The Best Fast Food Blueberry Muffins, Ranked

We're taking fast food breakfast's least serious item seriously.

One of the greatest things about being an adult is being able to do what you want. That includes eating cake for breakfast. Essentially, that's what American quickbread muffins are: unfrosted, sugar-crusted, oversized cupcakes hiding under the fruit-filled guise of not-cake. And I'm not mad at it. Especially when someone else makes it well and fresh, in America's favorite flavor, and lets you buy one at a time until closing time.

However, not all blueberry muffins are created equal, particularly when you consider that most cafes, both small boutiques and large chains, don't bake them on site. Sure, this makes them consistent from store to store, but not from one chain to another, and it can be hard to gauge which chain can get you the best breakfast cake fix. That's where this girl comes in.

What Makes a Great Blueberry Muffin?

Most blueberry muffins are pretty good, because, again, cake. But a mediocre muffin is truly sad. You know it when you have it: the batter is bland, or so sweet it makes your tongue shrivel up. Maybe the blueberries are small and wizened or too young and tart. Some are heavy and dense, others overly spongy. Sometimes the precious muffin tops are soggy from being packaged while still steaming, or collapsed, or overbaked and hard. Worst of all, sometimes the crumb is too open and it dries out and you lose half of it to the muffin tin liner.

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As you can see, a perfect blueberry muffin boils down to one simple element: balance.

With that in mind, armed with the palate cleanser of a very strong, very large, milk-splashed unsweetened iced coffee, I hit up four national chains with blueberry muffins on the menu to report back: Who's bluffin' with their muffin?

Dunkin’ Blueberry Muffin

This national franchise, which America evidently runs on, is more than just "donuts." It also sells big, fat, sugar-crusted muffins all the livelong day in a range of flavors that regularly includes chocolate chip, corn, blueberry, carrot cake, and coffee cake. (I was not exaggerating when I said muffins are just cake we eat for breakfast.)

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Dunkin's muffins are enormous, and I can get them late at night. Excellent. They're always soft and moist all the way through, even down at the bottom where some tend to dry out. The chunky sugar crystals sparkling across the top are generous but not overwhelming like another competitor's (more on that later), and the wide, craggy surface breaks apart from the base easily without too much crumbling.

I really like that the muffin base is subtle without being boring. The texture is silky, with a hint of cinnamon and strong vanilla, but only just enough to complement the slight tartness of the fresh blueberries mixed with sweetened wild ones.

The blueberries themselves could be better, though. They weren't very juicy and tasted a bit like the dehydrated blueberries in a supermarket box mix. However, the muffin top, even at room temperature served right out of the open-air display, was beautifully broken like a Hawaiian lava field sprinkled with white stones. It was a textural delight to have so many crunchy edges to break off from the soft interior.

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Cost: $2.49Sugar: 44 grams, the highest sugar content of all muffins tested. Interestingly, though, it wasn't the sweetest, so perhaps it's just that much bigger of a muffin.Ingredient Notes: The main ingredient list is pretty short, with only eight specified. However, Dunkin' does use soybean oil and whey instead of butter and milk, and in the "less than 2%" section, you'll find high fructose corn syrup and carnauba wax in the sugar topping.

McDonald’s Blueberry Muffin

I didn't even know McDonald's served blueberry muffins, but knowing how the fast food giant is trying not to lose breakfast market share to competitors, I'm not surprised. What was surprising was how long it took to receive one room-temp muffin (I was asked to pull out of the drive-thru and park) and the ridiculous amount of waste that came with it. It's wrapped in a French bakery-style parchment paper instead of the traditional fluted muffin cup, which was fine. But then that was placed in a bakery bag, and that bag was placed in another bigger bag clearly designed to hold at least six stacked paper-wrapped sandwiches. I get that McCafé is trying to be all artisanal and shit, but the planet.

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Aesthetically, though, McDonald's gets it right. Not only was this blueberry muffin the biggest of the bunch, it looked downright gourmet, with what looks like soft streusel strewn over a wealth of deep violet blueberries that appeared to be so juicy that they gushed into the golden batter. I was pretty excited, but that proved to be short-lived. So much of this muffin was a lie.

What I thought was a generous smattering of berries was the result of dropping them all in right before the bake, as there actually weren't very many throughout the muffin. Without the fruit to gloss over any bites, the muffin batter's floury, wheaty undertone became apparent. The spillover of blueberry guts ended up making them dry, and they had an overall sour, artificial tinge to them. A review of this muffin from Brand Eating speculates that the food scientists at McDonald's may have added extra fruit juice or flavoring, which tracks with what I'm tasting.

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The actual muffin was so fine-crumbed that it turned into mush in my mouth immediately, which got really, really weird, because that soft streusel? Yeah, those are actually big, hard chunks of cloudy sugar so crunchy they got wedged into my molar valleys. I had to barbarically claw them out with my nails since I couldn't chew what was quickly turning into wet cake slurry in my mouth. All of this together created a lingering taste experience so abrasively sweet that I had to chug my iced coffee to try to clear it away. If McDonald's is trying to sell more large coffees, well, this is one way to do it.

Cost: $2.39Sugar: 34 grams, but I sure wasn't surprised that sugar is the first ingredient in this recipe.Ingredient Notes: Similar to Dunkin', soybean oil and dry milk are how McDonald's keeps costs low. There's also a little corn syrup and some "natural flavors," which can mean nearly anything, per the FDA.

Panera Bread Blueberry Muffin

I distrust Panera for a couple reasons: the majority of the food is shipped frozen then thawed or baked at the store (pastries included), and the menu is marketed as "healthier," but the nutrition labels quickly separate the halo from the facts. That's not to say the food isn't tasty. It is, and over 2,000 thriving locations are a testament to that. Still, knowing what I know about Panera, I approached its blueberry muffin with skepticism.

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At first glance, it looked dry and terrible; I braced myself for an overbake. It was squat and didn't have an overflowing muffin top, and we all know that spillover is often the best part. While it was served somewhat warm, I don't know if that was intentional, since "warmed" doesn't appear anywhere on the website. But as soon as I cut into it, that old warning not to judge a muffin by its cover rang true.

While the exterior looked parched, the interior bluebs proved otherwise. The semi-exploded blueberries looked juicy, real, and fresh, and they delivered on that, too: cool on the tongue and sweet in a natural way, with some more tart than others. That made sense, since Panera's recipe mixes fresh blueberries with sweetened dry ones. And what I thought was an overbaked crown was actually just super crunchy streusel that was more like a beautifully toasted crushed cookie than a crumb topping. The sweetness was just right, making it clear that some competitors lean on excess sugar as a crutch. Not Panera.

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The real head-trip, though, was the muffin's foundation. On my first bite of this slightly firmer offering, something tasted a little off, a little oily with a trace of rancidity. Upon my second bite, I couldn't find that weird note again, and it tasted progressively fresher toward the top of the muffin—funny, since the bottom was the only part that was warm. Maybe the batter just settled oddly.

But the higher up I ate, the more homely notes and layered flavors emerged. Even though I knew in my brain that it was likely shipped par-baked or pre-baked, my tongue was telling me it was scratch-made, rich and complex with traces of real dairy that I later confirmed to be buttermilk, real milk, and a butter blend in the batter. It tasted like a grandma's hug.

Cost: $3.39Sugar: 35 grams, but you don't feel it since the headnote is more rich than sweet.Ingredient Notes: It's a mixed bag. Props to Panera for using real dairy, including real butter, but that butter is cut with cheaper palm oil, and soybean oil appears on the somewhat lengthy ingredient list even before that.

Starbucks Blueberry Muffin

This muffin doesn't look like much, and at a price point only marginally cheaper than supermarket four-packs and a considerably smaller size than its competitors, I always hesitate to give Starbucks more than the $7 I spend on my sippable accessory. The half-melted sugar crystals, powder-fine streusel, and damp-looking muffin top only solidified my reluctance. But have I been blueb-curious for some time? Of course. It's the only muffin in the lineup served intentionally warm, and I mean, it's Starbucks, which I am brainwashed to believe is fancy and superior, even as I watch a team member tear this muffin out of a factory-sealed plastic bag before heating it up.

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What I learned during this taste test is that it is fancy and superior! While it's definitely smaller than its competitors, with a far narrower base that tapers down from the top of the cup, it's also densely packed with flavor and isn't as dry as expected with such a skinny bottom. The blueberries were the juiciest of the bunch and baked in such a way that those juices are retained, spilling into your mouth instead of the batter. Starbucks uses fresh berries, a difference you can taste when you compare this muffin to the cardboard-ish triangular bricks Starbucks has the audacity to call blueberry scones.

This, in fact, is a blueberry lemon muffin, though Starbucks buries the lemon lede; the lush citrus notes add a fresh, tart pop to the very sweet profile of the pound-cake-like muffin. The overall creamy taste is, I found out, likely due to the use of plain yogurt in the recipe—a unique ingredient from its competitors. This ingredient also helps it retain moisture and gives leaveners a boost, which might explain why the crown is extra-wide and softer than any of the others (even with the sugar crystals and the streusel scraps that were honestly just a waste of my time and sugar intake). That loss of texture is regrettable, but if that's the tradeoff for the oomph of lemon and a wider muffin top, well, worse trades have been made.

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Cost: $3.25Sugar: 29 grams, which is less than the others—but as with McDonald's muffin, sugar is the first ingredient.Ingredient Notes: There's lemon zest in the Panera recipe, too, but the flavor here is unmistakable. Soybean and/or canola oil show up as the fat source, but yogurt helps to cut its usage. Starbucks also uses two types of sweeteners, but instead of corn syrup, the secondary is honey.

Verdict: The best fast food blueberry muffin

Well, this was certainly a learning experience.

I went in thinking the Dunkin' muffin was my favorite; I stan that craggy top with those crispy peaks. (Thank you, T-Mobile Tuesdays, and your once frequent $2 Dunkin' promos.) However, I discovered that in a side-by-side cross-section comparison, it clearly had inferior blueberries: They were smaller and navy blue instead of the vibrant deep purple of fresh berries, missing the rings of juice that seeped into the batter of the others.

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I learned that McDonald's also has blueberry muffins not just in the morning, but around the clock. Here, you get what you pay for, which is less. And from Panera Bread and Starbucks I learned that looks can be deceiving, for beneath a dull surface, a burst of flavor might be lurking that makes you feel anything but blue(berry).

In the end, I have to give Dunkin' props for value at nearly a buck less than the 'Bucks, but it was a close call between Starbucks and Panera for the title. The determining factors were a savory, buttery note, a trifecta of dairy, moist cake, juicy crumb, a home-recipe-like base, and a crunchy top: Panera it is.

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