Arby’s Diablo Dare sandwich spits fire, but also flavor

These chicken and brisket sandwiches are the most flavor-packed fast food offering we've had in a long time.

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arby's diablo sandwiches
Arby’s Diablo sandwiches, chicken on the left, the brisket on the right
Photo: Dennis Lee

Out of all the classifications of seasonings that fast food chains can’t seem to nail down, the biggest disappointment always seems to be spiciness. Most spicy fried chicken sandwiches are only mildly so, and for all the talk of adding ghost pepper to practically anything, like donuts, the claim that a fast food item is spicy is generally bullshit. Can Arby’s break that pattern?

The lack of spiciness in fast food sucks, because I love spicy food. Much of that love is due to the fact that I’m Korean-American and was raised on more than a few spicy dishes. I mean, at home we dip fresh chile peppers into gochujang (essentially pepper dipped in even more peppers).

Arby’s has released a new limited-time-only item called the Diablo Dare Sandwich, which has five layers of spice added to it:

  • A Diablo BBQ sauce containing habanero, cayenne, chile, and chipotle pepper
  • Fiery seasoning, which includes cayenne, habanero, and capsicum powder (capsicum just means pepper)
  • Ghost pepper jack cheese featuring habanero, jalapeño, and ghost peppers
  • Fire-roasted jalapeños, which are... fire-roasted jalapeños
  • Diablo Bun, which is a red bun (so you know it’s serious) with chipotle pepper flakes
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The sandwich can be ordered as either crispy chicken or brisket, and to double down on the concept of its spiciness, Arby’s pairs it with a free vanilla shake of your choice to sip on if (or when) the spice ever gets to you.

In the press release announcing the sandwich, Patrick Schwing, chief marketing officer of Arby’s, said:

We Diablo Dare you to try this new sandwich. This is not a sandwich for the faint of heart. Everyone in QSR says they have a spicy option, but our research tells us that consumers are disappointed by fast food claims of spicy. We took that as a challenge by making sure all different types of spicy – the hot, the numbing, and the lingering are combined to make the Diablo Dare a true test of how much heat you can handle. Arby’s is setting a new standard of spice–when we say it, we mean it.

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Ah, yes. I love nothing more than to be referred to as a “consumer.” But yeah, spicy food from fast food chains doesn’t impress me much. So I wasn’t particularly enthused, but Arby’s offered to send me one of each sandwich to try, and they also sent some to friend of The Takeout, Brendan Kelly, whose not-so-secret alter-ego is the popular Twitter account @nihilistarbys. (He’s also the frontman for punk band The Lawrence Arms, and you may remember that he joined us for our recent Arby’s vodka taste test.)

arby's chicken sandwich
Arby’s Diablo Dare... chicken style
Photo: Dennis Lee
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Is Arby’s Diablo Dare Sandwich any good?

Between the two sandwiches, Kelly and I both agreed that we preferred the chicken. And here I thought I was burnt out on fried chicken sandwiches. The smoked brisket was fine, but the chicken was a better vehicle for all the flavor in the sandwich, and the crispy coating was a nice contrast in terms of texture. That bun is pretty gnarly, though, and I can’t say the color didn’t make me feel a little unsettled.

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But is the Diablo Dare spicy?

The real question: Is the sandwich actually spicy? The answer is, yeah, it’s pretty spicy! Not nuclear spicy, but enjoyably so, which was a nice surprise. I did reach for the milkshake for a cooling sip now and then, but really, the shake was more of a delicious pairing than anything. Kelly mentioned he preferred the shake alongside the brisket version rather than the chicken. Plus, I’m sure the shake tasted a little better because it’s free (though I’m guessing it’s actually built into the $6 price tag of each sandwich).

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What I enjoyed the most, however, was the overall flavor, beyond just the spice. Aside from saltiness, most fast food isn’t seasoned particularly aggressively. The Diablo Dare has a lot going for it in terms of toppings, almost all of them aligned with pepper. You’ve got that bitter bite from the roasted jalapeños, the sweet spicy sauce, and there’s the typical mayo, lettuce, and pickles involved, which both cool and contrast at the same time. And that’s what makes both of the sandwiches interesting—just the sheer amount of flavor they each contain.

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“Overall, it was way better than I expected,” said Kelly.Even as a shitty delivery it was a top tier QSR [quick service restaurant] sandwich.”

I’d have to agree. For $6, which includes that shake, this is a lot of unexpected flavor from a fast food place, and admirably spicy, to boot. I’d say spring for this one. If not for the kick, do it because it’s a decent sandwich. You’ve got until February 6 to give one a shot, and after that, it’s back to Beef ‘N Cheddars, which will seem flavorless by comparison.