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Here's When Every Popular Seasonal Fast-Food Item Will Be Back in 2024

Count the days, weeks, or months until you can get your hands on that shake, PSL, McRib, and more.
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In most parts of the world, the Gregorian calendar orients time around seasons, months, weeks, and holidays. And then there are those of us who run on the fast-food calendar, marked not by weather patterns, but by minty milkshakes, all things pumpkin spice, and rib-shaped mystery meat.

The fast-food calendar is a curious one, at once inspired by holidays and seasons, while also audaciously throwing caution to the wind. While pumpkins may not reach their seasonal peak until October and November, for instance, most fast-food chains act like pumpkin season begins in the dog days of summer. Meanwhile, spicy chicken sandwiches and peach milkshakes denote warm weather, while cranberries and custard beckon the Christmas festivities.

Each year brings a fresh batch of seasonal menu items at fast-food chains across the country—some are newer traditions, while others are a tale as old as time. From Lenten fish sandwiches and pumpkin spice aplenty, to the mighty McRib, here's when your favorite seasonal fast-food items will be back in 2024.

Shamrock Shake at McDonald's

Mcdonalds shamrock shake mcflurry 2023
Meaghan Cameron / Eat This, Not That!

Late winter is a time for change and renewal, but at McDonald's, it's a time for green. Everyone's favorite unnaturally dyed dessert, the Shamrock Shake, is an unabashedly minty confection that has come to punctuate the St. Patrick's Day holiday. The quintessential love-it-or-hate-it menu special has been around for more than half a century, which makes it the officially unofficial start of spring in our book. In recent years, it's made its once-a-year return around late February, which means it sticks around through March, spreading cheer—and bright-red cherries—far and wide. But in 2024, McDonald's is blessing customers with the Shamrock on Feb. 5, several weeks earlier than in years past.

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Fish Sandwich at Popeyes

popeyes fish sandwich

One of the newer seasonal fast-food items on this list, the fish sandwich from Popeyes made its debut in 2021, which makes it downright spry compared to the Shamrock Shake. The Cajun flounder sandwich, dredged in Cajun seasonings and fried, is one of the more unique seasonal specials on the market, and it's among the best—one Long Island food critic hailed it as the best fast-food sandwich upon its debut. Since its 2021 inception, it's been a Lenten season staple for the chicken chain, which means this year's timeline should see it return by mid-February and run through late March.

Peach Milkshake at Chick-fil-A


Peach season is good and all, but how about peach milkshake season? Chick-fil-A reaps the rewards of summer's fruitful apex with its annual Peach Milkshake, a juicy dessert first introduced in 2009, made by hand-spinning Chick-fil-A's vanilla Icedream dessert with peaches and topping it all with whipped cream and a cherry. Mid-June is typically when the chain rolls out the annual thick, sweet addition, offering a preview of summer to come.

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Hot Chicken Sandwich at Shake Shack

shake shack hot honey chicken sandwich
Shake Shack / Facebook

Fingers are crossed that last summer's spicy rollout at Shake Shack will become a routine feature for the nationwide brand. In September 2023—in addition to the return of the Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich for the first time in three years—Shake Shack debuted a whole new menu of heat with a Spicy Shackmeister Burger, spicy fries, and spicy cheese fries. If tradition holds, we can expect to see more spice from Shake Shack in late summer, just in time for a different kind of spice …

Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks

Person holding Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte in front of wheelbarrow of pumpkins
Starbucks / Facebook

Pumpkin spice used to be a cute buzzword. Pumpkin spice used to be a rare treat confined to pumpkin season. Pumpkin spice used to make sense. At this point, though, pumpkin spice has ballooned into a cottage industry all its own, engulfing a sizable portion of the year and popping up on everything from tortilla chips to Cheerios. It's pumpkin spice's world—we just live in it. And we largely have Starbucks to thank (or blame) for that. PSL, as it has been coined, was monopolized by Starbucks some years ago, and the coffee titan has been releasing its pumpkin spice goodies earlier and earlier each year. Nowadays, the vaguely pumpkin-flavored latte is commonly brought back by late August across the country. And once the PSL is back, there is no other way to latte.

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Pumpkin Spice Latte at Dunkin'

Dunkin' Pumpkin Spice Signature Latte
Zoe Strozewski / Eat This, Not That!

Starbucks' biggest coffee competitor, Dunkin' was late to the PSL game, but now that the chain is in it, there is no turning back. The caffeinated Goliath features a sprawling fall menu filled with pumpkin muffins and pumpkin doughnuts, along with a riff on the PSL, made with espresso, milk, notes of sweet pumpkin, vanilla, fall spices, whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and cinnamon sugar. Sweeter and more layered than most PSLs, Dunkin's version typically releases around mid-August.

Pumpkin and Creme Pie at McDonald's

mcdonald's pumpkin and creme pie

Not one to get left behind the pumpkin parade, McDonald's has a slate of autumnal specialties it rolls out every year. In addition to a PSL, which releases around mid-September, the marquis event is the Pumpkin and Creme Pie, which debuted in 2015 (a pumpkin version came out in 2011). Usually released around mid-September, before the official start of fall, these limited-time treats are made with layers of pumpkin and vanilla creme filling inside a flaky, warm pastry crust.

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Pumpkin Frozen Custard at Culver's

Culver's pumpkin spice custard

Forget frozen custard as a summertime staple. The dairy kings of the fast-food world are here to keep things creamy all year long. At Culver's, the Pumpkin Frozen Custard is an early fall item that manifests in different ways across the dessert menu, including Salted Caramel Pumpkin Concrete and Pumpkin Spice Shakes blended with real pumpkin puree, vanilla frozen custard, and cinnamon. Look for these spicy sweets to make their return in early September.

Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls at Cicis Pizza

cicis pumpkin spice rolls

This list could contain nothing but pumpkin spice items at fast-food restaurants and we'd still miss a few favorites. Another one worth mentioning is the Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls at Cicis Pizza, a pizza-centric chain that's been on the comeback circuit of late. That's mostly due to the nostalgia of its game rooms, but these doughy delights don't hurt. A newer addition to the pumpkin spice scene with an introduction in 2022, these fluffy rolls are frosted with pumpkin spice-infused icing that's seasoned with cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Look for these simple, spicy, and sweet bites to return in August.

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Pumpkin Spice Howie Bread at Hungry Howie's

Hungry Howie's pumpkin spice bread
Hungry Howie's/Facebook

Hungry Howie's is another pizza chain that puts its spin on tradition with perhaps the wildest rendition of pumpkin spice to be found. For a chain known for its over-the-top pizzas, it's no surprise that there's such a thing as Pumpkin Spice Howie Bread, which consists of 16 pieces of hot, buttery breadsticks seasoned with pumpkin spice and served with warm icing for a dipping sauce. Late August is when these dessert breadsticks usually hit the menus.

Pumpkin Spice Frosty at Wendy's

Wendy's Peppermint Frosty & Peppermint Frosty Cream Cold Brew
Courtesy of Wendy's

A newer pumpkin spice obsession comes courtesy of Wendy's, which has been playing around with the beloved Frosty in recent years. From Peppermint Frosty Cream Cold Brew to classic vanilla, the milkshake-like dessert has seen many different forms, but none sing of the seasons quite like its pumpkin spice variation. Fans are hoping that Wendy's makes an annual tradition out of this cinnamon and nutmeg winner, released in mid-September last year.

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Pumpkin Pie Blizzard at Dairy Queen

dairy queen pumpkin pie blizzard
Dairy Queen

Last but not least, Dairy Queen has a custardy confection designed to pay homage to pumpkin spice season. Introduced in August 2022 as part of a bold new fall Blizzard lineup and then returned in August 2023, the dense dessert contains real pieces of pumpkin pie blended with vanilla soft serve, fall spices, and whipped cream. If all goes according to last year's calendar, you can expect more of these Pumpkin Pie Blizzards in late summer.

CurderBurger at Culver's

culver's curderburger

What started as an April Fool's joke in 2021 has evolved into an eccentric burger with a cult following. Say hello to the CurderBurger, a hilariously named innovation at Culver's that doubles down on the chain's penchant for cheese. After initially debuting it as a joke in 2021, and then returning it in a more serious form in October of 2022, the chain inadvertently struck gold with its deluxe ButterBurger topped with a whole patty of fried cheese. It was such a sensation that it returned in October 2023. Given its multiple releases, look for another round of CurderBurgers this fall.

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Cranberry Bliss Bar at Starbucks

copycat healthy starbucks cranberry bliss bars
Courtesy of Liz Moody

In terms of seasonal specials, PSLs dominate the conversation at Starbucks, but the coffee chain's holiday menu holds more treasures. After the Halloween hoopla has subsided, it's Cranberry Bliss Bar season. A deep-cut holiday hit, these festive confections are blondie-like bars loaded with dried cranberries, cream cheese icing, and orange zest—a shining star on the chain's holiday menu that typically debuts at the beginning of November.

McRib at McDonald's

McDonald's McRib

Of all the seasonal fast-food specials, none possess the mythos of the mighty—and infamous—McRib. The saga of this polarizing icon is like an on-again, off-again relationship, wherein it disappears for years at a time before returning again, seemingly at random. Following the McRib is like Ahab questing after Moby Dick—a frustrating ordeal of unmet cravings for mystery meat that's so bad it's good. Most recently, the McRib embarked on what McDonald's called a "farewell tour." But much like Cher or Elton John, that "farewell" is eternal, as evidenced by the McRib's abrupt return in November 2023. Unlike other fast-food specials on this list, mostly tied to holidays and seasons, the McRib is hard to predict. But, if tradition holds, you'll see a return of the rib-shaped sandwich in fall.

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Holiday Pie at McDonald's

McDonald's holiday pie

One reliable menu rotator at McDonald's is its Holiday Pie. A colorful feature on the dessert menu, the pie features creamy custard filling enrobed in a buttery crust and flecked with sugar and rainbow sprinkles. McDonald's is pretty dependable with this one, an annual mainstay since 1999, bringing it back in mid-November most years.

Matt Kirouac
Matt Kirouac is a travel and food writer and culinary school graduate, with a passion for national parks, all things Disney, and road trip restaurants. Read more about Matt