This Franchise Chatter guide on the Dairy Queen menu was written by Laurie Swenson.
Dairy Queen is a pioneer of fast-food restaurants that has effectively blended an ice-cream shop with a burger joint, but what your local DQ is depends on where you live. Whether you have an old-fashioned walk-up, a classic Brazier or a modern Grill and Chill, the one constant on the Dairy Queen menu is the cold treats.
It all started with Dairy Queen’s signature vanilla soft-serve blend, whose recipe was developed by John Fremont “Grandpa” McCullough and his son Bradley. They sold their icy treat for the first time in 1938 in the ice-cream store of their friend, Sherb Noble, in Kankakee, Ill. An astonishing 1,600 servings, at 10 cents each, were sold in two hours, clearly establishing that they had something big on their hands.
The three men opened the first Dairy Queen in 1940 in Joliet, Ill., and the rest, as they say, is history. What toddler didn’t thrill over the free baby cone while the rest of the family ordered regular cones off the menu?
People like things that are good, and they notice things that are different. The DQ soft-serve cones were both. There was no waiting for the ice cream to get a little melty to get a full taste; it was ready to consume immediately as it was handed to you, in its tall, ice-cold, sweet glory with the signature twirl on top.
The ice cream was joined by malts and shakes in 1949, banana splits in 1951, and Dilly Bars in 1955, all of which are still major menu items.
That’s a Dilly of a Bar
There’s nothing like a banana split, and malts and shakes are great, but the Dilly Bar is another sweet treat that sets Dairy Queen apart. That round simple slab of ice cream on a stick, clad in a candy coating, is a quick, refreshing, tasty 220-calorie treat that these days comes in a wide variety – even in six-packs.
The Dilly Bar is a step up from the ice-cream cone, and much neater, so it’s a more acceptable treat for the car while traveling, similar to the Buster Bar. That’s another popular treat on a stick, but it’s quite a bit busier, with nuts and hot fudge joining the squat cylinder of ice cream and chocolate outer coating.
My hands-down favorite Dilly Bar is the chocolate mint. It’s the only flavor I ever buy. It’s fine to bite into a Dilly Bar and taste vanilla ice cream, but it’s doubly nice to taste chocolate mint ice cream, which is in the neighborhood of my favorite ice cream as well (ice cream is so good, it’s hard to pick just one).
It’s also my daughter’s favorite Dilly Bar. When she was 8, I promised her a taste of mine in the car (she had a different flavor, but wanted to try mine), but I forgot and ate the whole thing myself. She was crushed. She turned her disappointment into a running gag, and when she was an adult in her own house I brought her a chocolate mint Dilly Bar as a peace offering. And a six-pack for the freezer.
Blizzard: Too Many Flavors!
The biggest modern-day ice-cream treat for Dairy Queen is the Blizzard, which pairs ice cream with candy stir-ins like Reese’s, Snickers, truffles or red velvet cake. It’s a little pricey for its sizes, and I’d rather drink these flavors than eat them with a spoon, so I’m more likely to get a shake or a malt, with ice cream blended with milk and flavors such as chocolate, strawberry or cherry (and malted milk blended in for the malt).
While everywhere else I order a chocolate shake or malt, at DQ I like to order chocolate-chip, which isn’t on the menu. It’s basically chocolate chunks, finely ground up before adding to the ice cream and milk combination. Some Dairy Queens are used to the request, while others need to be educated. The chocolate-chip flavor is pretty simple, but for me it’s heaven in a cup.
Dairy Queen has more than 20 flavors of Blizzards – too many for me to decide. When I buy a Blizzard, I tend to stick with my favorite flavor, banana split. I’m intrigued by the Mint Oreo flavor (I’ve already established that I love chocolate mint!), though, so that may be in my future – although DQ also has a Mint Oreo Royal Shake. Decisions, decisions.
More Cold Treats
The Peanut Buster Parfait, which layers soft-serve, hot fudge and peanuts, is a DQ classic. It predates some of the other sweet treats, such as the Waffle Bowl Sundaes, which come in strawberry and caramel flavors and feature chocolate-lined waffle bowls, and the ultra-rich Oreo Brownie Earthquake, a triple-treat of chocolate surrounding vanilla soft-serve. Each of these, surprisingly, contains significantly more calories (ranging from 710-810) than the classic banana split’s 530.
Along with Blizzard, shakes and malts, DQ has a couple of chilled beverages that aren’t ordinary fast-food fare: MooLatte, a coffee-ice cream blend in mocha, cappuccino, French vanilla and caramel varieties, and DQ’s Frozen Hot Chocolate, in peanut butter, double fudge and caramel flavors.
I have loved Dairy Queen for as long as I can remember, but DQ got even better in 2012 when it added the Orange Julius line of beverages (Dairy Queen International had acquired the Orange Julius company in 1987). The DQ website says the Orange Julius name came from Julius Freed, who started the Orange Julius stores.
Freed had a stand in California where he went from selling orange juice to the creamier, frothier mixture we now enjoy. He was inspired by the oft-repeated “Give me an orange, Julius” to give it the now-well-known name and take the concoction to a higher level.
When I looked up at the menu at a Dairy Queen a couple of years ago and saw Orange Julius on the menu, I was in heaven. This was a family-favorite treat for as long as I can remember, and the closest one was an hour’s drive away, and that had closed years earlier. The toughest part was always whether to buy the orange or the strawberry, because they were both delicious (I still lean toward the original orange flavor).
I haven’t tried anything else on the Julius menu, because the original flavors are special enough for me, and they are as delicious as ever, but some might prefer the thicker texture and even creamier flavors of the premium or light smoothies that are sold alongside the original Orange Julius beverage.
Dairy Queen Menu: What’s Hot
Those who only have a walk-up DQ are limited in what they can order aside from treats, but they still can make it a hot meal with a hot dog or a chili dog (you can justify an extra-large shake by telling yourself it’s a treat that goes with your hot dog, rather than the other way around).
I used to live near a walk-up DQ that closed every fall but began its year crazy early in February (in Minnesota!) – to coincide with an annual event that drew thousands of people, many of whom were willing to stand in line in the cold for cold treats.
Sit-down Dairy Queen restaurants, on the other hand, have full menus with burgers, chicken, and hot sides.
Dairy Queen has served burgers since the first Brazier restaurant opened, including one that sets DQ apart with more than a little bit of fire. The FlameThrower Grillburger is a quarter-pound or half-pound beef patty, covered in DQ’s spicy-hot FlameThrower sauce and topped with melted pepper jack cheese, jalapeno bacon, tomato and lettuce. That’s a lot of hot. Not my thing, but I’m from Minnesota.
DQ’s hearty Grillburger With Cheese, which comes with a quarter-pound or half-pound patty, and the quarter-pound Bacon Cheese Grillburger are both accompanied by melted cheese, bacon, tomato, lettuce, pickles, onions, ketchup and mayo, while the quarter-pound Mushroom Swiss Grillburger comes with mushroom sauce, Swiss cheese and mayo. DQ’s basic Original Double Cheeseburger has a third-pound patty and simple toppings of cheese, pickles, ketchup and mustard.
The downside of ordering burgers and other hot fare in a place that specializes in frozen sweet treats is that you often have to wait in line while staff members assemble banana splits and mix Blizzards and shakes. That can get a little frustrating when you’re in a hurry.
Lunch-counter Cafe Vibe
My favorite Dairy Queen meal is the Chicken Strip Basket: Four or six strips of breaded chicken, fries and toast, served with country gravy. You should get two containers of gravy if you get the six-piece; ask your server for the second one if you don’t get it. Ask for extra gravy (usually for a small fee) if you like to dip your fries in it. I hate ketchup, but I will dip my fries in gravy anytime.
DQ also offers a shrimp basket, which I’ve never eaten as I don’t like seafood, but I’m told by dining companions that it’s very good, served with fries, coleslaw and cocktail sauce.
While chicken and shrimp baskets aren’t exactly revolutionary, they’re not typical fast-food fare. These are menu items I associate more with small, lunch-counter cafes like the ones I grew up with. That said, if you’re looking for something really different at DQ, go for the basket that’s clearly the most different, and that again goes for the spice: the quesadilla basket, featuring chicken or veggie quesadillas with melted cheese, tomato, onions and black olives, served with sour cream and salsa and accompanied by onion rings.
If you’re counting calories, these range from 960-1,250, but the bigger surprise is the sodium, which ranges from 2,570-3,450 milligrams. The recommended daily allowance for sodium is 2,400. I’m rethinking my Chicken Strip Basket!
Meals on the Cheap
If you’re on a budget at DQ, you can’t go wrong with the $5 Buck Lunch (but will someone tell DQ that $5 Buck Lunch literally says “Five-Dollar Buck Lunch”?): choose a bacon cheeseburger, three chicken strips, two crispy chicken wraps or a chili cheese dog for your entree. Each meal comes with fries, a soft drink and a sundae (which you can upgrade to a small Blizzard for $1 extra). That’s an average of $1.25 per menu item, so it’s a pretty sweet deal. And you can pick up the sundae after you finish the rest of the meal.
Also budget-friendly is the DQ Chicken Wrap, with either grilled or crispy chicken, lettuce, cheese and ranch dressing on a flour tortilla. I get these a lot, often opting for one of each. This is another area where Dairy Queen spices it up, as the FlameThrower Chicken Wrap adds – you guessed it –FlameThrower sauce.
That fiery sauce also highlights the FlameThrower Chicken Sandwich, a crispy chicken filet that is also accompanied by pepper jack cheese, jalapeno bacon, tomato and lettuce on a warm toasted bun. If that’s too hot for you, go for the regular chicken sandwich, which features grilled or crispy chicken with lettuce, tomato and mayo.
Classic sandwiches haven’t been all that common in most fast-food establishments, and the restaurants that offer them tend to do a twist. Dairy Queen’s four sandwiches in this product line are turkey, classic club, BLT and grilled cheese. The twist is that they’re iron-grilled on panini-style bread.
Easy Options for Kids
Dairy Queen has a simple way to choose a kid’s meal. Pick an entree (chicken strips, cheeseburger, hot dog or iron grilled cheese), a side (fries or applesauce), a drink (milk, Arctic Rush or soft drink) and a treat (Dilly Bar, kid’s cone or DQ Sandwich). DQ also has a healthier Kids LiveWell meal, featuring a kids’ turkey wrap, a banana and a kid-size strawberry banana smoothie.
With that much of a range of choices in putting together a children’s meal, Dairy Queen should have included a small side salad option and/or another vegetable selection.
Party on With DQ Cakes
A special treat at a birthday party or other celebration is the DQ ice cream cake: a chocolate and crunch mixture nestled within vanilla and chocolate soft-serve and decorated to order. Choose from round, heart or log shapes, or feed a couple of dozen people with a sheet cake.
Don’t Mess With the Texas Menu
I ran across a DQ menu that caught my attention. DQ offerings vary somewhat by location, but Texas – the state that boasts the most Dairy Queens – has a Texas-sized menu, with hamburgers such as the Hungr-Buster, BeltBuster and Triple-Buster With Cheese, which offer one, two and three quarter-pound beef patties, respectively.
You’ll find a lot of spice and heat on this menu, such as jalitos and Texas T-Brand Tacos, but you’ll also find comfort food such as Chick’n ‘N Dumplings and steak fingers in a basket.
Classic, Modern Blend
Whether you’re stopping for a treat or a whole meal, DQ’s menu is a blend of classic and modern that offers decent variety and a good selection of uncommon offerings.
My only real problem with the Dairy Queen menu is how much of a pain it is to find the nutritional information for things like sauces, dressings and condiments, which should be available with the foods they’re served with. When I look at the main online menu, I have to do a lot of clicking and scrolling to find the nutritional information in the first place, but the companion food items such as dressings aren’t listed on that menu. Instead, they are on a harder-to-find, small-print nutrition menu.