Best Fast Food Chili: Top 7 Drive-Thru Options, According To Foodies

Do you like your chili with meat, beans, or both? It’s a source of constant debate among chili lovers, but the stew can be made a million different ways. From the spiciness level to adding veggies and tomatoes, there’s a recipe to satisfy every palate. Some swear by the traditional Texan-style chili, a meat-only mixture, while others opt for a heartier version full of beans. Then there’s the question of toppings – cheese, sour cream, onions, or cornbread? Regardless of your preference, drive-thru restaurants are now serving up their own takes, and we’ve rounded up the best fast food chili for you in our list below.

No matter how you serve it up, chili is a dish that brings people together, sparking conversations, memories, and even friendly competition. Whether you’re a purist or an experimenter, one thing’s for sure: a bowl of chili is comfort in a dish. Don’t have time to let a batch simmer in the crockpot? We have the next best option — a trip to get some fast food chili. Granted, it’s more consistent in texture and flavor since it’s mass-produced, but some chains pride themselves on using better-quality ingredients or unique recipes. Which fast food chili’s make the cut? We’ve done the research and have the results.

While fast food chili might not rival your grandmother’s recipe, it does offer a quick and tasty option if you’re on the go or looking for a change from the usual burger or chicken sandwich. While preferences can be subjective and vary by region and personal taste, we’ve curated a list of the top seven best fast food chili options based on popularity, accessibility, and consensus.  Is your favorite missing from the list? Let us know in the comments below.

Bowls of chili
Bowls of chili (Photo by American Heritage Chocolate on Unsplash)

The List: Best Fast Food Chili, According to Experts

1. Culver’s

This permanent menu item is a family recipe from the founders of the fast food chain, George and Ruth Culver. According to Eat This, Not That!, “The thick and flavorful side dish can be eaten as is, on top of hot dogs or French fries, or upgraded to be ‘Supreme’ which includes sour cream, cheese, and onions.”

Wide Open Country describes it as a “medium-spicy chili made with simmered homestyle beef, diced tomatoes, dark red kidney beans, peppers, onion, celery, and a secret blend of peppery spices.”

The next time you’re near a Culver’s, you might want to make time to stop by for the chili! Mashed writes, “Fans know that the fast-food spot is actually very proud of its chili, so as you might expect, it’s one of the best versions out there.”

2. Wendy’s

Wendy’s has served chili since opening its doors in 1969. Eat This, Not That! says, “Not only has the iconic homemade recipe not changed much since its debut, but it’s also allowed the company to save money and avoid excessive food waste, by using leftover hamburger meat, just like Dave would have wanted it.”

“Wendy’s chili has stood the test of time because this restaurant item gets many things right,” according to The Daily Meal. “For one, it offers the best bang for your buck when it comes to fast-food chilis. The consistency isn’t too thick or watery, and although it’s mild, it has enough flavor to satisfy those tastebuds. Occasionally, some batches can have more beans than beef, but the chain usually strikes a decent balance.”

Wide Open Country explains, “Not skimpy on the ground beef and not too overloaded with kidney beans, Wendy’s Chili is arguably the best store-made chili you can find at a fast food restaurant. You can have shredded cheese and onions on top for a nominal surcharge and get those little oddly shaped sour cream packets on the side to really make it a chili experience.”

3. Panera Bread

If you like to customize your chili, this is the place to go. The Daily Meal states, “In its standard form, the Panera chili contains turkey, chickpeas and kidney beans, veggies, tomatoes, and chiles. However, the custom options feel limitless. If you ask us, we’d keep all the classic ingredients but add sour cream, cheese, and chopped onions. And don’t forget a side of cornbread.”

“Many loyal fans claim it’s one of the tastiest items on the menu,” according to Eat This, Not That! “The Turkey Chili at Panera offers a roundhouse of flavors due to bold ingredients like dark-meat turkey (raised without antibiotics), chickpeas, kidney beans, edamame, carrots, cilantro, cumin, and lime.”

Mashed writes, “Though Panera’s chili is made with turkey instead of beef, it features the same traditional ingredients as most recipes, including kidney beans, tomatoes, onions, and spices. It is also loaded with chickpeas, edamame, and tomatillos. With all of those flavors mingling, it’s no wonder people are obsessed with the chili.”

4. Steak and Shake

This chili is not like any other on this list! “The chain’s Chili 5-Way (also known as Cincinnati chili) is a dish of spaghetti, topped with the famous chili, extra chili beef, shredded cheddar, Jack cheese, and diced onions—a Midwestern specialty that customers love,” writes Eat This, Not That!

“Steak ‘n Shake’s chili is so popular that the chain even released a canned version so that you can enjoy it at home whenever you want,” states Mashed. “The chunks of beef are large and meaty and delicious, and the beans are plump and perfectly cooked. Every spoonful is bursting with beef and beans and sauce!”

Restaurant Clicks can’t recommend the chili enough! “Order your chili in a cup or get a larger serving in a bowl. The recipe features cola for a unique twist of sweetness, and it comes with topping options like cheddar, Jack cheese, and onions.”

5. Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

Eat This, Not That! reports, “The chain allows customers to order the chili as a side (in a cup or a bowl) or on top of any menu item of their choosing—even its onion rings and the beloved steakburgers. The chili recipe at Freddy’s is a well-kept secret, with the exception of the chain confirming it doesn’t get made with any beans.”

“I like to visit Freddy’s and grab their homecooked chili, an indulgent dish with onions, adobe peppers, and fresh ground beef,” according to Restaurant Clicks. “It’s not too spicy, with just a hint of sweetness.”

The Daily Meal says this chili “has a nice flavor” and has a “bold kick to it.” The reviewer was disappointed however it was beef-heavy and didn’t contain any beans.

6. Sonic

You can’t find a bowl of chili at all Sonic burger chains, but if you do, consider ordering it. According to The Daily Meal it’s “made with fresh beef and huge, hearty beans.”

You can even get their chili on a hot dog or tater tots to take it up a notch. “SONIC’s Chili Cheese Coney is a 6-inch grilled beef hot dog smothered with warm chili and melted cheddar cheese on a warmed bun,” states Wide Open Country. “Add diced onions and ketchup to make this a messy delight. Don’t leave Sonic without trying the chili cheese Tots. Trust me, order a large.”

Chili on a burger? Yup. “The only thing better than a burger and soda is a double bacon cheeseburger with chili-cheese fries,” according to Food Vision.

7. A&W

“A&W’s chili is actually ‘coney sauce,’ because it smothers a beef frankfurter made with natural casing and is topped with onions in a nod to the Coney dogs that originated in Coney Island,” states Eat This, Not That! “Coney sauce is like chili, but looser and almost always served as a topping. While the chain’s menu doesn’t include a bowl of chili option, there are plenty of chili hot dogs and chili cheese fries to keep customers more than satisfied.”

Cheapism states, “Of all the fast-food chain chili options available in America today, the best Coney-style chili dog is probably at A&W.”

“The chili fries are decadent, with plenty of gooey cheese and mild-flavored beef chili,” according to Restaurant Clicks. “Also, try the coney dog with chili topping, cheese sauce, and onions.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links.

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About the Author

Amy Chodroff

Amy Chodroff is a recovering Morning Radio Show Host and award-winning broadcaster who recently retired from DFW’s Morning News on KLIF in Dallas. Fondly known as the “Chief Googler” by her friends, it was a seamless transition for StudyFinds to enlist her expertise for their “Best of the Best” franchise. Amy has an innate curiosity and a penchant for thorough research before any purchase and she’s constantly on the hunt for top-notch products. Outside of her digital explorations, Amy loves to explore the world with her husband and is the proud mother of two adult daughters. You can also find Amy on the pickleball court, perfecting her dink and drop shots.

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