Special Report

Fast Food Chains With the Best Breakfast Menus

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The morning meal is big business in the fast food world. Between 2014 and 2019, breakfast visits to these establishments grew 7.7%, with an increase of 31% in spending. In 2018 alone, chain breakfast visits totaled about 7.3 billion in the U.S., up from just under 6 billion in 2009. It’s little wonder, then, that many fast food purveyors are introducing, expanding, or updating their breakfast menus. There are still some holdouts: Chipotle, for instance — which would seem a natural since breakfast tacos and burritos are increasingly common — has said that it has no plans to enter the breakfast market in 2020.

Almost everybody else, with the exception of pizza and Asian-themed chains, which would have a harder time integrating breakfast dishes into their menus, is in on the breakfast game. The breakfast sandwich — some combination of eggs, cheese, and breakfast meat on a bagel, English muffin, biscuit, croissant, or roll — anchors most fast food breakfast menus. That’s almost certainly due to the incredible success of the emblematic Egg McMuffin, the McDonald’s creation that may well have gotten us all eating breakfast sandwiches in the first place.

Many chains, though, 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. And it’s not just chains — the independents are getting in on the act, too. In the non-chain world, these are the best breakfast sandwiches in every state.

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

It should be noted that this isn’t a list of the healthiest choices. On the contrary, the chain menus on this list were chosen because they offer the kinds of things a lot of us would like to eat if we didn’t have to worry about our weight or our overall well-being. The breakfast sandwiches and other fare on these menus should be indulgences, not daily habits. However satisfying they may be, it’s important to remember that these breakfast choices are often among the fast food items with the most calories.

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

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Auntie Anne’s

Auntie Anne’s big, soft, fresh-baked pretzels work perfectly well for breakfast — especially the cinnamon sugar, raisin, or sweet almond varieties. Some 20 airport locations, however — including Baltimore-Washington, George Bush International in Houston, LaGuardia and Newark, Tampa International, Denver International, and St. Louis — also serve breakfast sandwiches. Though the selection is small and conventional (egg and cheese and a couple of meat variations), the fact that they’re made with fresh-baked pretzel rolls earns the chain a place on this list.

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Source: Courtesy of Bojangles

Bojangles

It’s a breakfast-all-day kind of place at this fried chicken emporium and biscuit-lover’s paradise. The famed Bojangles biscuits, crumbly and rich, elevate the menu to morning star status. You can get them plain or cloaked in sausage gravy, or 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; or breaded fried steak or fried chicken filet.

Source: Courtesy of Burger King

Burger King

Like some of its competitors, this chain offers breakfast burritos as well as breakfast sandwiches with various combinations of ingredients on a choice of maple waffles, croissants, or biscuits. On the other hand, the real breakfast specialty here is the BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter — a combination of scrambled eggs (in the usual fast-food rectangular form), a sausage patty, hash browns, a biscuit, and three syrup-drizzled pancakes. That’s a hefty 930-calorie start to your day.

Source: Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons

Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s

This chain, known as Carl’s Jr. in the West and Hardee’s elsewhere in the country, leads off with a slightly unusual morning sandwich: a 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. If you’re not the a.m. burger type, the chain also serves biscuits (plain, with gravy, and in several breakfast sandwich variations); breakfast burritos; and grilled cheese sandwiches enhanced with sausage, bacon, or ham.

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Chick-fil-A

Order a buttered biscuit, a sunflower multigrain bagel, or an English muffin at this chicken sandwich chain, if that’s what you’re in the mood for, or choose a conventional breakfast sandwich on a biscuit or muffin. But the smart play here is chicken biscuits — either a full-size one or four Chick-n-Minis (in effect chicken sandwich sliders) — or a combo of chicken, egg, and cheese on a bagel. (If you’re in a healthy mood, there’s also a Greek yogurt parfait and a fresh fruit cup.)

Source: Keithready / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Del Taco

This California-based chain establishes its breakfast bona fides with its Huevos Rancheros Epic Burrito meal — consisting of both flour and corn tortillas wrapped around scrambled eggs, chorizo, cheddar cheese, avocado, sour cream, and salsa, plus hash brown sticks and a choice of beverages. (It contains between 1,350 and 1,550 calories, presumably depending on the beverage.) More modest breakfast burritos, wraps, and “rollers” are also on the menu, and there are “Donut Bites” (like doughnut holes) available, too.

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Dunkin’

This popular chain may have been rebranded in January of last year to remove the word “Donuts,” but there are still doughnuts aplenty, the ultimate breakfast treat, on the menu. Glazed, double chocolate, powdered sugar, jelly, and more than half a dozen other varieties are currently on the menu. But Dunkin’ also serves a full complement of hearty croissant and English muffin “all-day” breakfast sandwiches, including one with turkey sausage and one with egg whites. And it has just introduced Snackin’ Bacon, a paper pouch filled with half-strips of bacon with sweet black pepper seasoning.

Source: bk.com

Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box was something of a fast-food breakfast pioneer. It began serving breakfast items all day way back in 1969, along the way introducing what was likely 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. Astonishingly, you can eat all this 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.

Krispy Kreme

While its competitor Dunkin’ (formerly Dunkin’ Donuts) has long since expanded into breakfast sandwiches and other non-doughnut items, Krispy Kreme remains true to its origins. Other than a variety of coffee drinks and a few other beverages, there’s nothing on the menu except doughnuts. All the classics are represented — glazed, custard-filled, crullers, plain, etc. — but then there are such specialties as Butterfinger fudge cake, double dark chocolate, New York cheesecake, and cinnamon-apple-filled, to name but a few. Anyone who can’t make a great breakfast out of two or three of these just isn’t trying.

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Source: Courtesy of McDonald's

McDonald’s

If McDonald’s didn’t invent the breakfast sandwich (that honor goes to Jack in the Box; see above), it was the chain’s now-iconic Egg McMuffin, introduced in 1971, that really popularized the idea nationwide. While it didn’t happen all at once, all units of the chain have had a breakfast menu since 1977, and since 2015, most of the morning items have been available all day. The McDonald’s equivalent of the breakfast platters offered by other chains is its 750-calorie Big Breakfast — loose scrambled eggs, a biscuit, a sausage patty, and hash browns. Beyond that and of course the definitive Egg McMuffin, there’s a variety of breakfast sandwiches on biscuits, bagels, muffins, and a company-branded waffle-muffin hybrid called the McGriddle.

Source: RiverNorthPhotography / Getty Images

Panera Bread

Strictly speaking, Panera isn’t a fast-food restaurant — it’s what the food service industry calls a fast-casual chain. In fact, it is given credit for having pioneered the concept, and according to the latest figures available it’s the leading example of the genre by a comfortable margin. Though it projects a classier, calmer image than, say, McDonald’s or Taco Bell, however, it is often included in rankings along with places like that — and it has made a serious commitment to breakfast. There are ten different breakfast sandwiches and wraps (the former on various kinds of bread), as well as two baked egg soufflés, plus servings of steel-cut oatmeal with strawberries and pecans and Greek yogurt with mixed berries.

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Shake Shack

Unfortunately, Shake Shack in general isn’t open for breakfast, but a few select locations are — among them the Shacks in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, the Delta terminal at JFK, and Washington D.C.’s Union Station, as well as the location that started it all, in midtown Manhattan’s Madison Square Park. If you happen upon one of these, the choices are few and straightforward — sausage, egg, and cheese; bacon, egg, and cheese; or just egg and cheese — but this is Shake Shack, so the eggs are cage-free and the meats are from Niman Ranch. And there’s the chain’s custom coffee blend from Stumptown as an accompaniment.

Source: Courtesy of Sonic

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, French toast sticks, and Cinnabon Cinnasnacks with cream cheese frosting.

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Starbucks

The world’s largest coffee shop chain typically offers a selection of bagels, but really hits the breakfast big time with its array of breakfast sandwiches and wraps. Among these are a spinach, feta, and cage-free egg white wrap, a chicken sausage and bacon biscuit with country-style gravy and spiced honey butter, and a hickory-smoked ham, Swiss, and egg sandwich on a croissant. Add in classic and blueberry oatmeal and sous-vide egg bites in three variations and of course that endless parade of coffee- and tea-based beverages.

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Source: Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons

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.

Source: Courtesy of Taco Bell

Taco Bell

The morning motto at this sorta 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 (the latter made with either flour tortillas or flatbread), doughnut-hole-like Cinnabon Delights, and a Mini Skillet Bowl of potatoes, eggs, nacho cheese sauce, and pico de gallo.

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Source: Courtesy of Tim Hortons

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 now encompasses 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

Wendy’s tried serving breakfast in 1985, 2007, and 2012, and failed to make a success of it on any of those occasions. This year, after a trial run in 300-plus units last year, they’re giving it another shot, and announced that they were hiring some 20,000 new employees nationwide to help prepare and serve all the new items. One of these is a Breakfast Baconator — a morning version of its signature Baconator bacon-cheeseburger that includes sausage, bacon, American cheese, egg, and a Swiss cheese sauce. There’s also a Maple Bacon Chicken Croissant, combining chicken breast, bacon, and maple butter on a croissant bun. Then there are numerous breakfast sandwiches, seasoned potatoes, and a breakfast burrito (sausage, egg, and cheese), along with coffee drinks including an iced chocolate Frosty-ccino.

Source: Jonesdr77 / Wikimedia Commons

Whataburger

Like many fast food chains, units of this Texas-based operation stop serving breakfast at 11 a.m. Unlike the others, though, the breakfast menus starts at 11 p.m. The menu is all over the map, offering plenty of choices: 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, even a limited-time-only breakfast burger (with an egg, hash brown sticks, and cheese joining the burger patty in the bun) — they’re all here.

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White Castle

Founded in 1921, White Castle bills itself as the world’s first fast-food burger chain. It first introduced breakfast items in the 1980s, and in 2015 began serving the morning meal all day long. The heart of the a.m. menu is — what else? — sliders. One, called the Breakfast Slider, consists of eggs, bacon or sausage, and a choice of American, jalapeño, or smoked cheddar cheese, on the traditional White Castle slider bun. A variation uses Belgian waffles instead of the bun. (For non-slider fans, the same ingredients are also available on wheat toast.) But there’s also a regular burger slider, with onions and with egg and cheese added — and a Chicken & Waffles Slider, involving crispy chicken breast with country gravy and bacon sprinkles between a couple of Belgian waffles.

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