A Definitive Ranking of America's Fast-Food Buffalo Sauces
All photos by Jean-Luc Bouchard
I love Buffalo sauce. And that's good news for me, because you can find it pretty much anywhere in modern America. Which makes sense, because not only is it objectively yummy, it's also super easy to make. Buffalo sauce, at its most basic level, is nothing more than a vinegar-based hot sauce mixed with melted butter. And in a jam, this quick and easy duo produces a delicious topping for fried chicken and basically any other food worth eating.
You'd therefore imagine, with the widespread popularity of this magical butter-and-pepper sauce, that there might be some consistency in its quality or taste. But instead, prepackaged fast-food buffalo sauces are so varying in flavor, spiciness, and texture that asking for buffalo sauce on the side of your chicken tenders can be a tastebud crapshoot. And so, because I'm a hero, I gathered buffalo sauces from all the major fast-food chains and did an exhaustive and thorough comparison.
I tasted buffalo sauces from McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Popeyes, and Wendy's. I ranked each sauce from one to ten on overall flavor, spiciness, and texture. I tasted each sauce by itself first and then tested them on a grocery-store chicken nugget. I also developed what I would call a "salt headache" from doing this all in one sitting. I am here to serve.
Here are my results, from worst to best:
Burger King Buffalo Sauce
Nothing in the world is the same color as the Burger King Buffalo sauce. It's difficult to capture on camera, but it's sort of a bright, speckled clay coral. And it has a flavor to match its appearance—for example, bad. Burger King Buffalo sauce is neither spicy enough nor buttery enough, and the flavor profile is instead dominated by a cloying mayo-like taste and consistency. It's on the thick side of the texture spectrum, and combined with its unpleasant aftertaste and general one-note chemical saltiness, it can make the whole eating experience seem like a chore.
Overall Flavor: 3.5; Spiciness: 3; Texture: 4
Popeyes Bayou Buffalo Sauce
This is hard for me. I have a religious devotion to Popeyes spicy fried chicken thighs. But its Bayou Buffalo sauce... sort of isn't a buffalo sauce? It's definitely a vinegar-based hot sauce, but that's basically where the flavor ends. The whole buttery, rich half of the buffalo sauce formula is missing, and what you have instead is a bright red (impossibly red?) hot sauce with tasteless oil globules in it. This is the second-thinnest sauce I tested, which I usually don't mind, but in conjunction with the lack of butter taste, it really compounds the feeling that this is just hot sauce. Please keep eating Popeyes, and keep it in business for me. But make your own buffalo sauce if you bring that sweet, sweet chicken home.
Overall Flavor: 3; Spiciness: 6.5; Texture: 5
KFC Creamy Buffalo Sauce
Right off the bat, I was pleasantly surprised by the spiciness of KFC's Creamy Buffalo. It had the kind of kick you look for in a buffalo sauce. In terms of seasoning, there was a definite hot sauce note throughout with some dairy behind it, but not as much rich butter flavor as I wanted. The sauce was pretty thick, and after a few tastes, it left a heavy feeling in my mouth that coated my throat. There were no unpleasant chemical or sour tastes, but nothing exceptional, either.
Overall Flavor: 5; Spiciness: 7; Texture: 4.5
McDonald's Spicy Buffalo Sauce
This ranking surprised me, because I'm generally not a fan of McDonald's or its food or its frightening spokesman. But its buffalo sauce, if not fantastic, is tasty and distinctly recognizable as buffalo sauce. There isn't as much spice as I like, but of all the sauces tested, this one had the most distinct garlic-powder kick, a secret to good buff sauce. It was also a little less thick than the KFC sauce, which helped. However, it was also the most notably salty of the sauces I tried. I looked up the nutritional facts for each sauce, and lo and behold, McDonald's buffalo sauce contained the most sodium by a high margin—540 mg per 22.5 grams compared Burger King's 360 mg per 28.3 grams (you do the math, nerds!). So while it was definitely one of the tastier sauces I tried, it also left me feeling the least healthy. No easy feat considering my usual diet.
Overall Flavor: 6.5; Spiciness: 5.5; Texture: 5.5
Chick-fil-A Zesty Buffalo Sauce
First place: Chick-fil-A's Zesty Buffalo sauce. Despite its spiciness being average, the flavor of this sauce was distinctly better than all the other buffalo sauces tested. There were clear notes of vinegary hot sauce and butter, with low-lying garlic accents. All in all, a very well rounded sauce experience. It was as thin as buffalo sauce from Popeyes (perhaps a hair thinner), but it clung more easily to the chicken and didn't leave an unpleasant aftertaste. Perhaps most important, it was the only sauce that looked and tasted like a real buffalo sauce an actual person, not a terrifying factory robot, might make in a kitchen. It didn't leave me feeling weird and chemically, and indeed Chick-fil-A's buffalo sauce was the only one tested that I actually wanted to keep eating straight-up like a gross monster.
Overall Flavor: 8; Spiciness: 5; Texture: 7.5
Wendy's Creamy Sriracha
Wendy's Creamy Sriracha isn't really a buffalo sauce, so I left it out of the official ranking, but it is a creamy hot sauce dip from a major fast-food chain and a tasty one at that. As far as overall taste and spiciness goes, this one kicked the butt of all the buffalo sauces I tried. It had the most spice by a healthy margin, and the taste was considerably more complicated than several of the one-note sauces above. It's spicy and creamy, of course, but there's also a very present mustard and horseradish taste that makes it a lot more interesting. For those of you familiar with Burger King Zesty sauce, it sort of tastes like that mixed with KFC's buffalo sauce. On the downside, it's also incredibly thick. Like, scary thick. Like, it wouldn't slide out of the container, so I had to spoon it out, and when I put it on the plate, it kept its form like some kind of tangy slug.
Overall Flavor: 8; Spiciness: 8.5; Texture: 2
All the Sauces Mixed Together
I had a lot of sauce leftover, and since I'm never one to waste anything, I mixed them all together into a slurry and tasted it. By this point in the testing process, my body had begun to shutdown from too much salt and xanthan gum, but I managed a couple of tastes. Honestly? Not bad. The Wendy's Creamy Sriracha helped raise the overall spiciness level, and the thin and thick sauces combined into a not-terrible viscosity.
Overall Flavor: 5; Spiciness: 6; Texture: 6
In conclusion: If you're looking for a good fast-food buffalo sauce, go to Chick-fil-A. Or make your own sauce (it's hella easy). If you want a good fast-food sauce in general, go to Wendy's. And if you're looking to really hit your quota on daily sodium intake, be like me and simply hoard all the sauces you can find and then stir them up into a bowl of sin.
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