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McDonald’s Breakfast Menu, Ranked

As all-day breakfast rolls out nationwide, here's an Eater critic on what to order (and what to avoid)

As you order breakfast at McDonald’s, an employee ties up a trash bag. A dour manager hears out a stressed-out employee. Cashiers shout, "Can I help who’s next?" Someone mops the floor. A machine starts beeping. A guy walks in and starts hawking bus tours. No one stops him. A second set of beeps, this one more staccato, starts ringing out from a separate machine. The kitchen now sounds like the ICU at a local trauma center. You see workers assemble things, move things, and wrap things. You do not see anyone cook things. There is no aroma of coffee. No sight of bubbling eggs. No hiss of cold bacon on a hot grill. You slide your credit card, you listen to the beeps, and your 11-item order appears two minutes later, wrapped and bagged, a miracle of culinary manufacturing at this factory of a restaurant. And then you get home and realize no one gave you syrup for your pancakes.

McDonald’s, the cultural mainstay that can evoke, at times, a dystopian culinary future edited out of Disney's Carousel of Progress, is the world’s largest fast-food hamburger chain. But since it also hawks an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink menu of salads, shakes, limited-edition barbecue ribs, chicken nuggets, too many chicken sandwiches to list, wraps, fries, fried fish, fried pies, assorted coffee drinks, egg burritos, yogurt, Go-Gurt (don’t ask), and a slew of other items, McDonald’s is perhaps better thought of as one of the world’s most ubiquitous all-day diners, albeit minus good food, minus good coffee, and minus a soul. It’s a descriptor that’s all the more fitting now that Mickey D’s expands into that cherished realm of the all-day diner: breakfast whenever you want it.

All-day breakfast is encouraging because it represents the least-terrible meal at McDonald’s.

The goal of all-day breakfast is simple: help offset the chain’s slumping sales. The publicly-traded, Illinois-based corporation has had a rough go of it as consumers trade up to Shake Shack for burgers, to Sweetgreen for salads, to Chipotle for burrito bowls, to any local coffee shop for quality brew, and to other more fast-casual restaurants offering more refined wares and thoughtfully-sourced products on narrowly-focused menus – often for a few dollars more. McDonald’s, despite its decision to drop chickens treated with human antibiotics and its plans to adopt cage-free eggs, isn’t quite ready to get expensive (or focus on just a single product or two). But by doubling down on its dominance of breakfast — Taco Bell and Starbucks are trying to chip away at that — McDonald’s can keep its sights tightly focused on the budget-minded consumer. Breakfast items command lower prices than dinner at McDonald’s, yet account for up to 40 percent of the chain’s domestic profits.

It’s all quite neat if you’re interested in the financial side of things — and you should be, if your 401K has McDonald’s shares. But more practically, for the consumer, the roll out of all-day breakfast is encouraging because it represents the least terrible meal at McDonald’s. Basically, it’s easier to screw up beef patties than it is to screw up eggs. Of course, none of this means you should actually eat there. If you live in New York City, it’s likely your McDonald’s is located nearby a late-night bodega, whose short order cooks can provide better-tasting breakfasts for just a buck or two more. And quite frankly, I can’t think of a single time outside of New York where McDonald’s was the only affordable breakfast option, at any time of day, with the exception of a highway rest stop. And even then beef jerky with Red Bull will likely be an equally compelling call.

That all said, some of you will still visit the chain anyway. So here’s a ranked list of McDonald’s breakfast items, from best to worst.

THE GOOD NEWS

Bacon, Egg & Cheese McGriddle

The finest item anyone can order at McDonald’s, at any time of day, perhaps because it's the chain’s only halfway original dish. Everyone knows a stoner who's made a pancake and egg taco, but do you know a single bodega that sells squishy, syrup-flavored hotcakes that won’t get your fingers sticky? And that are small enough to hold in a single hand? With a tamago-like egg omelet and smoky bacon sandwiched in between? Didnt think so. But just as you can only order the Luger burger at lunch, the McGriddle will still only be available during breakfast at most locations. So the big question is: Which big-name chef is going to create epic lines with an elevated version of this dish for $15? I'm looking at you, Torrisi Boys. Verdict: BUY. Calories: 450. Total Fat: 21g. Sodium: 1240mg.

Hotcakes

The texture is markedly spongy, closer to Ethiopian injera than an American griddle cake. It’s really too porous for syrup, but that’s not a huge problem because the flavor is already somewhat sweet (though not quite at the level of a McGriddle), with an unexpected baked cookie aroma (remember, these are artificially flavored). The right hack is to roll these up like cigars and stuff with bacon. Verdict: BUY. Calories: 320. Total Fat: 7g. Sodium: 530mg.

Sausage Burrito

No Chipotle-esque bricks here; these are about the size of spring rolls. Packaged in sets of two like the Gray’s Papaya Recession Special, these breakfast burritos are perhaps the world’s most efficient delivery system for egg, meat, cheese, and tortilla. Grey little mothballs of over-scented sausage are studded throughout; deal with them as you will, but everything else is bland and neutral enough. Let rest for half an hour to let the flavor of the bell peppers permeate the eggs. Put the second one in your gym bag and save it for later. The drippy factor is low, so it’ll hold for a few hours. Verdict: BUY. Calories: 300. Fat: 16g. Sodium: 790mg.

Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Biscuit

Like the Egg McMuffin, but with non-Canadian bacon. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there’s still nothing other than cheese to lubricate the sandwich, which is essentially a trio of dry ingredients. Still, it’s all serviceable enough. Verdict: BUY. Calories: 450. Total Fat: 26g. Sodium: 1260mg.

Egg McMuffin

The apotheosis of suburban breakfast mediocrity, on a dry, barely-buttered English muffin. Never have so many nooks and crannies gone to waste. It’s essentially a watered-down version of the New York-style bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. Except instead of smoky bacon you have insipid Canadian bacon. And instead of a fried egg with a runny yolk (or creamy scrambled eggs) to moisten things up, you have an industrial egg product that looks and tastes like styrofoam. Still, the American cheese, with its Lamborghini-yellow hue, is a welcome and familiar touch. And quite frankly this is sandwich is one of the chain's most inoffensive offerings; the fact that it’s now available during dinner should make it one of your staple orders whenever you’re stuck at McDonald’s. Verdict: BUY. Calories: 300. Total Fat: 12g. Sodium: 730mg.

The Mediocre News

Steak, Egg, & Cheese Bagel

Now, you’re probably asking what type of steak you can get for under $5. It’s a good question, because neither the McDonald’s menu nor its website offer any elaboration: This is simply a steak. "Trust us." By itself, the meat — which sports the soft if slightly gristly texture of braised chuck — is tender and strongly beefy, with notes of pepper and garlic. It would be fine at a roadside diner with a sunny-side-up egg on top, or even as a replacement to the spongy, greasy discs that McDonald’s calls hamburgers. But on this sandwich, it’s overshadowed by a brick of folded egg, a mess of cheese, a bagel that’s as good as any that you’d find in a hospital, and a final ingredient McDonald’s calls "breakfast sauce." Verdict: HOLD. Calories: 660. Total Fat: 34g. Sodium: 1490mg.

Cinnamon Melts

The website describes these tumor-like knobs as cinnamon roll "centers." That means you don’t get the complex, burnished exterior of a proper baked delicacy. Instead, you get mushy rounds of dough doused in sugar and spice. It’s an inferior version of the cinnamon roll in every way, but by comparison with all the other sweet extravagances at McDonald’s, it’s actually somewhat tolerable. Pro tip: Eat from the un-sauced side, to keep the sweetness levels in check. Verdict: HOLD. Calories: 460. Fat: 19g. Sodium: 370mg.

Egg White Delight McMuffin

Egg whites, when done right, form the ethereal centerpiece of an île flottante dessert; here, they look like marshmallow Fluff. Alas, this isn’t La Grenouille, fellow gastronauts, but at least McDonald’s got the soft texture right. The cheese is white cheddar, which is theoretically a smart move; pair bland egg whites with a strongly flavored-fat, right? But this insipid dairy product is mild enough to make American cheese taste like a Stilton. A slice of Canadian bacon is a welcome touch, if only because it adds the color pink. Verdict: HOLD. Calories: 250. Fat: 7g. Sodium: 760mg.

THE BAD NEWS

Fruit & Maple Oatmeal

As passable as instant oatmeal, which is only a good thing if you like going out to a restaurant to order something you can make at home in 15 seconds. The flavor is aggressively maple-y and heavily sweet, a problem that McDonald’s compounds by adding sugary raisins, cranberries, and apples on top. Verdict: SELL. Calories: 290. Fat: 4g. Sodium: 160mg.

Scrambled Eggs

It’s as if someone in the corporate kitchen took egg whites, dyed them yellow with food coloring, cooked them until fully dry, and then cut them out into the shape of a miniature Slip N’Slide. Verdict: SELL. Calories: 140. Total Fat: 9g. Sodium: 170mg.

Sausage McMuffin with Egg

Like a regular Egg McMuffin, but with a meat patty that tastes like a wet sponge soaked in sage-scented furniture polish. It’s the type of sausage that’ll turn you off from charcuterie for decades. Verdict: SELL. Calories: 470. Total Fat: 30g. Sodium: 830mg.

Hash Browns

Just how synonymous are hash browns with the McDonald’s experience? Google that dish, and the Mickey D’s version often shows up on the first search page. It’s unfortunate because the fast-food chain serves what might be the country’s worst breakfast potatoes. Ideally, a hash brown should be dark golden brown from a proper pan fry. Here, they’re as pallid as undercooked frites. The interior is soft, but the exterior is oddly dusty from an application of cornmeal. It’s a stark reminder that these tuber-tastic treats, just like McDonald’s overrated fries, taste way better in memory than in reality. Verdict: SELL. Calories: 150. Total Fat: 9g. Sodium: 310mg.

Fruit 'N Yogurt Parfait

The U.S. consumer is increasingly developing an appetite for dense, tangy, healthy, Greek-style strained yogurts, with restrained levels of sugar. So if McDonald’s truly want to keep pace with changing tastes, why are they serving something that’s effectively vanilla pudding with strawberry pie filling? It is cloying even by children’s birthday party standards. Verdict: SELL. Calories: 150. Fat: 2g. Sodium: 80mg.

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