12 Fast Food Chilis Ranked Worst To Best

What makes a bowl of chili great? Is it the spiciness, the consistency, or the secret ingredients that make this dish so appealing? While opinions vary, some chilis are objectively better than others. After all, no two bowls of chili are the same, and chili cook-offs exist for a reason. 

The International Chili Society supports these culinary competitions across the nation, ultimately leading to the World Championship Chili Cook-off (via the International Chili Society). At this event, one well-deserved cook is crowned winner and gets their share of a $100,000 prize.

That's a big chunk of change which just goes to show that chili is serious business. However, not everyone has the time to perfect their recipes. Luckily, you don't need to be a master chef to enjoy a tasty bowl of red. You can head to several different fast-food joints to satisfy that craving. 

But just like unique recipes at cook-offs, chili tastes different at each restaurant. So in the spirit of these competitions, we set out to find the best and worst of the bunch. After much research and taste-testing, we discovered there is indeed a hierarchy of fast food chilis. So if you're looking for a quick but appetizing bowl, it's best to know which fast food chilis are excellent and which ones are just disappointing. 

1. Wienerschnitzel

Wienerschnitzel doesn't have chili listed on the menu as a side, but the fast-food chain loves to top its meals with this meaty sauce, from hot dogs and cheeseburgers to fries and breakfast burritos. This chili sauce is made with ground meat, tomato paste, chili powder, and other flavorings. But although the slightly spicy condiment adds an extra oomph to dishes, it shouldn't be consumed on its own. It's meaty for a condiment but lacks enough substance to be a stand-alone item.

Although Weinerschnitzel's popular chili cheese dogs come loaded with cheese, the restaurant is a bit stingy with the chili toppings. So if you're looking for a loaded chili dog, this isn't the place, which might not be a bad thing. When this topping is consumed with other food, it's delicious. However, if you sit back and hone in on the flavor, you'll notice that the sauce tastes quite processed. Yes, we realize that's kind of the point when eating a fast-food hot dog, but still: There are better chilis out there.

2. Swensons Drive-In

Swensons has locations in California, Florida, and Ohio, and it makes classic American fare like ice cream, burgers, and of course, chili. The chain does offer many food items well, and its Galley Boy was named "Best burger in Ohio" by Reader's Digest.

But while Swensons may have award-winning burgers, we found its chili too greasy and sweet for our taste. The tomatoes used in chili naturally give it a hint of sweetness. Still, this chili tasted more sugary than other tomato-based chilis, which ultimately put us off. If you feel the same, we suggest adding something acidic to balance the flavor. A little (or a lot) hot sauce should do the trick.

Although Swensons' chili wasn't our favorite, we enjoyed the restaurant's Coney sauce. This meaty, chili-like topping might not have beans or heat, but it was a welcomed addition to many dishes. It's typically served on the chain's Coney dog, but some savvy clientele also request it in the grilled cheese. So if your local Swensons honors this secret menu request, we recommend trying one instead of a bowl of chili.

3. Skyline Chili

Although Skyline has a menu based around chili, this isn't your average chili con carne. In fact, it isn't the southwest or Texas-inspired chili at all, but a version that hails from Cincinnati. This chili consists of ground beef in a sauce made from tomato, cinnamon, allspice, and cacao. 

The mixture isn't typically consumed alone but is usually served over spaghetti or hot dogs. Cincinnati chili is well-known in Ohio, and Skyline Chili is legendary for the stuff; it has been named the best chili 25 years in a row by City Beat readers (via Skyline Chili).

This fast-casual restaurant has locations in Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. The recipe for this chili is secret, and it's a thin beefy tomato broth that's best served with a mound of cheddar cheese. Luckily, this is just how the chain does it. You can try Skyline's chili atop Coney cheese dogs or on the menu's 3-Way with spaghetti, chili, and cheese. For extra flavor, go for a 5-Way with diced onions and beans added.

Although Ohioans stand by their unique creation, not everyone loves the stuff. Dead Spin asserts that Cincinnati chili is terrible and zoned in on Skyline's horrendous chili. It's obvious Skyline's Cincinnati chili is divisive. While we don't love or hate it, we're not entirely sold either. You might enjoy it if you're familiar with Cincinnati-style chili. But there's no formal disclaimer, so if you're expecting classic chili, you've been warned.

4. Krystal

Krystal is a southeastern fast-food chain that developed during the depression. Its founders were inspired by White Castle, and the two chains are often compared to each other. However, Krystal does things differently than most fast food restaurants, including its chili.

Instead of supersizing things, Krystal offers miniature menu items like square-shaped sliders, called "Krystals," and junior hot dogs, aptly named "pups." If you ask us, the chili cheese pup is the best offering. At just the right size, it leaves you satiated without feeling stuffed.

Aside from these cute creations, we wouldn't recommend ordering the regular chili. Sadly, this seasonally-served dish was a letdown; the best part was the oyster crackers that accompanied it. However, this chili wasn't always so bad, which begs the question: what on earth happened? 

One consumer turned to Facebook and wondered if Krystal has changed the recipe since it was thinner and tasted quite bland. We can't help but agree with the general consensus: Krystal's chili has taken a turn for the worse. It works on pups, but steer clear of eating this chili on its own.

5. Culver's

Culver's George's Chili has the right ingredients in the wrong amounts. Like many much tastier recipes, George's Chili has kidney beans, beef, onions, tomatoes, and celery. It has all the makings of a solid chili, but unfortunately, it's quite the opposite. We found this chili too watery, which is not an ideal way to describe a beef-based stew. And while there's nothing particularly offensive about the flavors, they just don't pop. Overall, we felt that Culver's chili felt quite lackluster.

When people want chili, they crave a richness that Culver's doesn't deliver. If you find yourself at Culver's, feel free to order a bowl and form your own opinion. But we'd recommend upgrading to George's Chili Supreme. This version is creamy and zesty since it comes with additional toppings: chopped onions, melted cheese, and sour cream. The chili base is the same, but the extra goodies add a much-needed heartiness to the mix. 

6. Steak 'N Shake

We love all the chili options at Steak 'n Shake. The restaurant offers the usual side of chili as well as Chili Mac and Chili 5-Way. These last two menu options are Cincinnati-inspired chili dishes. If you're not a Cincinnati chili fan, you might be asking, "this stuff again?" But bear with us. Although Skyline Chili saw some nasty press for the Ohioan dish, Steak 'n Shake has received more positive reviews.

Chili Mac is spaghetti topped with chili beef and sauce, and it's a great lunch option at Steak 'n Shake. If that's not enough, the Chili 5-Way is packed with chili, extra chili beef, chili sauce, and diced raw onions over a big bowl of noodles. The Chili 5-Way's onions set this dish apart, giving it a fresh flavor and zippy crunch.

Overall, there's more going on in this Cincinnati chili compared to Skyline's. However, it's still a divisive dish, and the sauce is too reminiscent of ketchup for our taste. If you want to try Cincinnati-style chili, try Steak 'n Shake. However, we prefer the classic chili...if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

7. Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers

Freddy's chili has a bold kick to it, which is great if you can handle spice but not so amazing if you're sensitive. Overall, this chili has a nice flavor. However, it's not the seasonings that lower this chili's score but the core ingredients. Freddy's chili is beef-heavy which we love, but it's lacking beans altogether.

Technically speaking, chili doesn't require beans. In fact, the Rules and Regulations for the World Championship Chili Cook-Off state that traditional red chili cannot contain beans at all. Allowed ingredients solely include meats cooked with red chili peppers, seasonings, and other components (excluding beans and pasta).

Rules aside, we prefer our chili with the satiating addition of beans. Beans give the dish much more texture, not to mention protein and fiber. The lack of beans also affects the nutritional profile of this dish. Most chilis have over 5 grams of fiber, while Freddy's has zero (via Fast Food Nutrition). 

Despite the health benefits of beans, some may feel they're just a filler ingredient,  and they're not entirely wrong. Beans are often added to chili because beef can be expensive. And by adding beans, you keep all the flavor of your stew while increasing its volume. Without beans, a cup of Freddy's chili feels half-empty.

8. Sonic Burger

Not all Sonic Burger chains offer a bowl of chili, but if they do, it's made with fresh beef and huge, hearty beans. If you don't see this comforting stew on the Sonic menu, rest assured that its signature hot chili can be added to most burgers and dogs. It's also the main topping on the restaurant's Chili Cheese Coney, a simple yet satisfying hot dog with chili and melted cheese.

Many fast-food joints, like Wienerschnitzel's, use chili as a condiment. However, Sonic's chili is far superior. According to the Bite and Chew Food Review, the chili's beef isn't just leftover hamburger meat but is made fresh, which is a rarity in the fast food world. However, like most other chains, the chili is fairly mild. This isn't all that surprising since restaurants seem to play it safe with spice.

If you want to enhance the flavor, opt for the loaded chili. The chili is served with melted cheese, raw onions, and Frito chips. These chips are served separately, which is a nice touch, giving you the option of using eating it chips-and-dip style or mixing those salty bites straight in. But if you truly want to indulge, get a side of Sonic's onion rings. If you haven't tried dipping perfectly battered rings into chili, now is your chance.  

9. Firehouse Subs

Firehouse Subs was started by two brothers who grew up in a family of fire and police service members. As such, the restaurant's interior is inspired by fire stations with local touches based on each individual community. The fast food chain serves quick and tasty food like subs, salads, and seasonal items such as...you guessed it...chili.

There are a many things we love about this chili. You won't find large clumps in this chili since the ingredients are diced finely for a smooth yet thick texture. The flavor is also well-balanced with just the right amount of spice. So if you've been looking for a kick, this chili has just enough to scratch that itch without going overboard.

The listed ingredients on Firehouse Subs' Chili include kidney beans, beef, diced tomato, and onions. While it tastes good, it feels a little bit overpriced for what it is. We find ourselves craving something more, perhaps melted cheese or if nothing else, a larger portion size.

10. Wendy's

If you're looking for a good bowl of red, look no further than Wendy's. This icon chain makes a mean bowl of chili and has for some time (via Britannica). Chili was an original menu item at Wendy's. Since this fast-food joint was established in 1969, this chili has been served for over 50 years, and it doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Wendy's chili has stood the test of time because this restaurant item gets many things right. 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.

Although Wendy's chili can be consumed independently, we recommend pairing it with a baked potato for the ultimate comfort food experience. But if you truly want to indulge, go for the chili cheese fries or order a side of fries and dip them into the bowl. Whichever way you choose to eat this chili, it is bound to be a winner. According to Wendy's, one employee even tested this theory by secretly entering it in a chili cook-off and winning. So if you're looking for a reliable recipe without the hassle, order chili at your local Wendy's.

11. Panera Bread

At Panera Bread, you can have chili your way. This customizable bowl can contain all the usual ingredients, but it can also be served vegetarian, bean-free, hot or mild, or jazzed up with multiple toppings. 

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.

While the Panera chili gets a high rating for taste alone, it also gets bonus points for health benefits, and nutritionists agree. Panera's chili is the go-to order of many health-conscious individuals, including Marie Spano, a board-certified sports dietician and nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks (via Women's Health). 

She enjoys this dish because it contains plenty of fiber and protein as well as several delicious spices. The ingredients are more natural than most fast-food items, and alterations are welcomed, so this item can suit many dietary needs.

You can order Panera's chili individually or for a whole group, making it an easy option for celebrations or tailgating events. However, this stew is seasonal, so check ahead if you're planning to add it to your next party menu.

12. Potbelly Sandwich Shop

Potbelly Sandwich Shop's chili has the robust flavor we've been waiting for. It's made with the usual ingredients: Kidney beans, meat, tomatoes, and onions. But the ratios create an end result that took us by surprise. The beef and seasonings steal the show at first bite, which is a welcomed change from the usual tomato-heavy chilis we've experienced. 

It makes sense that most places go wild with tomatoes and beans as they are a more economical choice. But Potbelly doesn't skimp on the meat, which we appreciate. After all, chili is a meat-based dish by definition. Not only was the chili superb, but the service surprised us. One fun fact about Potbelly Sandwich is that it guarantees a wait time of 8 minutes or less. So you can be sure your chili will be served pipping hot by well-trained employees.

Potbelly is a crowd favorite, and the majority rules on this one. So if you're hoping for a reliable bowl that's heavier on the meat than beans, Potbelly fits the bill!