Fast Food With Onion Rings

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Welcome to Fast Food With Onion Rings!

I’m your host, and I’ll be guiding you through all the latest ideas in fast food.

We’ll talk about news, reviews, trends, and more! We’re not limited to just US eateries—I’ll take you around the world to discover what makes every country’s fast food tick.

Fast Food With Onion Rings

When you conjure up an image of fast food, your mind probably jumps to bacon-filled cheeseburgers and cheese-laden fries. Oily paper bags are the name of the game, but you’d be remiss to forget that the contents of those bags can vary greatly.

Onion rings seem like a side that all fast food chains would offer. After all, if you have onions and a fryer in the kitchen already, why not make full use of them? Yet they’re still far more prevalent in sports bars than drive-thrus.

For better or worse, 10 major fast food chains have shattered the status quo by agreeing to fry up onion rings for their fans. We set out on a savory adventure to determine which of them are worth ordering, based on five key metrics: crispiness, construction, seasoning, breading-to-onion-ratio, and overall enjoyability.

Some chains blew our minds with their ability to craft a perfect O-ring. Others, well, proved why onion rings haven’t caught on as the fast food staple you may think they are.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

10. Burger King: Onion Rings

Fast food isn’t supposed to be of the highest quality, but that doesn’t give chains a pass to serve mushy circles of breading and call them onion rings. Unfortunately, Burger King inched dangerously close to that line. The highlight of Burger King’s onion rings is that they’re very snackable: They’re small, they hold together, and they don’t leave a pile of crumbs in your lap. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they’re soggy, unseasoned, and only contain the tiniest slivers of onions beneath the layer of fried batter. It’s not that they’re gross, it’s just that their flavor profile is one-note—and that note is oil.

9. White Castle: Onion Rings

At a chain known for teeny burgers, it’s fitting that White Castle’s onion rings seem to be made with teeny onions. The rings here are anything but memorable—one could even say that, without a dipping sauce, they’re aggressively bland. Soft, oily and unsatisfying, White Castle’s onion rings are all breading and no bite. Stick to the things White Castle does well, like its Sliders.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

8. A&W: Onion Rings

If you’re a fan of the onion half of the phrase “onion ring,” boy do you need to head to A&W ASAP (A&S&A&P?). There’s not a ton of breading on these bad boys, but there sure is a lot of onion. And sure, it could use some seasoning. Any seasoning, really. A little bit of black pepper would go a long way here. While the outside is reasonably crispy and the onion flavors are front and center, something is missing from this onion ring. It lacks a certain pop. Perhaps if the breading packed more flavor. What if they covered the onion rings in Cheetos dust? We’d sign up for that. In the meantime, it’s tough to get too excited about the rings here.

7. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s: Onion Rings

Most visitors to Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s are there for the burgers. Hell, this very onion ring is a major component of one of the best burgers at the chain, the Western Bacon Cheeseburger. And while the onion ring’s importance to that burger is undisputed, it’s not essential to order this onion ring as a side. Yeah, it’s crispy and well-constructed, with a little more breading than onion. The onions aren’t greasy or stringy, either, so a strong enough bite will mean you don’t have shove stray onion pieces into your mouth for the next couple minutes. But it lacks almost any kind of seasoning, and it’s not addictive in the way that eating one tasty French fry makes you want to grab another handful. If you need an onion ring fix and you’re going to Carl’s Jr., you’re better off ordering a Western Bacon Cheeseburger—it offers plenty of onion ring flavor without forcing you to commit to an order of the middling side.

6. Cook Out: Onion Rings

This regional chain’s onion rings are sizable and don’t overwhelm the onion with breading. The breading is crispy and you can bite into it and snap the onion in one fell swoop, which makes them easy to eat, and easy to enjoy. The onions don’t get too mushy inside the breading, either. An order contains plenty of onion rings to snack on and includes a side of Cook Out sauce (a zesty mayo-based sauce) for dipping pleasure.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

5. Jack in the Box: Onion Rings

Where else but Jack in the Box can you order a delicious monstrosity like the Chick-N-Tater Melt Munchie Meal, which gives you multiple chicken patties, bacon, hash brown, three cheeses, and ranch on a croissant? Oh, and then adds tacos and fries, and a small fountain drink. The entire brand’s concept appears to be for the lulz, and it’s part of what makes it great. But the chain can also do the small things right, which brings us to the unsung hero of the sides menu: the onion rings.

The sides menu at Jack in the Box is a stoner’s fever dream, with Stuffed Jalapeños, Bacon Cheddar Potato Wedges, and Jumbo Egg Rolls. Skip that and roll with an order of simple, filling, panko-breaded onion rings. The panko does the lion’s share of the work here, lending the ring an ultra-crispy bite that still packs plenty of onion flavor. Some would say there’s too much breading, but only a fool doesn’t want more panko. And while it’s a little greasy (and could use some black pepper), these onion rings are a hearty, delightful complement to any Jack in the Box entree.

4. Dairy Queen Grill & Chill: Onion Rings

Big onion rings are automatically delectable, and by fast food standards, Dairy Queen’s are substantial. They come with lots of crumby breading, which makes a mess in the car and on the couch, but it also allows for an unbelievably satisfying crunch that few onion rings possess. Unfortunately, as is the pattern with fast food sides, DQ’s onion rings aren’t incredibly flavorful, but even so, they’re an oily joy for those moments when your mouth is craving a little grease.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

3. Culver’s: Onion Rings

Culver’s didn’t attract millions of hungry fast food lovers from Wisconsin and beyond just on the strength of its ButterBurgers and Fresh Frozen Custard alone. The sides are what makes a meal at Culver’s complete, and it offers plenty of craving-inducing options, from Mashed Potatoes & Gravy to Wisconsin Cheese Curds and its addictive Crinkle Cut Fries. It’s no surprise that the Midwestern favorite knows how to whip up a side—and it certainly does so with its Onion Rings.

Culver’s claims its Onion Rings are “thick-cut,” but based on our recent order (and compared to the rest of the fast food rings), it’s easily got the thinnest edible ovals with the least amount of breading, as well. That’s not a knock. What results is an exceptionally crispy, crunchy onion ring—and you’ll have zero risk of stringy onion debris dangling out of your mouth after you bite into it. There’s plenty of onion flavor, and it’s actually well-seasoned, so it won’t feel like you’re eating straight-up deep-fried breading. Would we pass these up for an order of cheese curds? Um, 1000% yes, but that’s what you’re supposed to do at Culver’s.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

2. Whataburger: Onion Rings

Skip the apple slices when you’re looking to upgrade your Whatameal and opt for these golden rings of sweet, tangy onion (you can even get them during breakfast hours). The not-too-salty crispy batter has a slight hint of garlic that adds a touch of nuance, plus a batter-to-onion ratio allowing the root vegetable to really shine. As with most onion ring experiences, your order will include the teeny-tiniest of rings to mammoth ones almost the size of CDs. For the ultimate O-ring eating, make sure to add on a dipping sauce (Jalapeño Ranch always does the trick for us) or load up the rings right on top of your burger for some added crunch.

Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

1. Sonic Drive-In: Hand Made Onion Rings

Picture this: You pull up to a Sonic speaker, ready to order the usual cheeseburger with a side of Chili Cheese Tots and a Blue Raspberry Slush, when something comes over you. What if I don’t actually want Chili Cheese Tots today, you think. What if I only order them out of habit because they’re what I know best? In a moment of bravery, you slam the “Press to Order” button with no firm plan in place other than to order something different from what you’re accustomed to. “I’ll get a cheeseburger,” you mutter nervously, “a Blue Raspberry Slush, and, uhhh, a side of, uhhhh… Let’s go with a side of the Hand Made Onion Rings.”

You just made the best decision of your lifetime—no shade to Chili Cheese Tots—because Sonic might be a drive-in, but its onion rings turn out. They’re large and thick with maximum crisp, they sport a rock-solid batter-to-onion ratio, and the onion stays firmly put in its fried shell. The breading is sweet and the onions, too, leaving perhaps only a small sprinkle of sodium to be desired—but that’s where Signature, BBQ, and Honey Mustard sauces come in.

These are a shining example of onion rings done right. When a fast food chain’s onion rings could easily pass for a full-service restaurant’s, you know you’ve struck deep-fried gold. Sonic might as well string a ribbon through a big one and wear it as a medal.

Fast Food Onion Ring Roundup: Burger King vs. Hardee’s vs. Jack in the Box vs. Sonic

Onion rings don’t engender the same kind of fervor, perhaps, as fries. That’s to be expected, I suppose, since there’s an awful lot of folks who just flat-out don’t like onions, no matter how crisp the coating or how exquisite the fry job. It makes sense, then, that onion rings are harder to find. Fries are universal; if you want a pouch of potato sticks, you can visit pretty much any fast food establishment on the planet (certainly any that slings burgers). But if it’s lunchtime and you want to put a ring on it, you’ve got to plot out your run a bit more carefully; Mickey D’s and Wendy’s—the #1 and #2 chains in the biz—simply can’t help you, and the revered In-N-Out and Five Guys of the world won’t cut it, either.

So if onion rings are a more exclusive menu item, appealing to a narrower, more discerning audience, isn’t it even more important to get the very best? Most of us will mindlessly gnaw away at the sleeve of tater twigs in front of us, even if they’re not our fave. But a righteous ring is worth going out of your way for. I’d even argue that the ring’s the thing that decides many a burger destination.

The Test

I ordered onion rings from the Big Four fast-food outlets that offer them: Burger King, Hardee’s (or Carl’s Jr., depending on geography), Sonic, and Jack in the Box. I obtained two orders from each restaurant and judged each chain’s rings on a separate occasion (simply to avoid onion overload). Just as I did with fries, I came up with four categories on which to grade each chain’s rings. For each, I looked at size, structure, onion flavor, and coating flavor.

Sonic

20120417-201803-onion-ring-roundup-sonic-4box.jpg

There’s a lot to like about Sonic, but I’m not sure the onion rings should count as one of them. While my food runner hurried them out to me, complete with a Starlight mint in the bag and warm “Enjoy your meal” wishes, these rings were the greasiest of the lot. There was a visible trickle of grease inside the wax-paper sleeve and a puddle on the mat I used for the photo shoot. The onion itself had nice flavor, but that may have been just the only thing that rose above the greasiness. I had to stop eating after three or four of these rings. Thankfully, a jumbo cherry limeade can wash away a lot of yuck.

Size: Sonic’s Medium is a hefty 156 grams. (They also offer a 227 gram Large!) I found 11 rings per medium order, at a cost of $1.69. The smallest ring was 1.5 inches; the largest was not quite 3 inches across. 3/5
Structure: The fine crumb coating flaked away in chunks on many rings. Lots of misshapen rings, the most broken pieces of all the chains I tested. 2/10
Onion flavor: The onions themselves were noticeably sweet, a welcome positive in an otherwise unpleasant ring experience. 4/5
Coating flavor: Hard to say much about the seasoning; it was drowning in grease. Heavy-duty napkin work required after every bite. I actually went through more napkins than onion rings. 2/10
Total score: 11/30

Jack in the Box

20120417-201803-onion-ring-roundup-jack-in-the-box-4box.jpg

I’ll admit to a certain soft spot for Jack in the Box. The chain doesn’t exist in my home state of Georgia, so my only exposure is when I travel. In a classic case of “the grass is always greener,” I assume that everything on their menu must be automatically superior to what I can get at home.

At least that’s what I used to think before this little experiment. Jack’s rings looked great, but were ultimately blah and bland. They weren’t noticeably salty…nor noticeably greasy…or oniony…or anything else, for that matter. I lost interest a few rings in and had forgotten about them entirely just a few exit ramps down the highway.

Size: The only serving size Jack sells is 119 grams. That’s made up of 9 rings per order. They measured between 1.125 and 3.5 inches, both the smallest and biggest rings of the test. I was charged $1.89 per order, the most expensive rings of all. 5/5
Structure: Jack’s rings have an almost-cakey crumb coating that was lighter in color than the others. The batter underneath had split open on several rings. Quite a few conjoined rings, too. 5/10
Onion flavor: I know there was onion in there. I saw it. I have pictures of it. But it made no impression on me as I weaved in and out of tractor trailer traffic on I-75. 2/5
Coating flavor: Meh. Nothing special at all about that outer layer. Would have benefitted heavily from a liberal sprinkling of salt. 5/10
Total score: 17/30

Hardee’s

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The chain makes no bones about going after “young, hungry guys.” While a half-naked Kate Upton sells their burgers, Hardee’s uses the second-oldest trick in the book to lure dudes to their rings. I was astonished to see the chain touting “Beer-Battered Onion Rings,” but assumed that there had to be a big fat asterisk in there somewhere. Certainly no national fast-food giant could get away with actually using real beer in a menu item that just anybody can walk in and purchase, right? But there it was, the #2 ingredient listed: BEER, second only to ONIONS. The batter had no discernible boozy taste, though.

Size: Only one serving size offered (122 grams). Each order contained 8 or 9 rings for $1.79. All measured between 2 and 3.25 inches in diameter, putting them at the higher end of the size spectrum. 4/5
Structure: The only ring of the four to use batter alone with no crumb coating. A few stray broken pieces, but mostly structurally sound. The onion had a clean bite. 7/10
Onion flavor: I had a tough time picking out any onion flavor at all; it was hopelessly buried under the beer batter. 1/5
Coating flavor: Thick with an almost doughy texture, it was more sweet than salty. Reminded me of state fair food. They tasted like rings of fried batter. 6/10
Total score: 18/30

Burger King

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Three chains in, I remembered why I’m more of a fry guy than a ring king. I tend to lose interest before I finish an order of onion rings. There’s often a bland monotony that takes over; I had yet to finish a single order from any of the chains I visited.

Burger King may have figured out the secret, though. Upon bagging, I was asked what kind of sauce I wanted: buffalo, BBQ, ranch, sweet and sour, honey mustard, or “zesty” (kind of a horseradish mix). Well, well, well… Taken aback, the native Hoosier in me came out as I instinctively requested ranch. (We’re prone to putting it on everything.) Between it and a rogue zesty packet I also ended up with, I devoured both orders. BK totally impressed me with their revamped spuds in our previous side showdown, but I may pause next time someone in the kingdom asks if I want fries with that.

Size: BK offers a full range of serving sizes, from Value to Small to Medium to Large. The Medium (the closest to the other sampling sizes) weighed in at 117 grams and cost $1.69. There were 12 to 14 rings per order, but every single one was less than 2 inches across. Undersized, perhaps, so they can use them as a burger topping—where they don’t hold up nearly as well. 3/5
Structure: Fine crumb coating nearly resembling panko. Most were more oval than round. Only one broken and only one set of conjoined rings, though. 8/10
Onion flavor: More oniony than I expected, the slices even had a slight crunch under that shell. 4/5
Coating flavor: Noticeable saltiness (that’s a good thing) and crispness. Call it cheating, but BK was the only place to blatantly push dipping sauces, and it made all the difference in the world. About the time I started to tire of the plain rings, I cracked open my ranch, and it was like starting over fresh. Extra credit awarded for the dippers… but truthfully, BK’s rings would have eked out the win even sans sauces. 9/10
Total score: 24/30

Don’t get me wrong; I won’t be giving up fries anytime soon. But at least I now know where I might consider onion rings a legitimate alternative.

The 16 best onion rings in the US, ranked

16. Kopp’s Frozen Custard, Glendale, Wisconsin

Kopp's Frozen Custard
Onion rings from Kopp’s. 

The lines at Kopp’s are almost always long, but they move quickly. Be sure to check online in advance for the custard of the day and indulge in a no-frills burger or fish sandwich.

15. The Vista Pub, Brookings, Oregon

The Vista Pub
Onion rings from The Vista Pub. 

Yelpers describe The Vista Pub as a low-key hidden gem that serves up great burgers with plenty of toppings to choose from. You’ll also find a wide selection of beers on tap.

14. The Burger Dive, Billings, Montana

The Burger Dive
Onion rings from The Burger Dive. 

A locally-owned spot that’s only open for lunch, The Burger Dive is a favorite among many thanks to their award-winning, creatively named burgers like the “I’m Your Huckleberry” and the Jim Beam and Coke Burger. If you’re aren’t too stuffed, be sure to try a milkshake too.

13. Copper Penny, Wilmington, North Carolina

Copper Penny
Onion rings from Copper Penny. 

Chances are you’ll wait to get into Copper Penny, but it’ll be worth it. Yelp reviewers love the bar fare here, especially the chestnut chicken sandwich

12. Lucky Beaver Bar & Burger, Stateline, Nevada

Lucky Beaver Bar & Burger
A tower of onion rings at Lucky Beaver Bar & Burger. 

Open 24 hours and catering to a crowd of mostly locals, Lucky Beaver is a dive bar that offers more than just food. Catch a game, play some video poker, and be sure to order onion rings with your meal.

11. The Real New Orleans Style Restaurant, Marble Falls, Texas

The Real New Orleans Style Restaurant
Onion rings from The Real New Orleans Style Restaurant. 

With owners who are originally from New Orleans, this Texas restaurant feels like it belongs in Louisiana. Yelp reviewers love the home-cooked, Cajun flavor that’s evident in dishes like gumbo and crawfish etoufee.

10. Union Woodshop, Clarkston, Michigan

Union Woodshop
Onion rings from Union Woodshop. 

Although Union Woodshop is best known for its barbecue, the restaurant also serves  great pizza, burgers, and salads. Their oversized onion rings are hand-battered

9. GQue BBQ, Wesminster, Colorado

GQue BBQ Meltdown
The Meltdown sandwich. 

Colorado may not be the state you think of when you think of barbecue, but Yelpers insist that GQue is the real thing. Try the mac and cheese and the Meltdown, a sandwich piled high with brisket and topped with cheese sauce and an onion ring.

8. Hops Burger Bar, Greensboro, North Carolina

Hops Burger Bar
Onion rings from Hops. 

Hops has a burger for everyone. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike rave about the two veggie options, which include a nut burger and a mushroom cauliflower patty.

7. The Knack, Orleans, Massachusetts

the knack
Onion rings and lobster rolls from The Knack. 

If you like your onion rings thinner, then The Knack is the spot for you. The small shop is also known for their lobster rolls and chicken tenders.

6. Island Ono Loa Grill, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Island Ono Loa Grill
The Paniolo BBQ Cheeseburger at Island Ono Loa Grill. 

Island Ono Loa Grill claims to have the eighth best burger in the US. Their offerings are pretty funky — the grill serves everything from peanut butter and bacon burgers to macadamia nut pesto goat cheese burgers. 

5. Maui Brick Oven, Kihei, Hawaii

Maui Brick Oven
Onion rings from Maui Brick Oven. 

With a menu that’s completely gluten-free, Maui Brick Oven attracts plenty of diners with dietary restrictions. But even if you’re not gluten-free or even gluten-sensitive, you’ll love the brick-oven pizza and crispy onion rings at this place.

4. Wild Dogs, Benson, Arizona

Wild Dogs
Hot dogs and onion rings from Wild Dogs. 

Yelpers praise Wild Dogs for their outstanding service and delicious dogs. The Chicago-style dog is a particularly popular choice

3. Bishop Burger Barn, Bishop, California

Bishop Burger Barn
Bishop Burger Barn’s onion rings. 

Bishop’s burgers boast a farm-to-table taste, and all of the restaurant’s buns are homemade. And it’s not just the beef that people love. Yelp reviewers are big fans of the veggie burger too.

2. Bunz, Huntington Beach, California

Bunz
“O-rings” from Bunz in Huntington Beach, California. 

Bunz, a burger shack located next to a skate park, is known for their shockingly low prices and impressively fresh and flavorful food. The “O-rings” are a favorite of many.

1. Joe’s Kansas City BBQ, Kansas City, Kansas

Joe's Kansas City BBQ
The Z-Man at Joe’s. 

Don’t let the fact that Joe’s is in a gas station fool you — people rave about the quality of the restaurant’s meat. The Z-Man is a one of their specialties and comes with brisket, onion rings, and provolone

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