Zaxby's Sauce Is Fast Food's Greatest Mystery

The food service industry is no stranger to mysterious sauces. According to Merriam-Webster, the term "secret sauce" dates back to 1906, while "special sauce" stretches back to 1848. Now, the concept is particularly popular among chicken joints. Chick-fil-A famously has Chick-fil-A Sauce. Still, Chick-fil-A tweeted out that recipe (honey mustard, barbecue, and ranch) years ago. KFC similarly has KFC Sauce, which is vaguely described as tasting smoky, tangy, and sweet. However, it isn't touted in the same mystifying way as KFC's legendary eleven herbs and spices. Raising Cane's own Cane's Sauce is a supposedly top-secret, spicy blend. Yet, each Raising Cane's location has staff whipping up the stuff every day, so how mysterious can the recipe really be? It seems like most chicken chains' special sauces are open secrets.

It's not just the chicken sector, either. It's burger joints, too. Shake Shack has a special sauce, for instance. Even retail companies get in on the fun. Hidden Valley has a total of three Secret Sauces. Even so, we've cracked the recipe for Shake Shack's special sauce, and Hidden Valley's secret sauces are basically just ranch. What we really want to know, however, is what in the world is in Zaxby's Zax Sauce.

Zaxby's co-founder kept the sauce a secret

For some, Zaxby's itself might be just as mysterious as its sauce. According to Nation's Restaurant News, Zaxby's is a top fast-casual chicken chain, specifically in the American Southeast. As a result, folks living elsewhere may not have heard of it before. "ZAX" was founded in Georgia circa 1990 by old pals Tony Townley and Zach McLeroy. Eventually, the name changed to "Zaxby's" and the chain expanded by franchising (via Zaxby's). The company also likes to throw z's into terms like "chicken fingerz" and "chicken zalads." That playful "zattitude," along with the chain's normally-spelled wings and sandwiches, has enabled this business to become quite successful. The venture has almost 1,000 locations, which together make nearly $2 million a year.

What's the secret sauce behind all this success? Could it, perhaps, literally be Zaxby's special sauce? The chain has a dozen unique sauces, but the one that really stands out is, of course, Zax Sauce. Co-founder McLeroy made the sauce all by himself for years until the organization became so widespread that he alone could not keep up with production demands. Zaxby's began manufacturing the condiment after that, but even then, the process was designed so that no single person (other than McLeroy) would ever have the full recipe; each participant involved only had one piece of the puzzle.

So, is that it? Do we not have any idea what Zax Sauce is really made of? Or could there be a few not-so-hidden clues?

Zaxby's turned Zax Sauce into a popsicle

Fast food chains sometimes need to get creative to grab consumers' attention, and thankfully for us internet sleuths, such efforts can end up revealing new info about those companies' inner workings. That's exactly what happened in 2022 when, as reported by QSR Magazine, dessert brand Frios Gourmet Pops used two of Zaxby's sauces to create limited-time popsicle flavors. In September 2022, these frozen treats were given away for free through online ordering for a limited time. The two sauces used were Tongue Torch and (conveniently for us detectives) Zax Sauce. From this event, we now know that the sweet and tangy Zax Sauce consists of three ingredients — Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and ... a secret blend of spices. So close, and yet so far!

Are these popsicles, at least, still available for a taste test? Can we narrow down possible spices used that way? Sadly, the Saucesicles website reveals its freezer is now empty. Although, it does also mention that Zax Sauce is creamy — so, that's something. Does this mean there's dairy or mayonnaise involved? It's unclear if that descriptor only applies to the popsicle itself, but even if it did apply to the sauce, that's not quite a revelation. Many sauces can generally be described as creamy. It appears some things — namely spices — will remain known only to fast food insiders.