Fast food is an undeniable part of the culinary landscape across the globe, with the United States in particular serving as a hub for these quick-and-easy chains. Approximately 25 percent of American adults eat something from a fast food chain every day, and more than a third of kids are eating fast food on a daily basis. Whether you’re crazy about Chipotle burritos or can’t say no to a Big Mac, odds are you’re giving into your fast food cravings from time to time. In fact, the CDC reports that U.S. adults consumed an average of 11.3 percent of their calories from fast food.
However, that hasn’t always been the case. Long before there was a Starbucks on every corner and a McDonald’s drive-thru within a mile of every suburb, fast food chains were rolling out new items to test markets around the world. Before you hit up another chain, find out which fast food items were the most popular the year you were born. Just make sure you’ve checked out our ranking of McDonald’s menu items before you plan your next cheat meal.
1940: KFC Original Recipe
While KFC was first founded in 1930 in Harland “Colonel” Sanders’ native Kentucky, it wasn’t until a decade later that his signature blend of 11 herbs and spices was born. In 1940, the chain introduced its Original Recipe chicken, to the delight of fast food fans everywhere. Fortunately, these healthy chicken recipes provide a low-calorie alternative to your usual fast food order.
1941: Carl’s Jr. Hamburger
Carl’s Jr., formerly known as Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue, first offered its famous burgers in 1941.
1947: The Fatburger
Fatburger first made its mark on the fast food with its eponymous burger in 1947. The chain, which opened its first restaurant in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park, now has locations in 22 countries.
1948: McDonald’s Hamburger
While McDonald’s was first founded in 1940, it wasn’t until 1948 that McDonald’s perfected its fast food model, then called Speedee Service, bringing its hamburgers to an increasing number of customers each year that followed.
1949:Dairy Queen Banana Split
While the banana split may seem like it’s been around forever, it wasn’t until 1949 that Dairy Queen introduced this wildly popular item to customers in the United States.
1950: The Whataburger
Whataburger first started serving its now-famous burgers in 1950 and now operates 805 stores across the United States.
1951: White Castle Burger
While White Castle first opened its doors in 1921, it wasn’t until 30 years later that it perfected its recipe. The five-holed burger you’d get at a White Castle today was first introduced in 1951.
1953: Burger King Hamburger
Burger King hasn’t always been fast food royalty. The chain first introduced its popular hamburger to the American market in 1953 and has been serving millions of customers a year ever since.
1955: The Dunkin’ Donut
Originally known as Open Kettle, Dunkin’ Donuts in its current form began franchising—and bringing its sweet treats to delighted customers—in 1955.
1957: The Burger King Whopper
Burger King’s most famous menu item, the Whopper, a quarter-pound burger with tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, and pickles on a sesame seed-topped bun, has been a hit for the chain for the better part of a century. The Whopper was first introduced in 1957.
1961: In-N-Out Animal Style Burger
While it seems as though everyone knows about In-N-Out’s not-so-secret Animal Style burger, but it wasn’t until 1961 that this burger actually hit the market.
1962: McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish
McDonald’s first foray into fish came about in 1962 with the introduction of the wildly popular Filet-O-Fish. This sandwich offered a viable fast food alternative to burgers for Catholic customers, who typically eschew red meat on Fridays.
1964: Chick-fil-A Original Chicken Sandwich
While Chick-fil-A’s original incarnation, Dwarf Grill, first opened its doors in 1946, it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that its most popular menu item was born. In 1964, the Original Chicken Sandwich was introduced, quickly becoming a wildly popular fast food order.
1965: The Subway Sub
Long before the five-dollar foot longs and the scandal, Subway was just another sandwich shop. The popular chain first rolled out its now-famous sub in 1965.
1968: McDonald’s Big Mac
More than 20 years after McDonald’s opened its doors, the chain created its most famous menu item to date. The Big Mac, one of the most popular McDonald’s creations of all time, was first gobbled up by fast food fans in 1968.
1972: McDonald’s Egg McMuffin
The on-the-go fast food breakfast was undeniably perfected by McDonalds, when the chain rolled out its Egg McMuffin in 1972. The next time you have a craving for fast food in the morning, try one of these healthy breakfast ideas instead.
1975: In-N-Out Milkshakes
For over a decade, those Animal Style fries and burgers had no dessert-like accompaniments. Fortunately, in 1975, the chain started serving its decadent milkshakes.
1976: Popeyes Fried Chicken
It wasn’t until more than 40 years after KFC was founded that its biggest competitor hit the market. In 1976, Popeyes first introduced its spicy, Southern-style fried chicken to captivated consumers everywhere.
1977: Mrs. Fields’ Cookies
Once a staple in every mall, Mrs. Fields’ famous chocolate chip cookies begin their rise to dessert dominance in 1977. While this chain isn’t as ubiquitous as it once was, it still operates 400 kiosks worldwide.
1979: McDonald’s Happy Meal
The McDonald’s Happy Meal was first rolled out in 1979, and has been a staple on the chain’s menu ever since. However, it may not be around forever: research suggests that the popularity of the Happy Meal has steadily declined in recent years.
1980: McDonald’s McChicken
It wasn’t until the 1980s that McDonald’s began rebranding itself with new non-burger alternatives. The chain’s popular McChicken sandwich was first introduced in 1980.
1981: Quiznos Sandwiches
More than 15 years after Subway launched its popular sandwiches, Quiznos followed suit with a similar model. In 1981, the chain introduced opened its first store in Denver, Colorado.
1983: McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets
While Chicken McNuggets have been on select McDonald’s menus since 1980, you couldn’t purchase them at every McDonald’s until a few years later. Chicken McNuggets’ popularity influenced a nationwide rollout in 1983.
1985: Dairy Queen Blizzard
Dairy Queen’s most famous menu item took more than two decades to reach peak popularity. While it was originally introduced in the 1960s, it wasn’t until 1985 that the Blizzard was popular enough to be sold at stores nationwide.
1986: Wendy’s Big Classic
A bigger burger for Americans’ ever-growing appetites was introduced by Wendy’s in 1986. Dubbed the Big Classic, this burger topped a Kaiser roll with a quarter-pound patty, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup, mayonnaise, and special seasoning.
1992: McDonald’s Baked Apple Pie
Although McDonald’s fried pie first hit the market in 1968, it took another 24 years for another iteration to be introduced. In 1992, the chain rolled out the ever-popular baked apple pie.
1993: Chipotle Burritos
For many millennials, Chipotle feels like it’s been part of our fast food fabric forever. However, it wasn’t until 1993 that the chain opened its doors, welcoming Tex-Mex fans to its world of oversized burritos. Today, each Chipotle location serves an average of 771 burritos every single day.
1995: Starbucks Frappuccino
When Starbucks was first founded in 1971, the chain’s menu was all about serving basic coffee to its under-caffeinated customer base. That all changed in 1995 when Starbucks rolled out its Frappuccino, which is now available in flavors from Brown Sugar Shortbread to Horchata Almondmilk.
1997: McDonald’s McFlurry
McDonald’s took more than half a century to roll out its popular McFlurry treat. Unfortunately, the unreliability of the chain’s ice cream and milkshake machines makes the odds of you actually getting one pretty iffy.
1998: Burger King Cini-Minis
Fast food breakfast got a whole lot sweeter in 1998. It was then that Burger King introduced its Cini-Minis, tiny cinnamon rolls so popular they’ve got a Change.org petition to bring them back.
2001: Carl’s Jr. Thickburger
Carl’s Jr. hopped on the “bigger is better bandwagon” in the early 2000s. The hamburger giant first rolled out its popular Thickburger in 2001. Today, you can get that burger with topped with a hot dog and potato chips in what’s been dubbed the Most American Thickburger.
2002: Arby’s Ultimate BLT
Arby’s deviated from its usual roast beef menu in 2002. The chain rolled out its Ultimate BLT sandwich that year.
2005: Burger King Chicken Fries
Burger King’s popular hybrid of chicken strips and French fries first fed hungry customers in 2005.
2006: Wendy’s Vanilla Frosty
The chocolate Frosty was one of the very first products on the Wendy’s menu when the chain opened its doors in 1969. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that Wendy’s began offering the popular vanilla alternative in the majority of its stores.
2007: Wendy’s Baconator
Bacon burgers finally got their due in 2007. It was that year that Wendy’s introduced the Baconator, a hamburger topped with bacon and cheese, which has remained popular to this day.
2010: McDonald’s Fruit & Maple Oatmeal
McDonald’s made its foray into somewhat healthier territory in 2010, when the chain introduced its popular Fruit & Maple Oatmeal. When you’re in the market for a healthier breakfast you can make at home, try one of these overnight oats recipes on for size.
2011: Five Guys Burger
While Five Guys was first founded in 1986, it took some time for its creations to reach peak popularity. In, 2011, the chain’s burgers earned Zagat’s Best Burger award. The next time you’re craving a burger, try subbing in one of these healthy proteins for weight loss instead.
2012: Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos
Combining Doritos and Taco Bell’s traditional taco fillings proved a hit for the chain. 2012 saw the introduction of the much-hyped Doritos Locos Tacos, which has remained one of the chain’s most popular menu items.
2013: Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger
Wendy’s heeded the call for customers who wanted an even more decadent burger. In 2013, the chain rolled out its Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger, a burger topped with bacon and cheese on a pretzel bun.
2017: Chipotle Queso
While Chipotle’s core offerings have remained largely unchanged since the chain’s inception, a new menu item was introduced in 2017. Despite all the darkness in 2017, Chipotle came through, with its highly-anticipated queso finally hitting stores. Before your next trip to this Tex-Mex giant, make sure you know how your favorite Chipotle menu item stacks up nutritionally.