Review: Smashburger's New Scorchin' Hot Menu Items Are More Smoke Than Fire

You either love the indulgence of fast food or you don't, and if it's the latter, thank you for clicking on this article, but here's the piece you were actually looking for: our ranking of best salad lettuces. Enjoy it in good health. You're free.

Still here? Bravo. We're about to wade into the gloriously greasy world of fast food takeout, enriched by the one condiment that can improve nearly anything (yes, even salads): hot sauce. A healthy drizzle of capsaicin on your food, and you've just added a fiery new sensation to what was already a deeply satisfying mixture of carbs, fats, and proteins. 

When Smashburger announced its newly revamped Scorchin' Hot menu and asked us to take it for a taste test, our only question was: does it come with extra sauce? (It did.) The menu — which consists of several sandwich options (some topped with mac and cheese) as well as options for spicy wings — is an exciting draw in a crowded field of fast-casual burger choices. Here's everything to know about the latest version of the ever-growing Smashburger Scorchin' Hot menu.

Reviews are based on first-hand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by Smashburger

Where to find Smashburger's New Scorchin' Hot Menu

The complete hot menu is available until January 3rd, 2024, at Smashburgers across the country. You can find franchises in at least 32 states (including Alaska, but not Hawaii). Smashburger locations also show up in Washington D.C. and a couple of Canadian provinces, so you're never too far from one unless your state is huge or 2,500 miles from shore.

While some of this iteration's offerings aren't new to Smashburger, you can't get them all the time. The Scorchin' Hot menu comes and goes, though sometimes stays; this year, the chicken sandwich became permanent. This outing brings a new addition: the Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Burger, which is the Mac & Cheese Burger doused with hot sauce in an effort to see if creamy noodles mitigate the heat.

Even better, there's a vegetarian option for those who want to burn their tongue but not the planet. The Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Black Bean Burger will ensure that you plant-based eaters can still get your fast food fix. Although the mac and cheese do keep it from being vegan, you might get a friendly cook who's willing to toss the burger in hot sauce sans dairy, and to be honest, you might not even need that much.

How much does the Scorchin' Hot Menu cost?

Prices do vary by location across the country, but in our comparison, that's not by much. The Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Burger costs $9.69 in NYC but a pretty comparable $9.49 in Tulsa, so expect it to be mostly in the range of just under $10 no matter where you live. You can also get a double burger version for about $12. These prices are consistent with the Mac & Cheese Burgers already on offer without hot sauce. You can substitute with a turkey burger, but it won't affect the price, and the crispy chicken version will just barely do so at $10.50. 

Oddly, the Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Black Bean Burger will change the cost, hitting you right in the wallet at $11.50. Given how cheaply beans are priced, even compared to wholesale beef, this is a surprising upcharge. For comparison, the classic Smash Burger is only $7, so that's a pricey scoop of mac and cheese. Might as well go for the gusto and make it Scorchin' Hot. 

The Scorchin' Hot Crispy Chicken Sandwich (not to be confused with the Mac & Cheese version) is $8 or thereabout, while the Scorchin' Hot Wings are $10. The Scorchin' Hot Chicken Tenders are $9.

Taste Test: Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Burger

It takes some getting there, but the Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Burger ends up spicy indeed. By the time it settles in, it's a nice barn-burning, with some surprising umami atop the mac and cheeseburger. You get to actually enjoy the flavor before the heat arrives. This is above your average fast food — if not quite at In-N-Out or Five Guys level, it's solidly in Steak 'n' Shake territory.

The catch on this limited-time offering is there isn't a great sense of the exceptional crust you hope for from the smash method. That's not to say it was bad, only that the hope was that it would push beyond the general fast food burger with a great, flaky bottom and satisfying blend of fat and protein when you bite in. (À la Shake Shack.) Smashburger is positioned well above many other chains, but it's odd that the sandwich didn't stick to the landing promised by its name. The expectation was a great texture, but the surprise was, instead, great flavor.

As with all Smashburger offerings, you can pick some pretty wild add-ons, including applewood smoked bacon, brisket, or grilled Anaheim chiles. You can also get an iteration with fried crispy chicken breast, served otherwise as the same combination of melted cheese underneath mac and cheese tossed in hot sauce.

Taste Test: Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Black Bean Burger

This is really just the vegetarian version of the Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Burger above, but Smashburger added it to the sampler order they sent our way, so we're treating it as a separate entity — especially since it succeeds so much better on the heat front than any other offering.

Perhaps it's the lack of fat, or maybe the spice is just integrated into the bean mash itself, but whatever the reason, the Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Black Bean Burger serves up the fastest and strongest hit of heat in the entire bag of burgers, chicken, and sides. Better yet, the mac and cheese plays very well with the earthiness of the beans.

The cost is the burger's only hitch. It's more than the beef burger cost, minus ... beef fat. When you could get a double-patty beef burger for another 50 cents, it becomes a hard sell for the vegetarian curious or meat-lite.  If this were the same price or less than the regular edition, you'd find us double-fisting these Hadean hand warmers guiltlessly.

Taste Test: Scorchin' Hot Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Including mayo and pickles, this is the Nashville hot chicken style, coming in at 880 calories. The Scorchin' Hot Crispy Chicken Sandwich had a slow burn that was very pleasant. Even a half hour after getting home and sitting out a bit, the meat remained juicy, with breading that was extra crispy despite a steam bath of other sides and sammies all around it.

Despite being more of a warm bath than sticking your tongue on a hot radiator level of suffering, this sandwich was far and away the favorite of the night. And the good news for you is that the best of the bunch is also the cheapest.

Mind you, a charming tingle in no way deals out the damage that even the mildest, true Nashville hot chicken delivers. This is a theme among national chains, who we suspect want the buzz of adding a trendy chicken dish to their menus without the irate customer complaints about getting exactly what they paid for. Anyone who has worked in restaurants knows there is a type to jump into line and berate your friendly neighborhood Smashburger manager about their Scorchin' Hot chicken being scorching hot.

Taste Test: Scorchin' Hot Wings

Though not breaded, these felt like they were fried as-is, though perhaps they simply sat on a rotisserie heater or the like to crisp up the skin. Again, we see the issue of the chicken being a cut above the beef or bean overall while falling well short of the promised scorch that those two possess (or at least approach). Out of all the hot wings we tried, only one ever put a bite on our tongue.

Thankfully, the seasoning is good, so while the Scorchin' Hot Wings are a little basic, they're very functional, especially if you're smart enough to unabashedly dunk them in the included red sauce for an instant heat upgrade with a nice sweet and aromatic element to it as well. The sauce here is bafflement, being neither Nashville nor Buffalo, not Tabasco nor Sriracha. Just a sweet and lightly pungent sauce of medium heat. The crackling skin is a satisfying touch, so consider the heat a boon if it's what preserves that texture.

Taste Test: Scorchin' Hot Chicken Tenders

No surprise here that the Scorchin' Hot Chicken Tenders proved deeply satisfying: they're the same breading as the Crispy Chicken Sandwich, minus all the distractions. While that might cost it some complexity, it pays dividends in focus, as you can tackle the ragged landscape of its crunchy crust, giving way to steaming white meat inside.

If there's a flaw, it's the minimal heat on these. We wondered to what extent we might have just been given a serving of the regular tenders with the intent of dipping them in the extra hot sauce ourselves. This shattering, thick crust could have handled a wet exterior, but we'll never know if the Smashburger chefs were afraid of becoming Icarus, flying so close to the spicy sun that their breading melted. Anyway, these are all gone now. We far and away preferred the breaded and fried chicken base over their equivalents at Wing Stop, irrespective of sauces.

Is Smashburger's New Hot Menu worth it?

If you're looking for something that really brings the heat, then no, you probably don't want to make Smashburger your first stop. We found pretty mild heat in all of these, especially for anything that dares to style itself after Nashville hot chicken. Adding the sauce on the side definitely gave it some spice, but the only one that came anything close to what you might call scorching was the black bean burger, surprisingly.

The Scorchin' Hot Mac & Cheese Burger fared a little better than the rest for spiciness, but as burgers go, didn't stand out too much. Its taste was a nose ahead of the Scorchin' Hot Black Bean Burger, which is to the latter's credit, while the texture and flavor of both found themselves handily beaten by the Scorchin' Hot Crispy Chicken Sandwich. And the Scorchin' Hot Chicken Tenders. And the Scorchin' Hot wings. when your name is Smashburger, you really shouldn't be getting outshined by three kinds of chicken.

But if you're just in it for some good eats? Then yeah, these were very satisfying and actually held onto their heat for a good half hour after being picked up. Not a lot of fast food places can say their fries are still tasty after a half hour. Just don't go in expecting anything resembling brutal heat. If that's what you're after, go get your tongue kicked by the inevitable return of the Shake Shack Hot Menu.