While burgers and fried chicken sandwiches are big sellers, half the fun in going out for fast food is the simple pleasure of dipping chicken nuggets and french fries into delicious sauces. The myriad of sweet, sour, and spicy sauces complement the crispy salty foods so perfectly. And everyone has a favorite, even chefs.
Believe it or not, there was a time when the only condiments available were ketchup and mustard. In fact, mustard is one of the world’s oldest condiments. Dating back to the late 4th to early 5th century. Now, of course, some fast-food chains pride themselves on their creative dipping sauces. BBQ and honey mustard are popular but limited-edition flavors can also cause a stir. We can’t forget the craze that McDonald’s Szechuan sauce caused when it came back on the scene briefly.
Now, with chains offering a wide variety of everything from spicy hot sauces to tart and tangy sauces, it can be difficult to choose one or two for your meal. We asked chefs to share their favorite sauces of all time so you can figure out which are worth a spot next to your nuggets.
For many of us, the sweet and sour sauce at the Golden Arches was a first foray into a dip that wasn’t ketchup or BBQ sauce, and it’s remained a classic dip for both nuggets and fries.
Chef Brian Pancir, Corporate Culinary Director of Thompson Hospitality Group in Virginia is a fan. He told us, “Fast food sauces have been evolving over the years for the better. I’m a lover of hot sauces but if I need to pick a sauce then McDonald’s sweet and sour sauce has been a go-to for my french fries for years. I can’t get enough of the sweet and tangy sauce for my perfectly thin-cut salted french fries.”
Pancir isn’t alone in his allegiance to the tangy and sweet sauce, chef and founder Harris Meyer-Selinger, of Creamline in NYC has also been an enthusiastic dipper since he was six years old.
“I didn’t like red meat until I was a teenager, so my go-to was always chicken nuggets, and for which I would always request the sweet and sour,” said Meyer-Selinger. “The nostalgia I have for it is powerful; but from a culinary perspective, I always found the spices in the sauce exotic and savory. I never thought about identifying what the spices were until this question. Some things are better off being unknown and just delicious, but I always knew there was more to this sauce than sugar and vinegar. If I had to guess, I think there are some warm spices like clove and allspice that make this sauce so magic-able and crave-able.”
Chefs love In-N-Out, and they love the Animal Style burger, so it’s no surprise that the sauce is a favorite as well. Whether on a burger, or Animal Style fries, this sauce—which seems to be a classic mix of ketchup, mayo, vinegar, and pickle chips—is a favorite.
It tops celebrity chef and Mings Bings’ founder Ming Tsai‘s list for dipping sauces. He says his favorite is, “Animal Style Sauce at In-n-Out. In fact, I honor the Double-Double Animal style with my Cheeseburger MingsBings and our own version of an 8,000 Island Dipper.”
Another classic from America’s favorite fast food spot, the Hot Mustard sauce at McDonald’s is harder to find these days.
When Billy Kramer, owner of NFA Burger, an award-winning, gas station burger joint in Atlanta, sees this sauce in the wild, he doesn’t hesitate to get it.
“If I’m going to put sauce on anything, I usually like a little bit of heat. Growing up, I loved McDonald’s hot mustard sauce as a dipping sauce for my McNuggets. It’s no longer widely available, but when I see it in another market, I grab some. Hopefully, they bring it back nationwide.”
In a bold step for a fast food restaurant, Wendy’s serves a dip made with the famous ghost pepper, which is also known as bhut jolokia, a hybrid chili pepper cultivated in Northeast India. It is considered the hottest pepper in the world, and while the ranch balances it out nicely, it’s definitely got a lot of kick. It’s not surprising it’s a Dallas chef’s favorite.
Emerio Viramontes Jr., Executive Chef of Chef’s Palette at CANVAS Dallas, said “My favorite dipping sauce is Wendy’s Ghost Pepper Ranch. Some sauces say spicy, but really do not have any spice for me. However, this one has a nice amount of heat and spice. It holds true to its name of Ghost Pepper.”
Between the free peanuts and endless grilled toppings, Five Guys is already a favorite for burger and fries lovers, but their specially blended mayonnaise from Heinz elevates all of their dishes, says Asim Choudhry, co-founder of The Halal Butchery.
“My favorite fast food dipping sauce is the infamous Five Guys Heinz Mayo. This mayo is exclusively made for Five Guys and Five Guys only, and pips the regular Heinz mayo to the post in everything: from taste to texture,” says Choudhry. “Five Guys mayo is a delectable blend of rich, creamy goodness that elevates any dish it accompanies, adding a lovely tang to their burgers and fries that makes them even more addictive.”
Choudry adds he’d like to snatch a bottle to take home, and shares this tip: “Mix some of that Five Guys mayo with some ketchup for a tasty burger sauce that is great for adding some creamy tang to their veggie options.”
With a mix of honey mustard sweetness and a tart tang of spice, the chains sauce is a favorite for dipping crispy tenders in or topping a sandwich.
“One of my favorites is the Chick-fil-A Sauce, ” Nathaniel Lee, chef at Meal Prepify said. “This sauce has the perfect balance of smokiness, tanginess, and a touch of sweetness that complements the brand’s signature chicken sandwich.”
Most chefs love spicy food, and Whataburger’s spicy ketchup has a zesty kick that’s so popular, you can buy it by the bottle.
Lee is a fan, saying, “I must say that my favorite fast food/chain dipping sauce is the spicy ketchup from Whataburger. I find that it has the perfect balance between spiciness and sweetness, which complements most of their menu items well.”