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Here's What Your Favorite Fast Food Secret Sauces Are Really Made Of

Arby's sauce Horsey sauce
Arby's sauce Horsey sauce - The Image Party/Shutterstock

It seems like every fast food joint has its own special sauce made from an age-old secret recipe. From a thousand-yard view, they all look and taste pretty much the same (with some exceptions) but real fast foodies will know that the subtle differences in sauces are serious business. From fried chicken shacks to burger joints, all sorts of quick service restaurants have a secret sauce that diners hold in high regard partially due to the secrecy itself. When it comes to ranking the best fast food places in America good sauces can give places an edge to outrank the competition.

From Chick-fil-A Sauce to Cane's Sauce, some of the best sauces in the business elevate an already great chain. Have you ever wondered what goes into your favorite fast food sauces though? Well we have, and we did our research to discover what fast food chains' secret sauces are really made of.

Read more: 21 McDonald's Hacks You Should Know Before Ordering

Raising Cane's Cane's Sauce

fries dipped in Cane's Sauce
fries dipped in Cane's Sauce - Raising Cane's

Let's start with the coveted king among fried chicken joints, Raising Cane's. Not only do Cane's defenders say it has the best chicken, but they also go to bat for its signature Cane's Sauce. But what exactly is in it that makes this sauce such a mouthwatering accompaniment to the chicken and fries?

The truth is we don't know exactly, and maybe never will. According to Raising Cane's, only general managers of stores are allowed to know and their lips are sealed tightly. However, due to the distinguished palates of the internet's biggest sleuths, there are plenty of leading theories as to what goes into the secret sauce. While we may not know the exact secret recipe, you can get as close to the real thing as possible with this great copycat Raising Cane's sauce recipe.

McDonald's Big Mac Sauce

McDonald's Big Mac
McDonald's Big Mac - S3studio/Getty Images

Since the seemingly dawn of time, McDonald's has leaned into the mystique and popularity of the sauce served on its signature burger, the Big Mac. You could even get the sauce in dipping cups from certain McDonald's locations for a limited time early in 2023. Given how common copycat recipes of the sauce have become, most of the ingredients are actually well known at this point, but the recipe is technically still a franchise secret.

The age-old recipe for the chain's secret sauce is apparently a mix of mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, yellow mustard, white vinegar, paprika, garlic, and onion powders. Combine these ingredients in the proper ratios and you will hypothetically be able to produce an exact replica of the famed Big Mac sauce. The pickle relish is what gives it that signature tang, but knowing how much to put in the is as important as knowing whether or not to include it at all.

Chick-Fil-A Sauce

packets of Chick-fil-a sauce
packets of Chick-fil-a sauce - Marouanesitti/Shutterstock

Chick-fil-A Sauce may be one of the coveted kings of fast food sauces, but its ingredients are no secret. This is due in part to the company's decision to bottle and sell its sauces in supermarkets like Target. The main ingredients include barbecue sauce, mayo, mustard, honey, and paprika, which give it a sweet, tangy, and smoky flavor we all know and love.

Funnily enough, the now-famous sauce was actually created by accident by Chick-fil-A operator Hugh Fleming. In the early '80s, the restaurant didn't have any dipping sauces so in one attempt to remedy this Fleming started serving a homemade honey mustard sauce he had brought. One day, this sauce accidentally became mixed with some barbeque sauce. By the time the employees at the store realized it, customers had already gotten their hands on it and absolutely loved it. Thus, Chick-fil-A's signature sauce was born.

In N' Out Spread

In N' Out burgers fries
In N' Out burgers fries - samroundy/Shutterstock

In the chain's tradition of doing things differently from everyone else, In N' Out Burger doesn't call its special sauce a sauce. Instead, it's the "spread" that everyone goes nuts for at In N' Out. One of the very things that makes the secret menu "Animal Style" so compelling (in addition to mustard-grilled patties and grilled onions) is that extra dollop of sauce. Despite decades of dedication, even frequent diners still don't know what exactly is In N' Out Spread.

The chain has never let the true recipe for its spread slip out, but fans and burger experts have done plenty of speculating. Trust us, it goes deeper than just a Thousand Island dressing. Only not that much deeper.

According to Chef and YouTuber J. Kenji Lopez- Alt who recreated the In N' Out spread, the base of the sauce is similar to Thousand Island, made from ketchup, mayonnaise, and sweet pickles. On top of this, he added a splash of vinegar and a pinch of sugar. These extra ingredients help to make the flavor as close to what is served at the West Coast burger chain as possible.

Burger King Zesty Sauce

Burger King zesty sauce cup
Burger King zesty sauce cup - Facebook

This dipping sauce was originally created to go with Burger King's onion rings, but in recent years its been harder to find. It hasn't been officially discontinued but there have been many supply issues that have impacted the chain's ability to supply Zesty Sauce nationwide.

From day one, Zesty Sauce and onion rings were a match made in fast food heaven and fans even liked using it on fries, burgers, and sandwiches. It lived up to its namesake with a zesty kick caused by a special ingredient that you don't find in most fast food dipping sauces: horseradish.

A supply shortage of the ingredient was the very reason there was a lack of Zesty Sauce availability back in 2019. On the whole, dedicated BK diners have deduced that it is primarily a mixture of ketchup, mustard, mayo, and horseradish. Many copycat Burger King Zesty Sauce recipes also have gone on to include lemon juice, white vinegar, sugar, Cayenne pepper, and soy sauce.

Arby's Sauce

Arby's sauce packets
Arby's sauce packets - Arby

Arby's has been around for over 60 years, but the fast food beef chain didn't introduce its namesake sauce until the '70s. Say what you will about the quality of the food at Arby's overall, but this sauce is unlike anything else on the fast food market, in a good way.

This secret sauce has a tangy, vinegar taste somewhere between ketchup and barbecue sauce, but not exactly like a combination of the two. Somehow this sweet, tomato-based sauce ends up being the perfect complement to a roast beef sandwich. But what is it that gives Arby's Sauce that unique flavor?

There is no officially held recipe for Arby's Sauce, as it turns out. The ingredient list on the packaging reveals it contains vinegar, tomato paste, corn syrups, onion, and garlic powders. Various online recipes suggest that ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and steak sauce all go into it as well. Mix those with sugar, vinegar, and the powdered seasonings and you will have something very similar, but likely not exactly like, Arby's secret signature sauce.

Chick-Fil-A Polynesian Sauce

Chick-fil-A sandwiches Polynesian sauce
Chick-fil-A sandwiches Polynesian sauce - James Andrews1/Shutterstock

In addition to its namesake sauce, Chick-fil-A's other most famous dipping sauce is a take on sweet and sour, which it calls Polynesian Sauce. In terms of flavor and texture, they couldn't be more different from Chick-fil-A Sauce, which is part of why it's so dang impressive that it comes from the same chain. This is an excellent dipping sauce to cut through the salty waffle fries and nuggets. If you are looking for something brighter and less rich than the brand's signature sauce, you are likely a fan of this one already.

The Polynesian Sauce is made from sugar, white vinegar, corn-cider vinegar, tomato paste, paprika, mustard seed, onion and garlic powders, and beet juice for color, as well as some preservatives. You don't need all these ingredients to make something close to it at home, though. Copycat recipes simplify things a bit by suggesting you can just mix French dressing, apple cider vinegar, and honey together to create a pretty accurate facsimile.

Jack In The Box Secret Sauce

Chicken sandwich with Jack's sauce
Chicken sandwich with Jack's sauce - Jack in the Box

Jack In the Box has a dedicated fan base that goes back generations. When your parents' parents were eating here in the '60s, they were enjoying the same secret sauce that Jack in the Box still serves today.

The sauce was originally served on the chain's Big Mac competitor the Bonus Jack. When it was replaced by the quarter-pound Jumbo Jack, the sauce was part of the recipe for that menu item until '99, when it started to be served topped with ketchup instead. Since then, Jack's Sauce has appeared on sandwiches and in condiment packers at all Jack in the Box locations.

This is another one where the precise recipe isn't out there. Fast food sleuths have deduced it to be a mixture of ketchup, mustard, mayo, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and a dash of hot sauce, as well as Xanthan gum and onion powder. These sauce combinations definitely give Jack's secret sauce its own flavor profile, one that is especially difficult to recreate when the brands of steak sauce and hot sauce used are unknown to the public.

Wingstop Ranch

wings and ranch
wings and ranch - Wingstop

This isn't a secret sauce, it's just plain old ranch. But however they make it over at Wingstop makes people lose it. If you've ever tried Wingstop's ranch dressing, you know that this sauce puts the competition to absolute shame. Even folks who don't especially like fast food rave about the ranch at Wingstop, because it's just that good. What exactly is it that makes it so iconic?

In 2022, a Wingstop employee posted on TikTok sharing the mixing process for a batch of ranch dressing. The viral video showed the secret ingredient was the sheer amount of mayonnaise used, in addition to buttermilk and ranch seasoning.

One commenter broke it down as "three gallons of mayonnaise, six cartons of buttermilk, and nine packets of Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning." The label was hidden, however, so we can't confirm or deny whether Wingstop Ranch is just beefed up Hidden Valley.

Shake Shack ShackSauce

Shake Shack shacksauce bottles
Shake Shack shacksauce bottles - Shake Shack

Shake Shack ShackSauce might be a nightmare to type out and look at on screen, but the sauce itself is undeniably delicious. In most regards, ShackSauce is a standard burger joint secret sauce -- mayo-based and enhanced with spices and some acidity. Many of these boil down to fancy versions of Thousand Island Dressing, but Shake Shack uses a key ingredient that sets its secret sauce apart from the competition: pickle brine.

Relish isn't the only way to add that signature pickle flavor you need to a burger. Shake Shack, for example, uses brine in its ShackSauce to bring a special edge. According to the brand's official cookbook, "Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories," ShackSauce is made using kosher dill pickle brine as its key not-so-secret ingredient. The cookbook also reveals that Shake Shack's signature spread includes mayo, ketchup, Dijon mustard, and cayenne pepper as some of the other main ingredients. Now that you know, you can do your best to recreate ShackSauce at home.

Zaxby's Zax Sauce

Zaxby's Zax sauce
Zaxby's Zax sauce - Zaxby's

There might not be as many Zaxby's locations as there are of most of the other chains on this list, but the regional fried chicken chain considers that an advantage. You can only get Zaxby's chicken in the Southern United States, but that doesn't mean the word has not spread far and wide. If you're a regional fast food fanatic like us, that means you've heard of the famous Zax Sauce.

Zax Sauce is similar to Cane's Sauce just in terms of flavor and how tightly under wraps the recipe is kept. The recipe has been a company secret for decades and we don't see that changing any time soon. The secret sauce is a substance that fans of the chain swear by. We'll likely get angry emails for even comparing it to Cane's Sauce, but based on the information that's out there the two are made from almost identical ingredients.

According to Reddit detectives, a pretty close approximation to Zax Sauce includes mayo, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, pepper, and vinegar. It's also likely that Zaxby's also adds some additional spices to differentiate the sauce from its competitors in subtle ways that we haven't been able to figure out yet.

Arby's Horsey Sauce

Arby's Horsey sauce packet
Arby's Horsey sauce packet - Facebook

Shockingly, Arby's winds up making this list twice. First for its signature Arby's Sauce and again here for its beloved Horsey Sauce. Horseradish fans don't have a ton of great options when it comes to fast food sauces. You can't find Burger King's Zesty Sauce everywhere anymore, plus when it comes to fast food dishes you would want to pair with a horseradish sauce, Arby's beef is top of mind. Naturally, this sauce has its super fans who have dedicated innumerable hours to figuring out just what the chain puts in its Horsey Sauce.

You can find the ingredients for Horsey Sauce on the bottles sold in stores, but fans have commented that the bottled stuff fails to live up to what you get in a restaurant. Chefs who have tried to replicate the in-store sauce have found the simplest solutions to be the best. This copycat Arby's Horsey Sauce recipe simply uses creamed horseradish, sugar, and salt. Using these ingredients, you should be able to whip up an excellent Horsey Sauce substitute at home.

KFC Finger Lickin' Good Sauce

KFC Finger Lickin' Good sauce
KFC Finger Lickin' Good sauce - YouTube

We admit that the Kentucky Fried Chicken experience just hasn't been the same ever since the fast food chain changed its secret sauce. In 2020, KFC rebranded and changed the recipe of what used to be called its "Finger Lickin' Good" sauce. Now its called KFC Sauce and we think the recipe doesn't quite capture the magic that the original Finger Lickin' Good sauce did. Luckily, there are still recipes online from back in the day of folks who tried to recreate the sauce at home.

There are discrepancies as to what went in this KFC sauce, but it is agreed upon that mayo and tomato (either ketchup or tomato paste) make up a good deal of the recipe -- as does pickle juice, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and dehydrated minced onion. While KFC uses 11 signature spices in its fried chicken recipe, you'll likely find some of those in this sauce as well, such as paprika, black pepper, and sugar.

Wendy's S'awesome Sauce

Wendy's tender meal with sauce
Wendy's tender meal with sauce - Wendy's

It took Wendy's quite some time to enter the secret sauce game, but once it did it didn't take long for it to gain notoriety. Wendy's S'awesome Sauce was introduced in 2017 when it was rolled out alongside the chain's new chicken tenders .

The sweet, smoky, creamy sauce drew a lot of comparisons to competitors before being discontinued in 2023. This decision wasn't due to fan outrage or low sales as per usual with this type of thing. No, Wendy's was actually sued for trademark infringement for the company's use of the word "S'awesome" and was forced to shut things down.

Wendy's diehards who miss the signature sauce have gone on to attempt to recreate it. Surprisingly, the most popular recipes use vegan mayonnaise as a base before adding mustard, ketchup, vinegar, seasonings including onion, garlic, and cayenne, and the most important ingredient -- liquid smoke. This gives the extra S'awesome kick that the famous fast food sauce was once known for.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.