Special Report

Fast Food Chains With the Best Breakfast Menus

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The fast food industry characterizes serving periods as “dayparts.” These are generally defined as breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and late night. Breakfast is the only daypart that has seen overall growth in the past few years. Last year, chains recorded a total of about 7.3 billion breakfast visits, up from just under 6 billion in 2009.

No wonder, then, that purveyors of fast food are introducing, expanding, or refining their breakfast menus.

Almost everybody serves their own versions of what we’ve come to know as the breakfast sandwich — some combination of eggs, cheese, and breakfast meat on a bagel, English muffin, biscuit, croissant, or roll. But many chains are moving beyond the basics, offering specialty meats and cheeses, using flatbreads and tortillas in various ways, even adapting popular lunch specialties to morning use.

Though they don’t come from any of the major chains, these are the best breakfast sandwiches in every state.

24/7 Tempo looked at a range of fast food breakfast menus to find the ones with the widest selection and/or the most interesting or innovative offerings.

Click here for the fast food chains with the best breakfast menus.

It should be noted that some chains, including several included here, offer breakfast only in certain locations. The pretzel purveyor Auntie Anne’s, for instance, serves pretzel-bun breakfast sandwiches at some airport locations, but not in shopping malls (because most shopping malls aren’t open at breakfast time).

Breakfast menu hours vary, too. A common cut-off time is 10.30 a.m., sometimes 11. Some chains, however, offer breakfast all day — among them Dunkin’ Donuts, Jack in the Box, Sonic, and, as of 2015, McDonald’s, which makes most of its morning menu available at all hours. Of course, this includes its emblematic Egg McMuffin, which may well have gotten us all started eating breakfast sandwiches in the first place.

It should also be stressed that the menus here aren’t those with the most healthy (or even comparatively healthy) choices. They’re chosen because they’re full of the kinds of things a lot of us would like to eat if we didn’t have to worry about our weight and overall well-being. They should be indulgences, not daily habits, and it’s important to remember that these breakfast choices are often among the fast food items with the most calories.

To choose the fast food chains with the best breakfast menus, 24/7 Tempo examined the breakfast offerings on the official websites of some 30 major nationwide and regional fast food operations, and consulted reviews of breakfast menus and specific breakfast food items on Thrillist, Mashed, Eat This Not That, Business Insider, The Daily Meal, Spoon University, Ranker, My Recipes, Food Beast, Today, Eating Well, and Delish, as well as several regional websites.

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Auntie Anne’s

You could easily make a breakfast out of Auntie Anne’s cinnamon sugar, raisin, or sweet almond pretzels dunked in caramel or sweet glaze dip — but some airport locations (including those in Newark, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Denver, Nashville, San Antonio, and Washington, D.C.) also serve breakfast sandwiches. Though the selection is small and conventional (egg and cheese; bacon, egg, and cheese; and sausage, egg, and cheese), the fact that they’re made with fresh-baked pretzel rolls earns the chain a place on this “best” list.

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Bojangles

This fried chicken chain is a breakfast-all-day kind of place, and a paradise for biscuit-lovers. Fresh-baked biscuits, crumbly and rich, are the thing here. You can get them plain or draped, Southern-style, in sausage gravy — but they also come filled with egg and cheese; egg and sausage; egg and country ham; bacon, egg, and cheese; just sausage or country ham without egg or cheese; and breaded fried steak or fried chicken filet.

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Burger King

This is the place for those who don’t want to mess around with just a single hand-held breakfast sandwich. The specialty here is the BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter — a combo plate of scrambled eggs (formed into the usual fast food rectangle), a sausage patty, hash browns, a biscuit, and three syrup-drizzled pancakes. That’s a hefty 1,170-calorie start to your day. If that’s a little too much, the chain also offers a platter of just sausage and pancakes as well as breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches with various combinations of ingredients on a choice of maple waffles, croissants, or biscuits.

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Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s

Fancy waking up to a hamburger? This chain, which operates under two different names (it’s Carl’s Jr. in the West, Hardee’s elsewhere in the country), has you covered with its Breakfast Burger. This is a burger patty with egg, bacon, American cheese, Hash Rounds (little disks of hash browns), and ketchup on a sesame-seed bun. Slightly more traditionally, the chain also offers biscuits (plain, with gravy, and in the usual breakfast sandwich variations — plus one with chorizo and egg); breakfast burritos; and grilled cheese sandwiches with sausage, bacon, or ham.

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Chick-fil-A

You can get a plain buttered biscuit, a sunflower multigrain bagel, or an English muffin at this controversial chicken sandwich chain, or a conventional breakfast sandwich on a biscuit or muffin. But why would you, when the other choices include chicken biscuits (a full-size one or four Chick-n-Minis — call them chicken sandwich sliders) or chicken, egg, and cheese on a bagel? If you’re in a healthy mood, there’s also a fresh fruit cup and a Greek yogurt parfait.

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Del Taco

A California-based chain with locations in the West and South as well as the Detroit area, Del Taco establishes its breakfast bona fides with its Huevos Rancheros Epic Burrito — an 1,120-calorie extravaganza consisting of two corn tortillas and a flour tortilla wrapped around scrambled eggs, chorizo, beans, cheddar cheese, avocado, sour cream, and roasted chile salsa. More modest breakfast burritos are also on the menu, as is a Breakfast Toasted Wrap, which is a griddle-browned flour tortilla enclosing scrambled eggs, hash brown sticks, cheddar, salsa, and a choice of meats including bacon, chorizo, and carne asada.

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Dunkin’ Donuts

To begin with, of course, there are doughnuts, the ultimate breakfast treat — glazed, double chocolate, powdered sugar, jelly, glazed blueberry, and at least seven other varieties currently. But Dunkin’ also serves a full complement of croissant and English muffin “all-day” breakfast sandwiches, including one with turkey sausage and one with egg whites. The same combinations are also available in the form of Wake-Up Wraps.

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Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box has been serving breakfast items all day since 1969, including the first-ever breakfast sandwich (eggs, meat, and cheese on an English muffin). These days, the chain’s Jumbo Breakfast Platter gives Burger King’s BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter a run for its money. It’s crowded with scrambled eggs (loose, not formed into a rectangle like the BK entry), hash browns, eight mini pancakes, and a choice of bacon or sausage — all for a caloric load of a mere 540 (with bacon) or 621 (with sausage). That’s just the beginning, though. The breakfast menu here goes on to encompass 11 breakfast sandwiches, made variously on grilled sourdough toast rounds, biscuits, bagels, or croissants — along with a couple of hearty meat and egg burritos.

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McDonald’s

McDonald’s may not have invented the breakfast sandwich, but the idea really took off only after it introduced its now-iconic Egg McMuffin in 1971. As of 1977, all McDonald’s have had a breakfast menu, and in 2015, capitalizing on the popularity of its ever-growing selection of morning offerings, the chain introduced all-day breakfast featuring most of the morning items. The McDonald’s equivalent of the Burger King and Jack in the Box platters is its 750-calorie Big Breakfast — loose scrambled eggs, a biscuit, a sausage patty, and hash browns. Beyond that and both an Egg and a Sausage McMuffin, there are breakfast sandwiches on biscuits, bagels, and a company-branded waffle-muffin hybrid called the McGriddle. Hotcakes and a sausage and egg burrito fill out the choices.

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Shake Shack

Most Shake Shacks don’t serve breakfast, but if you happen upon one in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal or Penn Station, Washington D.C.’s Union Station, or one of three airports — LAX, JFK, and Dubai International — you’re in luck. American cheese, griddled cage-free eggs, all-natural pork sausage or applewood-smoked bacon, and a Martin Potato Roll, with fresh-squeezed organic orange juice and custom Stumptown blend coffee on the side…. It’s all almost as good as ShackBurger and a chocolate shake.

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Sonic

Breakfast burritos in four variations — including the Ultimate Meat & Cheese Breakfast Burrito (bacon, sausage, potato tots, scrambled eggs, and cheddar) — are the big thing here. Filling out the menu, which is served all day, are breakfast sandwiches on Texas toast or brioche rolls, French toast sticks, and Cinnabon Cinnasnacks with cream cheese frosting.

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Starbucks

First of all, needless to say, there’s that endless array of coffee- and tea-based beverages, some of them caloric enough to satisfy your morning energy needs in themselves. Then there’s always a selection of pastries, brownies, cookies, and the like. But Starbucks really goes to town with its breakfast sandwiches, most of them very much out of the ordinary. Some examples include smoked shoulder bacon on toast; chicken sausage and bacon on a biscuit; reduced-fat turkey bacon and cage-free egg whites on an English muffin; spicy chorizo, Monterey jack, and eggs on a roll; and spinach, feta, and cage-free egg whites in a wrap. Add in classic and blueberry oatmeal and sous-vide egg bites in four flavors, and it’s enough to make you forget your Frappuccino.

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Subway

People are sometimes surprised to learn that breakfast is served at this sandwich-and-salad operation — the largest fast food chain in the world, with about 43,000 units around the globe (McDonald’s is in second place, with a mere 37,200). Not all locations do the morning meal, but it’s worth looking for one that does. The variations on the breakfast sandwich here involve unusual folded-over, slightly spongy squares of flatbread, enclosing egg and cheese; bacon, egg, and cheese; Black Forest ham, egg, and cheese; or (thin-sliced) steak, egg, and cheese.

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Taco Bell

The morning motto at this never-in-Mexico Mexican chain might well be “Think outside the breakfast sandwich.” The extensive a.m. menu includes various egg-filled burritos and “Crunchwraps” (hexagonal flour tortillas wrapped around a tostada shell, with various fillings), eggy tacos and quesadillas, doughnut-hole-like Cinnabon Delights, and a Mini Skillet Bowl of potatoes, eggs, nacho cheese sauce, and pico de gallo.

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Tim Horton’s

Famed Canadian hockey player Tim Horton opened his first coffee and doughnut shop in 1964. It grew into a chain, merging with Wendy’s International in 1995 and subsequently expanding into the U.S. Though the menu has grown to include sandwiches, bowls, Cold Stone ice cream, and more, breakfast is still key. The menu covers lots of bases: various combinations of meat, cheese, and egg on biscuits, English muffins, toasted bagels, or croissants; grilled wraps with four different breakfasty fillings; “homestyle” oatmeal, plain or with maple or mixed berries; doughnuts, muffins, and yogurt.

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Wendy’s

The breakfast menu at Wendy’s is currently available in only about 300 of its nearly 6,000 U.S. locations. Breakfast sandwiches on burger buns or biscuits, biscuits with sausage gravy, a sausage and egg burrito, and seasoned homestyle potatoes are featured. But Wendy’s is taking breakfast nationwide with a pumped-up menu in 2020, and has announced that it is hiring 20,000 new employees in support of the a.m. initiative. Items already available in some places and sure to be in the new repertoire include a honey butter chicken biscuit, a breakfast version of the popular Wendy’s burger called The Baconator, and a coffee milkshake, available in both chocolate and vanilla, dubbed the “Frosty-ccino.”

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Whataburger

This Texas-based chain, found all over its home state and in the Southeast and Southwest, stops serving breakfast at 11 a.m., like some other fast food places — but unlike the others, it starts serving its morning treats at 11 p.m. The menu is a bit all-over-the-map, but that’s a good thing if you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for. Pancakes, biscuits and gravy, cinnamon rolls, breakfast sandwiches on biscuits or burger rolls, a honey butter chicken biscuit, taquitos filled with eggs, cheese, and meat — they’re all here.

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