The Ultimate Ranking of Fast Food Onion Rings

Photo: EasyBuy4u (Getty)

While french fries are the undisputed kings of fast food side dishes, onion rings are often regarded more as an afterthought. However, in capable hands, they are a supremely tasty treats that can pack a more flavorful punch then their potato-headed brethren. A franchise can do wrong by these golden rings–and many do– but those that get it right remind us that great onion rings can bring about tears of joy. With that in mind, here is the definitive ranking of the top 8 fast food onion rings.

No. 8 – Burger King

I remember really liking Burger King’s onion rings as a kid. Not all fast food places served them so there was a bit of a novelty factor. Revisiting them now, though, was a royal disappointment. On the plus side, they’re small, literally bite-sized with a nice light brown coating. But what’s curious about them is that the batter is not fried around an actual ring – in other words there is no onion to fall out of the shell even if you wanted it to. Speculation would lead one to believe that it’s made out of some kind of onion mash or paste. Consequently, there is an onion taste, but nothing fresh or satisfying. It’s almost like your eating some ring of fried generic matter.

No. 7 – Carl’s Jr.

Unlike BK, there were definitely onions wrapped up in these rings, but they were so overcooked that there wasn’t much left of them. What was left was too crisp a coating that overwhelmed the onion almost completely. The first bite was nice – tearing into the first onion ring of a bunch is always an exciting prospect – but it went downhill from there. All crunch from the too crisp of a coating and minimal flavor. You want an onion ring to sing with its unique and reliable taste. Carl’s Jr.’s seem to have a case of stage fright.

No. 6 – Sonic

Sonic onion rings have a great appearance. They’ve got the typical, desirable-looking fast food coating, nice color, and a golden, crumbly texture. Unfortunately, the accolades stop there. The onions themselves were a bit undercooked, which gave them a nice crunch, but were unappetizing as a whole. There was little flavor here, to such a degree that if blindfolded, you might be hard-pressed to actually identify them as onion rings. However, whatever flavor there was also came with an unwelcome aftertaste.

No. 5 – Fatburger

The menu boasts that these onion rings are “homemade.” They are beautiful to look at and the crisp, cracker-like coating are unique for fast food. They’ve got a great crunch, but taste is a problem. Like the others previously listed, these rings skimp on it. There is a lot of big, fat flavorlessness. Also, these rings were the most likely to have its onion pull out of the breading after biting into them, leaving you with a hot, droopy, naked onion in one hand and an empty battered shell in the other.

No. 4 – Jack in the Box

We’ve crossed a divide here and our onion ring options now start getting really good. Frankly, I was very surprised that that shift would all start with Jack. Jack’s onion rings are not pretty. Visually, they seemed overdone with a far-too-dark brown coating. The rings themselves were broken and came in pieces, the victim of some unseen collision in the kitchen perhaps before they made it onto my tray. But somehow through all of that they remained admirably flavorful, even sweet – a taste I hadn’t experienced with any of the others up until now. Overdone yes, but still retaining both a softness and crunchiness at the same time somehow. Overall, an appealing experience.

No. 3 – Astro Burger

Astro Burger may be more of a regional franchise, but their onion rings are out of this world, so I’ve included them on this list (sue me). They are very similar to Fatburger’s rings, with unique cracker-like crust, but unlike that competitor, theirs are nice and tasty. So confident are they in their onion rings, in fact, that they even include them on the few menu items listed on their outdoor sign. They are light but hearty. Bite as hard as you want and the onions are staying put inside their shells. Typically served brimming in a basket, they are a bouquet of fried deliciousness.

No. 2 – A&W Restaurants

I imagine that the best onion rings one can find are in a first-rate steakhouse. Though our last two entries are of course from fast food restaurants, they could both be mistaken for fine-dining fare. Both soft and crunchy – qualities already familiar to this list – they’ve got a golden brown appearance, its coating a pleasant mix of smoothness and breadcrumb texture. These rings are nice and plump and the onion flavor is superb. We really have passed a bar here with A&W’s onion rings – a hot and tasty side that can truly be craved.

No. 1 – Arby’s

Though Jon Stewart may often besmirch Arby’s name – singling them out as a fast food franchise with poor quality, obesity-inducing ingredients – their onion rings are badass, appealing to everyone whether they be liberal, conservative or in the indecisive middle. Plump and golden brown, when you bite into one, there is no mistaking that these are rings to be reckoned with. The onions themselves were hearty and cooked perfectly, the coating just as tasty with a nice crunch. There may be too many loose breadcrumbs covering it, but I won’t be nitpicky here because Arby’s onion rings are definitively the best in the biz.

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