that the ice cubes are made from distilled or purified water. Because the water lacks impurities, it melts more slowly.
No one chain has quite captured America’s coffee craze like Starbucks. There’s no shortage of frozen, cold, and chilled drinks served up at the cozy café chain, from Frappuccinos to cold brews, iced coffees, and Refreshers. It’s only expected that the coffee chain would have its ice cubes figured out to make sure that these stellar drinks remain palatable no matter how warm or hot the weather. As noted by one Starbucks supervisor on Reddit, all of Starbucks’ ice cubes are made in-house using a large industrial ice machine, resulting in ice that one poster described as "the best."
But for some, all the ice cubes do is get in the way of the most important aspect: The coffee. For a limited time, Starbucks floated the possibility of coffee ice cubes that were sure to do anything but dilute the frozen drinks (via Business Insider). Unfortunately, for undisclosed reasons, these artisanal ice cubes were never nationally released nor did they make it to the permanent menu. Starbucks lovers will need to, for the time being at least, stick to the standard amount of caffeine.
Chick-fil-A has captured many hearts and appetites in the last decade, despite the controversy surrounding the brand. For those who do feel comfortable eating at the chicken chain, its ice cubes are made with as much care as other aspects of its menu. In fact, in the grand scheme of all ice cubes available on the market, there are very few places that do it as well as Chick-fil-A.
In an article uncovering just what makes the chicken legend’s ice so good, Wide Open Eats credits the quality to the type of ice that is used. The chicken specialists opt for so-called pebble or nugget ice. This type of ice is much smaller than standard ice cubes and has a less dense texture. This tiny ice is much softer and easier to chew and absorbs the flavor of whatever drink it’s set in. Maybe this is why, as per New Air, that some simply refer to this ice as "the good ice." As Wide Open Eats points out, like other previously mentioned chains on the list, the people’s love and need for ice cubes is not lost on the business. It is possible to order 5-pound bags of ice for a reasonable price at just about any location either in the drive-thru or at the counter.
1. Sonic Drive-In
For many, there’s only one chain deserving of the title of best ice cubes around, and we’d have to agree that the crown belongs to none other than Sonic Drive-In. The nostalgic chain does something surprisingly innovative to its ice cubes that leaves fans coming back for more. Similar to Chick-fil-A, the drive-in drive-thru opts for nugget ice, which some people refer to simply as "Sonic ice" (via New Air). Yummiest Food explains that the praise surrounding this ice is well-deserved: It is frozen in a way that allows for the ice cube to be small, like crushed ice, while melting slowly like cubed ice. Easy Ice observes, perhaps surprisingly, that this style of ice cube was actually first developed in hospitals to help patients hydrate without risking tooth damage.
It seems that this design worked broadly, and ice lovers and soda drinkers everywhere appreciate this style of ice cube for the balance it’s able to strike. Sonic makes its ice on-site with an auger system that allows for pellet ice that is both fresh and with as few impurities as possible. An added plus is that bags are available for purchase if you want Sonic ice at home (via Easy Ice).