Fast Food Burgers & Fries Compared

Big Mac

Instead of analyzing one specific restaurant on this particular Menu Monday, I thought it might be fun to make some apples-to-apples burgers-to-burgers comparisons of a few popular fast food chains.

I’m not encouraging you to visit any of these establishments — since only a trivial few of their offerings (none of which are mentioned here) might be worthy of a green check-mark at all — but I do think it’s interesting to see which chains are “better” and which are “worse” when it comes to some standard American fast-fare.

McDonald’s is the restaurant most often vilified when we’re talking about fast food — and with good reason: They pretty much invented it, and are the biggest player by a huge margin. They have more locations than Burger King, Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box, Fatburger, Sonic, and In-N-Out — combined.* (They also employ over 1.5 million people worldwide!)

So how does Mickey D’s compare to some of the other chains? The answer might surprise you.

To keep it simple, I’ve picked two options for each of the major chains — their “signature” burger and whatever is the closest I can find to a “regular” cheeseburger.  I’m also including a medium order of fries, so we can see how they stack up.  Frankly, I have no idea what the most popular menu items actually are, but I figure the Big Mac and Whopper (and similar) have to be near the top of the list, so it makes sense to compare them rather than some of the other (even larger) options.

I wouldn’t consider any of these items healthful (unless you’re suffering from kwashiorkor, which, if you’re reading this, I can just about guarantee that you’re not), and in fact this post could easily be read as an indictment of the entire fast food industry.

Nevertheless, there are some significant differences between the chains.  Some cheeseburgers, for example, can be nearly double the calories of others (In-N-Out vs. Wendy’s), and the sodium in the fries can vary by up to three times (Carl’s Jr. vs. McDonald’s).

The lists below are sorted by calories, and in each column the lowest numbers are green and the highest are red.

Signature Burgers

Calories Sat. Fat Total Fat. Sodium
Wendy’s: 1/4lb Single with Cheese 530 11 27 1,200
McDonald’s: Big Mac 540 10 29 1,040
Jack in the Box: Bonus Jack 540 13 33 1,062
Sonic: Cheeseburger 630 12 31 1,138
Carl’s Jr.: Famous Star with Cheese 660 13 39 1,240
Fatburger: “Fatburger” with American Cheese 660 12.5 36 1,410
Burger King: Whopper 670 11 40 980
In-N-Out: Double-Double with Onion 670 18 41 1,440

1/4 Pound Cheeseburger

Calories Sat. Fat Total Fat. Sodium
Wendy’s: Jr. Cheeseburger 270 5 11 690
Carl’s Jr.: Kid’s Cheeseburger 290 7 15 790
Burger King: Cheeseburger 300 6 14 710
McDonald’s: Cheeseburger 300 6 12 750
Sonic: Jr. Burger (comes without cheese) 313 5 15 611
Fatburger: “Baby Fat” (without cheese) 400 6 21 1,080
Jack in the Box: Hamburger Deluxe with Cheese 421 9 23 947
In-N-Out: Cheeseburger with Onion 480 10 27 1,000

Medium Fries

Calories Sat. Fat Total Fat. Sodium
Sonic 326 2 13 437
McDonald’s 380 2.5 19 270
Fatburger (“Skinny”) 390 3.5 15 730
In-N-Out Fries (one size) 400 5 18 245
Wendy’s 420 3.5 20 500
Carl’s Jr. 430 4 21 870
Burger King 440 4.5 22 670
Jack in the Box 443 2 20 809

Signature Burger PLUS Medium Fries

Calories Sat. Fat Total Fat. Sodium
McDonald’s 920 12.5 48 1,310
Wendy’s 950 14.5 47 1,700
Sonic 956 14 44 1,575
Jack in the Box 983 15 53 1,871
Fatburger 1,050 16 51 2,140
In-N-Out 1,070 23 59 1,685
Carl’s Jr. 1,090 17 60 2,110
Burger King 1,110 15.5 62 1,650

Conclusions

Although it’s not entirely consistent – and I must reiterate that these aren’t the only options at each chain – I think it’s noteworthy that McDonald’s is near the top of the list in all three categories. If you were to order a Big Mac and Medium Fries, you’d actually do better than a similar order at any of the other chains.

Sadly, In-N-Out performs poorly for both burgers, though their fries are the lowest in sodium which helps them a bit in the final tally.  Burger King may have the most calories (their sandwiches are some of the biggest), but Fatburger and Carl’s Jr. are the only ones over 2,000 mg of sodium (taking it from “too much” to “way too much.”).

One final disclaimer: This is an intellectual exercise — I’m not recommending that you eat any of these food products. Calorie intake should be around 1,500 to 2,500 (depending on your needs), saturated fat should be under 20-25 grams per day, and sodium should be under 2,400 milligrams. Those are totals for your the entire day, so I find it hard to see how any of these can be part of a healthful diet. McSigh.

Menu Mondays are my recommendations for the most healthful options at chain restaurants. Although it may be tough to find “perfect” options when eating out, it’s important to choose “better” whenever possible, and I hope these guides will help make that easier for you.

* McDonald’s has 31,000+ locations, Burger King: 12,000+, Wendy’s: about 6,700, Sonic: 3,000, Jack in the Box: 2,100, Carl’s Jr.: 1,100, In-N-Out: 140, Fatburger: 102.

Image by SnaPsi.

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Cris
Cris
March 6, 2013 11:03 pm

I can read these blogs all day!! Great info!! Keep them coming :).

Bet
Bet
February 15, 2012 12:49 am

Besides fat and sodium, chemicals should be taken into factor too. McDonald lettuce is said to be sprayed with 13 chemicals to keep it green and crispy and their patties are questionable as well. Sadly they seem to be cutting quality with their foods but pouring money into their marketing campaigns. Not a fan, never will be again.

Pedro
Pedro
February 1, 2012 12:22 pm

This is article is stupid. Do you people honestly think that McDonald’s is healthier than In-n-Out? In-n-out might have more calories, but at least they use fresher ingredients than any other big chain. Also, you are not require to eat a double double, you can just settle for a cheeseburger. In-n-out uses fresh ingredients and I am sure it is the healthiest fast food option. McDonald’s uses “pink slime” in their meat…enough said.

Jacqueline Gonzales
September 26, 2011 1:48 pm

I realize I’m way late on this but what about a post comparing salads or other “healthier” options at the fast food places? As a recovering fast food addict, I’ve switched to healthier options at many places (like Wendy’s signature salads or McDonald’s Oatmeal). How do these stack up compared to each other?

Kristy
Kristy
December 7, 2010 9:53 am

It’s grea to see these stats all put together in one place. I don’t eat beef, but the fry comparison alone is enough to re-remind me why I don’t like to stop at fast food resterants when I’m traveling.

Another vote for Chick-Fil-A comparisons, both healthy and unhealthy. I can eat healthier there, but if I’m going to splurge on something fried, Chick-Fil-A is always my choice. I heard there 8 piece chicken nuggests is one of the lowest calorie fast food fixes?

Danielle
Danielle
January 30, 2012 1:52 pm
Reply to  Kristy

unfort. I cant include Chick Fil A in any of my choice due to their moral and ethical view points, so wont eat there out of principal. No matter how good their food is 🙁

Danielle
Danielle
January 30, 2012 2:56 pm
Reply to  Andrew

well ‘good’ rather than good 🙂 They prob wouldnt think me worthy of their custom anyway – so we’re all happy 😛

Kitty Ball
Kitty Ball
October 1, 2013 5:51 pm
Reply to  Danielle

This is about comparing fast food not about one companys stand on moral issues.

Derek @ Sac-Town Health
Derek @ Sac-Town Health
December 6, 2010 5:09 pm

It’s not a big surprise about the sodium. I don’t understand why there is so much salt on everything. If you go a month without eating fast food, then you can hardly eat it at all because it tastes so salty. Not only would it be healthier with less, but it would taste better also.

Laya
December 6, 2010 11:09 am

Honestly, I’d like to see a post about the “sit down fast food” type places – Boston Market, TGI Friday’s, Chili’s, etc.

Personally, if fast food is my only choice (and unfortunately, sometimes it is) my place of choice is Chick-Fil-A. I can get a guaranteed fresh salad (since other fast food salads are very hit and miss) and one of two low fat dressing choices and come away satisfied, while my friends indulge in the fried offerings and full fat milkshakes. Plus sugar free lemonade (if you don’t mind Splenda, that is)!

Charles
Charles
August 3, 2012 3:34 pm
Reply to  Laya

Hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but Chick-fil-A is NOT a healthy food. Here are the ridiculous amount of ingrediens in a chicken sandwich: Chick-fil-A® Chicken Sandwich Chicken (100% natural whole breast filet, seasoning [salt, monosodium glutamate, sugar, spices, paprika], seasoned coater [enriched bleached flour {bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid}, sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate, nonfat milk, leavening {baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate}, spice, soybean oil, color {paprika}], milk wash [water, whole powdered egg and nonfat milk solids], peanut oil [fully refined peanut oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness and dimethylpolysiloxane an anti-foaming agent added]), bun (enriched flour [wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate {Vitamin B1}, riboflavin {Vitamin B2}, folic acid], water, high fructose corn syrup, yeast, contains 2% or less of each of the following: liquid yeast, soybean oil, nonfat milk, salt, wheat… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
December 6, 2010 11:04 am

Interesting to see that all of the burger + fries combos are over 1 mg of sodium, and some over 2 mg! No surprise that one would order a soda to wash that down!

Amanda
Amanda
December 6, 2010 9:52 am

So sad about In n Out, in Cali we tend to snub fast food more than other places I have lived, but In N Out is like this exception everyone makes, and somehow we like to think it is healthier, at least than McDonalds 🙁