Spicy Fast-Food Menu Items to Order If You're Feeling Brave

Wendy's Spicy Nuggets with Ranch

Wendy's Spicy Nuggets with Ranch by Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue (CC BY)

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McDonald's Golden Arches

Bring the Heat

Fast-food joints figured out long ago that some customers are eager for a little heat during their drive-thru run. While none of these mass-produced items can compete with the world's spiciest foods, most still pack enough of a punch to rouse your taste buds from a mid-day slumber. Here's a look at some of the hottest options on menus right now, including a limited-time favorite that's back on the menu at McDonald's.

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Spicy Chicken McNuggets

McDonald's Spicy Chicken McNuggets

Not one to let Wendy's get all the spicy nugget love, McDonald's released its own spicy version of the iconic McNuggets in late 2020, and they're back for a limited time. The McNuggets look the same, from the cookie cutter shapes to the tempura-like crispy coating, but they've got an orange hue thanks to cayenne and chili peppers in the mix. They're only available at 6,900 locations in the U.S. — about half the nation's McDonald's restaurants — so you'll want to check the menu on the app at your local Mickey D's before you go. If you're really lucky, you'll be able to dip your spicy nuggs into another just-released cult favorite, Szechuan sauce. 

Pizza Hut's Spicy Lover's Pizza
Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut's Spicy Lover's Pizza

Move over Meat Lover's Pizza, because there's a new "shock and awe" pie in town: the Spicy Lover's. Pizza Hut's attempt at cracking the spicy fast-food market goes beyond just sprinkling some hot pepper flakes on top — though "fiery flakes seasoning" is on it, too — with a new spicy marinara sauce and sliced red jalapeños. You can get a Spicy Lover's pie with double pepperoni; mushrooms, green peppers, and onions; or grilled chicken and pineapple for those who like a little sweet with their heat. 

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Burger King Ghost Pepper Nuggets

Burger King Ghost Pepper Nuggets

Spicy chicken nuggets are a beloved fast-food staple, and Burger King offers an even spicier spin on theirs. The coating on these nuggets is red with peppers and includes the ghost pepper, one of the spiciest in the world. Most reviewers say these are pretty hot compared to other spicy fast-food items, with heat that builds slowly and lingers. If you're someone with a prize hot-sauce collection, they may not be very exciting, but for everyone else, they'll make you sweat.

Related: New Fast Food Items You Can Try This Month

Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich
David K./Yelp

Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Popeyes made waves releasing its admittedly tasty chicken sandwich in August 2019, a shot across the buttery-bun bow of Chick-fil-A. By all accounts, the sandwich was (and continues to be) a success  — but what about the spicy version? We can speak from personal experience here: It's delicious, with spicy mayo bringing a nice kick. If you're looking for scorching levels of heat, you'll be disappointed, but if you're just looking for a juicy sandwich with a little extra zing, Popeyes delivers.

Related: Fast Food Items With Cult Followings

KFC Nashville Hot Tenders

KFC Nashville Hot Tenders

Nashville's legendary hot chicken found a national audience when KFC rolled out its version in 2016. The result is currently available in chicken-tender form, having received mostly positive reviews over the past several years. Thrillist, for instance, calls it "hot, but not revenge-level hot" (Nashville hot chicken, after all, was the brainchild of a scorned woman who wanted to cook her cheating man something a little "extra special"). Just beware of the oil: As The Impulsive Buy notes, there's a lot of it

Related: Best Fried Chicken in Every State

03 Cajun Fries - Five Guys
03 Cajun Fries - Five Guys by Jason Lam (CC BY-SA)

Five Guys Cajun Fries

You've got to respect Five Guys for bringing a little spice to the often-overlooked French fry. These are the same fresh-cut fries Five Guys is known for, but with a liberal coating of spices (presumably cayenne, paprika, garlic, and the other usual suspects). By all accounts, this long-standing menu option is a hit, with Mashed even recommending against ever ordering the plain fries since this "delicious flavor party for your mouth" is an option.  

Related: This Chain's French Fries Beat McDonald's in Our Taste Test

McDonald's Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Theos R./Yelp

McDonald's Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich

McDonald's recent entry into the chicken-sandwich wars includes this pepper sauce-slathered counterpart of its regular Crispy Chicken. And if you're skeptical about getting a decent amount of heat from the Golden Arches, don't be. The Takeout raves that McDonald's new sandwich "dares to be bold and is pushing PG-13 levels of burn." In other words, you might want to order the large soft drink to go with it.

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Wendy's Spicy Nuggets with Ranch
Wendy's Spicy Nuggets with Ranch by Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue (CC BY)

Wendy's Spicy Nuggets

How much do people love their Wendy's Spicy Nuggets? Enough to amass 2 million likes on one Tweet in less than 48 hours just to bring back the fan favorite, a saga from 2019 neatly laid out in this Reddit thread. And if you're skeptical that the nuggets won't live up to their spicy billing, don't be. "The spicy nugget assaults the diner with a level of heat that builds and stings like no other dish in the modern fast-food industry," raves Eater, which ranks Wendy's nuggets a runaway No. 1 among competitors. "The cayenne sucker punch lasts for a solid 30 seconds."

Hardee's Burger

Hardee's/Carl's Jr. Fiery Famous Star Burger

These sibling chains are no stranger to pushing the envelope. Though their most legendary spicy creation, the El Diablo Thickburger, isn't currently on the menu, the Fiery Famous Star brings the heat with a habanero ranch "fiery sauce," jalapenos, and pepperjack cheese. And the verdict? About as spicy as it gets in fast-food land. "I am burning up, stinging right now, and I am loving it," proclaims one YouTube reviewer.  

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Chick-fil-A Grilled Spicy Deluxe

Chick-fil-A Grilled Spicy Deluxe

Chick-fil-A's spicy chicken sandwich is a beloved menu mainstay, but this grilled option is a new addition, giving customers a little extra zing without the heavy breading. The sandwich, marinated in a peppery blend and served with cilantro lime sauce, was in testing as early as 2017, according to Thrillist. Is it worth your hard-earned dollars? Most early reviews say yes. Fast Food Geek rightly notes that it's pricey ($5.65 for just the sandwich), but the juicy, spicy chicken might be worth the splurge. 

Related: The Most Expensive Item at Every Fast Food Chain

Jack in the Box Stuffed Jalapeños
Jessica J./Yelp

Jack in the Box Stuffed Jalapeños

Jalapeño poppers have become something of a french-fry alternative and the "edgier" fast-food chains: Arby's, Burger King, Sonic, and Carl's Jr. all have them on the menu, too. But Jack in the Box may have had them for the longest, and they don't soften the spice with mushy cream cheese (we see you, Arby's) but a more classic melty cheese blend and a side of buttermilk ranch.  

Related: We Tried 24 Fast-Food Sauces and These Are the Best (and Worst)

Wingstop Atomic Wings
Gary N./Yelp
Burger King Chicken Burger
Burger King Chicken Burger by Steve Wertz (CC BY-NC-ND)

Burger King Spicy Hand-Breaded Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Burger King took its sweet time concocting a chicken sandwich to take on the likes of Popeyes and Chick-fil-A, releasing the results only recently. (Drum roll, please.) The spicy version, which comes slathered in a sweet cinnamony hot sauce, is tasty and appropriately sinus-clearing without being overwhelmingly hot, says The Takeout.

Related: What's the Most Popular Fast Food in Your State?

Wendy's Salad

Wendy's Jalapeño Popper Salad

Yes, Wendy's has more than a spicy nuggets (and a spicy Twitter account, for that matter). And we have to give them props for thinking outside the box with a spicy salad. Even more points for not just plopping peppers on and calling it a day. Yes, they're there, but the chicken is spicy, the jalapeño and cheddar croutons are spicy, and the jalapeño ranch is spicy, too. "You hardly miss the bread," raves Thrillist, which is about as good as it gets for a fast-food salad. 

Related: Underrated Items to Order at National Chains

Pizza Hut Buffalo Burnin' Hot Wings
Katie Y./Yelp

Pizza Hut Buffalo Burnin' Hot Wings

Again, it's wings coming in clutch for the crowd that doesn't mess around when it demands "spicy." Pizza Hut's WingStreet brand doesn't offer a ton of spicy sauces and rubs, but Buffalo Burnin' Hot, which the chain says has a "lip-numbingly spicy burn," might make up for that. "They're hot, all right," writes one reviewer with the Houston Chronicle. "Much hotter than I've experienced or expected from a national pizza chain. They're almost unpleasantly hot, with an afterburn that had me running back to the kitchen for a slug of Diet Pepsi." 

Related: We Tried 20 Popular Hot Sauces — and These are the Best

Beef with broccoli, Kung pao chicken, and fried rice from Panda Express
Beef with broccoli, Kung pao chicken, and fried rice from Panda Express by Haya Al Dossary (CC BY-NC-ND)

Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken

This classic remains one of the spiciest things you can get at Panda Express. While it certainly won't touch the heat you can find at a mom-and-pop Szechuan place, the chili peppers and zingy sauce make this a respectably hot dish for a national chain. And judging by the number of copycat recipes on the Internet, its fan base remains as stalwart as ever. 

Related: How to Make Fast Food Sauces With Copycat Recipes

the doritos loco taco
the doritos loco taco by Rusty Gillespie (CC BY-NC)

Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco

Taco Bell got rid of the Fiery Doritos Locos Taco in its menu purge of 2019, losing its last semi-legitimate claim to a truly spicy menu item. But it seemed odd to leave Taco Bell off this list completely, and if you load up your regular Doritos Locos Taco with add-ons like jalapeños and Fire or Diablo sauce, you can still feel a little bit of the burn. Meanwhile, cross your fingers for the return of spicier options.

Related: Live Mas: Spicy Secrets Behind Taco Bell's Success

buffalo chicken sandwich
buffalo chicken sandwich by Ginny (CC BY-SA)

Subway Buffalo Chicken Footlong

There's finally an option for spicy-food lovers at Subway that's not the decidedly non-spicy Spicy Italian: the Buffalo Chicken Footlong, which gets its kick from Frank's RedHot Sauce. Sadly, judging by this review from The Impulsive Buy, the added zing might not be enough to save this one from Subway's underwhelming chicken, but maybe asking for some extra sauce will help.

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