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We Found the Best Fast-Food Ice Cream You Can Buy

Ever wondered which chain sells the best fast-food ice cream? We did the hard work to find out for you.

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annonymous hand receiving a vanilla ice cream cone from a windowFreshSplash/getty images

There’s nothing like the perfect ice cream cone to cool off on a hot summer day. With so many choices at various fast-food restaurants, we decided to sample as many as possible in the Chicago area to figure out which one serves the best fast-food ice cream. Some places offer soft serve, while others sell scoopable ice cream. When possible, we ordered with a cake cone, but sometimes only a dish was available. To even the playing field, a plain vanilla option was purchased at each location, even if other flavors were on the menu.

Here’s a list of all the places we visited:

  • Baskin-Robbins
  • Burger King
  • Chick-fil-A
  • Cold Stone
  • Culver’s
  • Dairy Queen
  • McDonald’s
  • Oberweis
  • Shake Shack

Let’s see who had the best fast-food ice cream!

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Ice Cream Burger King Kristina Vänni JveditKristina Vänni for Taste of Home

9. Burger King

If you want bang for your buck (for real, it was only $1), Burger King is the soft serve ice cream for you. Unfortunately, the texture felt more icy rather than creamy, and it did seem to melt quickly. Burger King would be a good option for families with a lot of hungry kids, since everyone can get a treat for a reasonable price.

Bottom line: This $1 cone is the most budget-friendly option of the bunch.

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Ice Cream Mc Donald S Kristina Vänni JveditKristina Vänni for Taste of Home

8. McDonald’s

This soft serve ice cream arrived with a nice consistency and it didn’t melt too quickly. As you can see, McDonald’s achieved a sky-high swirl, which was also impressive. However, the vanilla flavor definitely skewed toward artificial. FYI: This is why McDonald’s ice cream machines always seem to be broken.

Bottom line: At $1.79 a cone, McDonald’s offers an inexpensive dessert, but it’s not nearly as good of a deal as Burger King.

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Ice Cream Dairy Queen Kristina Vänni JveditKristina Vänni for Taste of Home

7. Dairy Queen

With many locations all across the country, chances are there’s a Dairy Queen nearby to satisfy a summer ice cream craving. Here, a cone was $2.39 and the service was quick. However, I was sad to see ours didn’t come with the signature DQ curl on top. (Full disclosure: My husband used to work at Dairy Queen in high school, and he said it does take time and practice to really master that skill!)

Bottom line: While the ice cream was satisfying and nostalgic, the creaminess and vanilla flavor just didn’t stand up to some of our favorites in the bunch. I’ll stick to their amazing summer blizzards instead.

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Ice Cream Shake Shack Kristina Vänni JveditKristina Vänni for Taste of Home

6. Shake Shack

While Shake Shack is known for its fast-food milkshakes, it is also possible to purchase just ice cream. At $4.29, the price was high, and it only came in a cup. It also arrived quite soft and melted quickly. The vanilla flavor was nice, and I can see how it makes for a delicious base for other options on the menu. The ice cream also had a pleasant mouthfeel that was rich and creamy.

Bottom line: We presume that here at Shake Shack most people will opt for a blended shake. For us, this cup of plain vanilla ice cream felt more like an afterthought on the menu.

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Ice Cream Chick Fil A Kristina Vänni JveditKristina Vänni for Taste of Home

5. Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A offers its Ice Dream Cone at a cost-efficient $1.69. This cone was flavorful and refreshing, but it did have more of a frosty mouthfeel rather than creamy. However, they chose to call it an ice dream cone instead of ice cream cone, so there is truth in advertising.

Bottom line: Of all the budget-friendly fast-food ice cream cones, this one offered the most vanilla flavor. Though it’s impossible to resist the Chick-fil-A’s famous peach milkshake.

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Ice Cream Baskin Robbins Kristina Vänni JveditKristina Vänni for Taste of Home

4. Baskin-Robbins

There are way more choices than the traditional “31 flavors” at Baskin-Robbins. While we ordered the vanilla ice cream in a traditional cake cone, there were many exciting options for waffle cones and toppings. The scoop of ice cream had a pleasant consistency with a mild vanilla flavor. Look for this hidden detail in the Baskin-Robbins logo, too.

Bottom line: There’s something for everyone at Baskin-Robbins and the whole family will leave happy.

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Ice Cream Cold Stone Kristina Vänni JveditKristina Vänni for Taste of Home

3. Cold Stone

Cold Stone Creamery is known for its signature process of preparing custom ice cream creations on a frozen granite stone. With so many mix-in options, it was difficult to order just a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a dish! The ice cream was delightfully rich, and the firm scoop held up well to the summer heat. The Cold Stone French Vanilla tasted real and authentic, rather than imitation vanilla.

Bottom line: It’s so fun to watch the mix-in creations, a trip to Cold Stone feels like dessert with a show.

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Ice Cream Culver S Kristina Vänni JveditKristina Vänni for Taste of Home

2. Culver’s

Culver’s vanilla frozen custard earned high honors in our book. From the first lick, you could taste the fresh dairy and real vanilla flavor. It was clear the frozen custard is prepared fresh daily in their restaurants. Frozen custard offers an incredibly smooth mouthfeel because it’s made with egg yolks and has less air incorporated during the churning process than classic ice cream.

Bottom line: This was our favorite soft serve-style ice cream of the bunch.

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Ice Cream Oberweis. Kristina Vänni JveditKristina Vänni for Taste of Home

1. Oberweis

A scoop of Oberweis ice cream makes you realize you can order vanilla and have it be far from plain. From the first lick of this high-quality ice cream, you can tell it’s made with real cream and quality vanilla. We purchased a scoop in a cake cone, but it was hard to ignore the intoxicating aroma of fresh waffle cones being handmade to order just behind the counter. Oberweis has drive-thru ice cream shops in Illinois, Michigan and Missouri, but they also sell ice cream in grocery stores throughout the Midwest. This super premium ice cream is made with 60% overrun, which means it is only one part air to every two parts cream. In addition, they use 18% butterfat, more than any other ice cream in the freezer aisle.

Bottom line: Oberweis sold the best fast-food ice cream of all the scoops we sampled, as well as the top ice cream experience overall.

Kristina Vänni
Internationally recognized culinary authority Kristina Vänni is a well-known food writer, engaging TV host, award-winning recipe developer, and food stylist. In addition to writing for industry-leading food publications, she is a frequent featured expert on national media outlets and has served as a spokesperson and recipe developer for numerous national brands. Kristina is currently writing her first cookbook, an exploration of the traditional and seasonal cuisine from her family's dairy farm in Finland.