The Most Popular Items at McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, and Other Fast Food Chains
America loves its fast food chains. Maybe you want a burger or you’re craving some fried chicken. Maybe you just want an order of fries. Or perhaps what you really want is a milkshake. Regardless, you probably have a favorite chain to visit. (Even if you’ll only go through the drive-thru under the cover of night.) So it likely doesn’t surprise you that Americans have chosen a few favorite menu items at McDonald’s, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, and other fast food joints over the years.
While there isn’t any definitive data on the most popular fast food menu items across America, we’ve made some educated guesses. (Using available market research on America’s favorite fast food restaurants, plus the apparent level of enthusiasm for particular orders.) Read on to check out some of the most items on the menu at your favorite fast food chains.
15. A chicken bowl at Chipotle
Many credit Chipotle with changing the American fast food industry by making it possible to offer higher-quality food in a familiar fast food setting — something all Chipotle fans appreciate. Everybody’s favorite fast casual chain doesn’t actually share data on what its most popular menu items are. But Inverse learned that if you look down the service line and choose the most popular item at each point, what you’d end up with is a bowl with white rice, black beans, chicken, mild salsa, cheese and lettuce. A bowl is actually the healthiest order at Chipotle. And Chipotle does a great job of making chicken a delicious and nutritious option, whether you love a bowl or a burrito.
14. The Five Guys cheeseburger
You have tons of options if you want a fast food cheeseburger. But according to a survey of more than 1,400 Business Insider readers, you might want to head to Five Guys for your burger fix. The publication found that Five Guys got the majority of votes for the best offering in the cheeseburger category, beating out Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box, White Castle, and even Checkers. The menu at Five Guys has remained small since the chain got its start in 1986. Still, Americans love Five Guys for its never-frozen burgers, its free peanuts, and the fun Coke Freestyle machines that enable you to customize your drink.
13. Fried chicken at KFC
It probably takes little more than common sense to realize that chicken is the most popular menu item at Kentucky Fried Chicken. But HowStuffWorks reports that the chain’s fried chicken numbers are among the most iconic menu items at American fast food chains. KFC founder Harlan Sanders first began selling his “original recipe” chicken, with its blend of 11 herbs and spices, in 1940. The restaurant introduced the iconic bucket 17 years later. In 2006, KFC sold more than a billion chicken dinners.
12. White Castle Sliders
Another incredibly popular fast food menu item, according to HowStuffWorks? The sliders at White Castle. The very first White Castle restaurant started selling sliders when it opened in 1921. Then, in 1949, it decided to put five holes in each square patty, to allow for faster cook times, and the chain began cooking the meat on top of diced onions so that it never makes contact with the griddle. The bun gets placed on top of the meat to absorb extra flavor. White Castle reportedly sells 500 million sliders each year. It was the first burger restaurant to reach one million burgers sold, and then the first to reach one billion.
11. Pepperoni pizza at Pizza Hut
Do you count Pizza Hut as a fast food chain? We’re inclined to, especially since you can often find a Pizza Hut and a Taco Bell under the same roof. The company shared that its most popular order is a large pepperoni pizza. And since Pizza Hut takes the cake — or pie, in this case — as the most popular pizza chain in America, that means that a Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza is one of the country’s favorite fast food items. An added bonus? A pepperoni pizza is probably one of the few fast food items that many Americans would serve at a party.
10. Italian BMT at Subway
Most people think that McDonald’s must be the most popular fast food chain worldwide. But surprisingly enough, Subway earns the distinction of owning the most restaurants around the world. (In 2013, Subway even had more locations in the U.S. than Starbucks and McDonald’s combined.) Subway may not win Americans’ love as their favorite sandwich chain, but plenty of us head to our local Subway regularly. The chain’s most popular item is apparently the Italian BMT — or “Big Meaty Tasty” — sub, with salami, pepperoni, and ham.
9. The Baconator at Wendy’s
Ask a group of people what they order at Wendy’s, and you’ll undoubtedly hear several express their love for the Baconator, which consists of two burger patties topped with bacon, mayonnaise, and cheese. Business Insider notes that the Baconator has quickly earned a spot among America’s favorite fast food burgers. (That’s especially impressive given its relatively recent introduction.) The Baconator definitely numbers among the worst fast food meals as far as nutrition goes. But Americans still love this sandwich, at least as an occasional indulgence.
8. Wendy’s Frosty
Though many people love Wendy’s for its burgers — and its emphasis on quality — HowStuffWorks reports that the most iconic menu item at the chain is its Frosty. The chocolate Frosty was one of Wendy’s original five menu items, and remains a top seller for the fast food chain. As HowStuffWorks reports, Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas “wanted to make a milkshake so thick you had to eat it with a spoon, and he was pretty successful — Wendy’s sells about 300 million each year.”
7. Arby’s roast beef sandwich
HowStuffWorks reports that in the middle of the “hamburger craze,” Arby’s found its niche by introducing the roast beef sandwich in 1964. The Raffel brothers, who founded the first Arby’s Roast Beef Restaurants in Boardman, Ohio, observed that beef was a big hit at burger chains, but decided to slow roast and slice theirs instead of grinding it up. HowStuffWorks reports that the most popular sandwich at Arby’s is still the signature roast beef sandwich.
6. Waffle fries at Chick-fil-A
People often discuss the topic of who makes the best fast food French fries, but they rarely settle it conclusively. However, Chick-fil-A’s waffle fries have won the chain many fiercely loyal fans. Even rankings that don’t put Chick-fil-A’s fries at the head of the pack concede that making waffle fries the standard at the chain is a bold move. Though they’re unconventional, the fries pair incredibly well with the chain’s chicken sandwich. They also almost make up for the fact that Chick-fil-A still closes on Sundays, and they taste so good that you may even forget about the many reasons to hate Chick-fil-A.
5. The Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich
HowStuffWorks counts the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich among the most iconic American fast foods. In fact, many credit Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy with inventing the boneless chicken sandwich. “It’s unthinkable today to imagine a life without the chicken sandwich, but in 1946 it was all about the hamburger,” HowStuffWorks explains. The pressure-fried chicken breast comes with pickle slices on top and gets served on a buttered bun. Of course, you can order nuggets, salads, and wraps at the chain’s many restaurants, but most Chick-fil-A fans will tell you that it’s all about the chicken sandwich. USA Today notes that even today, the chain’s menu is “impossibly simple,” and built almost entirely around the chicken sandwich.
4. Taco Bell’s crunchy taco
Glen Bell founded Taco Bell in 1962, a time when Mexican food wasn’t nearly as popular in the United States as it is today. Now, HowStuffWorks reports that Taco Bell serves about 2 billion customers a year and also sells about 2 billion of its signature tacos annually. Thrillist reports that the crunchy taco was the most popular item on the Taco Bell menu in 2016. (And which item won second place? The soft taco.)
3. The Whopper at Burger King
HowStuffWorks notes that one of the most iconic fast food items in America is Burger King’s Whopper. Burger King distinguishes itself by flame broiling its burgers, instead of cooking them on a griddle. The idea? To give those burgers a home-grilled flavor. The Whopper is Burger King’s most popular burger, and features a quarter-pound beef patty placed in a sesame seed bun with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup, and sliced onion. And even though Burger King isn’t nearly as popular as McDonald’s, millions of people still enjoy the Whopper each year.
2. French fries at McDonald’s
McDonald’s french fries trace their origin all the way back to the first location in San Bernardino, California. According to HowStuffWorks, the french fries are the most popular McDonald’s menu item of all time. Though the chain introduces plenty of new items each year, classic items still account for the vast majority of its sales around the world. Since 1990, McDonald’s has cooked its fries in vegetable oil, and in 2008, the chain switched to cooking oil with zero trans fats. Nonetheless, America’s enthusiasm for McDonald’s fries hasn’t waned.
1. The McDonald’s Big Mac
HowStuffWorks reports that the second most-popular item (after those delicious fries) on the McDonald’s menu is the Big Mac. It’s also the most iconic fast food item in the United States. This towering sandwich was the invention of Uniontown, Pennsylvania franchise owner Jim Delligatti, who introduced the Big Mac at his store in 1968. It became so popular that McDonald’s decided to add it to the menu at every location nationwide. According to estimates, McDonald’s may sell as many as 550 million Big Macs each year in the U.S. alone, and 900 million around the world.