Baskin-Robbins Vs Dairy Queen: Which Has Better Ice Cream?

Side by side comparison of Baskin-Robbins and Dairy Queen ice creams
Side by side comparison of Baskin-Robbins and Dairy Queen ice creams - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

Who has the best ice cream in your neighborhood? Maybe it's the local mom and pop stand that opens each summer, which makes that one unique flavor you crave. Maybe you're partial to your favorite pint from the grocery store. But when it comes to the best ice cream debate, longstanding chains like Dairy Queen and Baskin-Robbins are never too far from the conversation.

Both ice cream shops were founded in the same era roughly 80 years ago: Dairy Queen was founded in Illinois in 1940, with Baskin-Robbins following in California in 1945. Both chains know a thing or two about serving up deliciously cold and creamy frozen treats. Dairy Queen is known for its soft serve (which, somewhat notoriously at this point, is not technically ice cream) and Baskin-Robbins for its variety of hard-packed scoops.

DQ locations sometimes also serve food, which can tip the scales if you also need dinner before your dessert. For the times when you just need a really great ice cream cone, though, the debate gets much more heated. So, which chain really does have the better ice cream? We set out to answer this by looking at each brand's nutrition and ingredients, average availability nationwide, cost, customer sentiments, and other factors. Though some categories are a close call, we arrived at which ice cream brand trumps the other.

Read more: 12 Popular Ice Cream Brands, Ranked Worst To Best

Baskin-Robbins Has Slightly Fewer Artificial Ingredients

Scoop of Baskin-Robbins ice cream
Scoop of Baskin-Robbins ice cream - gothiclolita/Shutterstock

Ice cream should just be cream, milk, and sugar, right? That might be the case when you're talking about a homemade mix, but most commercial options have far more ingredients added into the mix. In fact, the ingredients list for basic vanilla soft serve (DQ) and vanilla ice cream (Baskin-Robbins) are fairly similar.

Both contain expected ingredients like milk and sugar, although Baskin-Robbins lists cream as its first ingredient compared to DQ's "milkfat." Both brands also contain corn syrup. From there, the lists remain somewhat similar, although the ingredients like carrageenan and guar gum start to deviate from what you'd hope to find in your ice cream. When we looked at what DQ's soft serve is really made of, guar gum helps to keep ice crystals from forming in the desserts, while carrageenan provides the thickness that helps to make ice cream so craveable. (Both brands contain these, as well as mono and diglycerides, which give ice cream its smooth texture.)

Baskin-Robbins gets a slight edge in this category, because while it is still a fairly processed food, the brand uses actual vanilla extract to achieve its vanilla flavor, compared to DQ's listing of "artificial flavor." The brand also avoids using Polysorbate 80, an additive that binds ice cream together but that has been linked to adverse effects in animals.

Baskin-Robbins Has Slightly More Fat, But Much Less Sugar In Some Flavors

scoops of vanilla Baskin-Robbins ice cream
scoops of vanilla Baskin-Robbins ice cream - Robin Marchant/Getty Images

When we compare the nutrition labels for each brand, we have to start by stating the obvious: Neither of these treats are going to win any health awards. That's totally fine in moderation, but if you're looking to compare the facts head-to-head, the difference is most stark in the sugar content.

One scoop of vanilla ice cream at Baskin-Robbins contains 150 calories and 10 total grams of fat. It contains a mere 3 grams of protein, and 11 grams of total sugar. Honestly, we kind of expected the calorie count and sugars to be higher. When we compare it to Dairy Queen, one small vanilla cone contains 220 calories, 7 total grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein. The major difference is in sugar content: DQ's simplest treat contains 26 grams of total sugar.

The higher fat content from Baskin-Robbins is likely because it contains cream and a higher milkfat percentage than DQ. (The smaller quantity of milkfat is why DQ can't technically call its soft serve "ice cream," according to the FDA.) On the flip side, that increase of sugar in DQ's cones is likely to maintain flavor despite the smaller fat content — a common practice among food manufacturers. Nutrition content will obviously be different between products, and there's a good chance some Baskin-Robbins scoops are loaded with sugar. However, with this baseline, that brand gets a slight edge.

In A Cost Comparison, Dairy Queen Is The Better Value

Dairy Queen Blizzard
Dairy Queen Blizzard - Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Everything seems to have doubled in price in the last five years, and the cost for ice cream is no different. One scoop's cost might not make a huge difference, but if you're buying for a date or for a family outing, the cost can add up quickly.

For this comparison, we looked at a small Blizzard from Dairy Queen (arguably the product you're most likely to order at the chain, given its popularity) compared to a double scoop of ice cream from Baskin-Robbins. To keep things as fair as possible, we didn't add any extras or toppings to our mock online orders, and we ordered from the same ZIP code to keep the location neutral.

The winner in terms of value was pretty clear. A small DQ Blizzard was $4.99 for both seasonal and classic flavors like Brownie Batter and Oreo. A small size is 12 ounces, which makes this treat about 42 cents per ounce. A double scoop of any flavor from Baskin-Robbins was $6.59. That serving size is estimated to be about 8 ounces, which is about 82 cents per ounce — almost double the cost of DQ's offerings by volume.

Customer Sentiment From Large Data Studies Puts Dairy Queen On Top — Barely

Dairy Queen kiosk with customers
Dairy Queen kiosk with customers - Bhubeth Bhajanavorakul/Getty Images

It's one thing to weigh factors like nutrition and cost for ice cream, but if customers don't actually like the product, those factors won't matter in the long run. That's where customer reviews come in.

Yelp or TripAdvisor can be helpful for specific locations since both companies are franchised, and the quality or customer service could differ from place to place. However, that typically doesn't represent the overall sentiment of each brand. For that, we turned to data collected by YouGov, an organization that polls Americans frequently about various topics, including their opinions on fast food chains.

At the beginning of 2024, Dairy Queen and Baskin-Robbins were in the No. 1 and 2 spots for most popular dining brands in the U.S. The most recent YouGov statistics show that Dairy Queen slightly edges out Baskin-Robbins, with an overall 75% popularity rating. This means that of those surveyed, 75% of respondents had a positive view of the brand — the highest of all fast food chains in the country. Baskin-Robbins was just slightly behind, with a 73% popularity ranking.

The two brands have been in the top two spots for multiple years, though data from each quarter isn't always available. A recap of data from the beginning of 2022, published by Stacker, shows that at the time, Baskin-Robbins held the top spot with a 74% positive opinion score. Dairy Queen's rating was at 71%, in the No. 2 position.

Other Customer Reviews Are Mixed, But Baskin-Robbins Has An Edge

Baskin-Robbins customers
Baskin-Robbins customers - Rachel Murray/Getty Images

Larger data studies aside, one-off comparisons between the two brands can also be helpful. There's not a landslide winner between the two ice cream shops, though some factors tip the scales in favor of Baskin-Robbins.

One reviewer, who posts under DanCookedIt on YouTube, visited Dairy Queen and Baskin-Robbins to compare the experiences. He ordered a hot fudge sundae and each chain's most popular feature at the time. In his view, the specialty items were pretty equal to one another, but the vanilla ice cream at Baskin-Robbins was superior to Dairy Queen's.

Yelp can be a maze to get reliable ratings, so we found locations in their founding towns (Glendale, California for Baskin-Robbins and Joliet, Illinois for Dairy Queen) that had the best overall rankings. Customers at the Baskin-Robbins location said the ice cream was above average, with many highlighting unique flavors like the Jamoca Almond Fudge. Dairy Queen reviews weren't as plentiful, but touted the chocolate soft serve and generous soft serve cones.

In a 2021 Mashed survey, which asked followers which ice cream chain was the worst, Baskin-Robbins fared better than Dairy Queen. Roughly 19.8% of respondents said DQ was the worst option of available choices, while a lesser 15.2% of respondents said that dishonor went to Baskin-Robbins. There is one caveat: In a separate 2020 Mashed survey, respondents overwhelmingly said that Dairy Queen milkshakes were the absolute best among all other fast food shakes.

Employee Sentiment Is Higher For Baskin-Robbins

Baskin-Robbins employees
Baskin-Robbins employees - Rachel Murray/Getty Images

The customer is always right — maybe — but employees are going to have a much better sense of what happens behind the scenes. In data collected by Comparably, overall employee sentiment for Baskin-Robbins was much higher than Dairy Queen in a few significant categories.

Baskin-Robbins received 4.1 out of 5 stars for product quality, compared to just 3.4 stars for Dairy Queen. That's noteworthy, considering the main product quality in question here is likely the ice cream itself. Another category where Baskin-Robbins outshone Dairy Queen was in the sentiment culture ratings. Employees at both companies were asked questions like "What makes you most happy at work?" and "How do your customers perceive your company?" Both of those questions can give insights about how the overall brand is perceived, and likely the overall quality of the products customers receive. Baskin-Robbins scored a 73 out of 100, compared to Dairy Queen's 58 out of 100. This doesn't automatically mean Dairy Queen's ice cream is worse, but it suggests that employees at Baskin-Robbins believe their product is viewed more favorably.

Comparably also includes information from customers as well. Baskin-Robbins customers ranked the chain at No. 87 of Global Top 100 brands. Dairy Queen is also ranked, but at No. 426 in the Global Top 1000 brands. In other words, Baskin-Robbins is good enough to be ranked in the top 100 for this particular data set, while Dairy Queen settles for the top 1000.

Who Has The Better Ice Cream Cake? The Debate Is Tied

ice cream cakes for sale
ice cream cakes for sale - TY Lim/Shutterstock

Though cones, Blizzards, and sundaes are all popular picks at Baskin-Robbins and Dairy Queen, special occasions call for something a little more grand. Enter the ice cream cake. Most Baskin-Robbins varieties come with at least one layer of actual cake, along with a layer of ice cream and frosting. Dairy Queen cakes notoriously come with no actual cake at all, but they do feature the decadent fudge and crunch center layer for added texture.

The debate here is firmly tied. In one Reddit thread, the public opinion sways toward Baskin-Robbins options, mostly because of the flavor varieties and customizations available. However, a Business Insider review said the sponge cake on the Baskin-Robbins version was underwhelming. In that case, the Dairy Queen version was the favorite for its texture combinations and flavor.

We've also tried our fair share of ice cream cakes here at Mashed, and our findings back up the neck-and-neck race for ice cream cake greatness. When we ranked 18 ice cream cakes from various brands, several options from Dairy Queen and Baskin-Robbins were clumped together in the top 10 spots. Though Dairy Queen and Baskin-Robbins stack up pretty well against each other in this category, we've also found that Baskin-Robbins might have the tiniest of advantages, since it's known for unique and show-stopping holiday offerings like the Turkey Cake it sells each year around Thanksgiving.

U.S. Regions Have Varying Availability Of Store Locations

Dairy Queen sign
Dairy Queen sign - Tada Images/Shutterstock

Location, location, location. "Who has the better ice cream?" is only a worthy debate if you can actually choose between both brands in your hometown. And in some U.S. locations, that's easier said than done. As a result, some pockets of the country might declare one brand to be better than the other, simply because a shop is located down the street when the craving for an ice cream cone hits.

In terms of overall locations, both brands are pretty equally matched. Baskin-Robbins has 7,800 locations worldwide, while Dairy Queen has just a few less at 7,500. However, a map from Axios shows that the distribution of those locations is skewed by geography. Baskin-Robbins has a large concentration in California, which makes sense considering that's where the chain began. The chain also has pockets predominantly in the Southwest and South, with far fewer locations in the northern half of the country.

Dairy Queen, on the other hand, is spread far more evenly over the entire country, though it's not nearly as ubiquitous in California. It does, however, have quite the cult following in Texas, so much so that the Houston Chronicle states it's become "a part of the Texas experience." Citizens of the Lone Star State are DQ stans, apparently.

Baskin-Robbins Has More Ice Cream Base Flavors

Baskin-Robbins flavors
Baskin-Robbins flavors - Zety Akhzar/Shutterstock

If you're after a variety of plain ice cream scoops in a simple cone or dish, Baskin-Robbins beats Dairy Queen by a landslide. The brand was originally known for its "31" base flavors — a different flavor for each day of the month, if you chose to try a new scoop of ice cream on the daily. In fact, that 31 options is so tied with the brand, it's still visible in the logo. Today, however, the chain boasts more than 1,400 options in its flavor library.

By comparison, Dairy Queen runs a much simpler operation. Each store is only guaranteed to have vanilla soft serve as your starting point. Some locations have chocolate soft serve, though one of the shady things about the chain is that it's often not available, or is runnier than its vanilla counterpart. Fans of DQ might counter the argument by saying the mix-ins and toppings that are rampant at each location make for incalculable ice cream options, however. And to DQ's credit, the mixes for specialized Blizzards like the Brownie Batter specialty includes brownie chunks and a "brownie batter base" with ingredients like cocoa and brown sugar that create a richer, chocolatey flavor. It technically starts as vanilla soft serve, but you end up with a cup of what tastes like chocolate ice cream.

Both Chains Are Known For Seasonal Offerings

Dairy Queen Blizzard
Dairy Queen Blizzard - Dasun's Viewfinder/Shutterstock

To keep things interesting, both Dairy Queen and Baskin-Robbins offer a variety of seasonal flavors. The chains each have a flavor of the month. Some are based on promotional partners the brands have. (For example, the seasonal flavors for June 2024 at Baskin-Robbins are based on the animated movie release "IF.") Others are repeated fan favorites that come back year after year.

One such flavor at Baskin-Robbins is the German chocolate cake, which got a specific shout-out in a Reddit thread. "This is worth it," the commenter wrote. Another is the Love Potion #31, which is released around Valentine's Day each year. We've personally followed Instagram personalities who purchase an entire tub of this stuff for their families each year when it's released, and savor it for months on end.

Dairy Queen also has its loyal followers for some seasonal flavors, including the annual pumpkin pie Blizzard. It's been loved by DQ aficionados for more than 30 years at this point, and features real pumpkin pie pieces — crust and all.

The Final Verdict: Baskin-Robbins Wins By A Slight Edge In Many Categories

person holding Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone
person holding Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone - gothiclolita/Shutterstock

From our research, it's clear that both Dairy Queen and Baskin-Robbins have their share of loyal fans — and detractors. But when it comes to crowning one brand the best overall, our conclusion is that Baskin-Robbins claims at least a slight victory.

Some categories like ice cream cake quality, seasonal offerings, or locations are more of a mixed bag. And in one portion of customer sentiment, Dairy Queen even edges out its California-based competitor. However, customer sentiment is very close in that case, and in some years Baskin-Robbins has been the victor. Plus, in areas that carry a lot of weight, including what the employees think of each brand, Baskin-Robbins is the more clear winner.

The brand also has a slight advantage when it comes to nutrition and ingredient information, along with creative ice cream cakes and a variety of ice cream options. You're likely to find a flavor every person in your group loves at Baskin-Robbins, and most head-to-head comparisons we found online favored that brand. If you're a staunch DQ fan, you do you. But based on what we've seen, it might also be time to give Baskin-Robbins a fair shot.

Read the original article on Mashed.