Americans love fast food chains. We invented it, after all, and plus we consume more fast food than any other nation in the world. (Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, who's to say?) We love eating fast food, and drive-thrus are truly a genius invention. Some fast food items are more beloved than others, however. Why is that? And where did these fast food restaurants get the idea to produce these now-famous menu items? We'll explore the history of fast food items and why they got so popular.
The 10 Most Popular Fast Food Items — and The History Behind Them
The Big Mac from McDonald's
The single most popular burger chain in the world, McDonald's is also one of the first, originally founded in California in the '50s. (The actual first fast food restaurant is White Castle!) And one of their flagship items was the Big Mac, which was invented by Jim Delligatti of Pennsylvania in 1967 and inspired by the Big Boys' Restaurant "Big Boy Burger" meant to compete with Burger King's Whopper. It was originally called the Aristocrat, and then the Blue Ribbon cheeseburger before they finally settled on "Big Mac." Perhaps you know the jingle... "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions - on a sesame seed bun."
Blizzard from Dairy Queen
If you've ever been to the fast food chain Dairy Queen, then you know that they're known more for their ice cream food items than they are for their food. And that's for a good reason — they invented the Blizzard in the '80s, a cup of soft serve with bits of candy, syrups, or other sundae toppings all blended in. They were inspired by similar "concretes" that were served by Ted Drewes, a frozen custard joint in St. Louis. Famously, when you go to Dairy Queen, they will turn their Blizzards upside-down to show off the fact that they're so thick, they'll stay without spillage. Sonic Drive-In would later introduce their Blasts to compete with them.
Stuffed Crust Pizza from Pizza Hut
If you were alive in the '90s, you probably remember the sensation of the stuffed crust pizza being served by Pizza Hut for the very first time. While a man named Rob Mason claims that he invented it in 1992, it was also developed by Patty Scheibmeir and launched in 1995 to great acclaim. The first person to appear in an advertisement for Pizza Hut's new stuffed crust pizza? Donald Trump. Stuffed crust pizza continues to be one of the fast food chain's most popular items, and in 2020, Papa John's released their own stuffed crust pizza too.
Frappuccino from Starbucks
Starbucks didn't invent the now-iconic icy treat known as the Frappuccino. The word "Frappuccino" is a portmanteau of the words "frappe," a New England milkshake made with coffee and ice cream, and "cappuccino," an espresso drink with frothed milk. A Massachusetts-based coffee chain called the Coffee Connection was selling Frappuccinos when Starbucks bought the rights to the popular food item and started selling it in 1995. It became a sensation, with competitors like Dunkin Donuts selling their own frozen coffee drinks shortly afterward. The rest was history.
Curly Fries from Arby's
You probably know Arby's for their iconic roast beef sandwiches, but they are also notorious for another type of food item: their spiced curly fries. Introduced to the Arby's menu as "Curly-Q Fries" in 1988, they later dropped the "Q" but the food item has stayed on their menus ever since. The inspiration came from barbecue joints, where curly fries were often served with barbecue sauce.
Doughnuts from Krispy Kreme
You know them, you love them, they're hot and fresh: Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Brothers Vernon and Lewis Rudolph began selling light, fluffy, hot donuts in 1933. They moved around the South, selling donuts until they began to expand their stores. The brand was purchased by a group of franchisees in 1982, and expansion increased further.
Chicken Sandwiches from Chick-fil-A
For a long time, the main proprietor of fried chicken in a fast food restaurant setting was KFC. But in 1965, S. Truett Cathy, a local restaurant owner in Georgia, figured out how to fry a chicken sandwich with a pressure cooker in the same amount of time as a fast food cheeseburger could be made. He originally began selling the sandwiches to other restaurants and concession stands, but by 1967, he opened a standalone fast food chain called Chick-fil-A. Despite their claim, they didn't exactly invent the fried chicken sandwich, but they definitely popularized it and made it widespread. Popeyes and other chain restaurants have tried their hand at chicken sandwiches since then. Waffle fries, anyone?
Hard-shell tacos from Taco Bell
We know what you're thinking — Taco Bell isn't real Mexican food. And in some sense, you'd be right! It was opened by Glen Bell, a white guy from California. He was originally selling hot dogs and hamburgers out of a drive-in when he noticed the Mitla Cafe, run by Lucia and Salvador Rodriguez across the street, was selling something called tacos dorados. They made do with the ingredients they hand on hand in San Bernardino: ground beef, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and cheese in a deep-fried corn tortilla. They let him see how the tacos were made, and he reverse-engineered the recipe and started a taco stand that would evolve into the massive Taco Bell franchise we know and love today, with a menu expanded to include burritos, nacho fries, and Crunchwraps. And don't worry — the Mitla Cafe is still in its original location, run by third-generation family members.
Biscuits from Hardee's
Hardee's (or Carl's Jr., depending on what side of the country you're on) is mostly known as a typical fast food restaurant, with French fries, cheeseburgers, chicken tenders, milkshakes, and more. They were founded in 1960, and unlike many other fast food chains, they served breakfast. By the 1970s, franchise owners in Virginia were making from-scratch biscuits to help dwindling sales. The biscuits were a big hit, and by 1977, corporate Hardee's had biscuits on all their menus. Their famous biscuit recipe is a secret, but you can make them at home with a copycat recipe!
Frosty from Wendy's
When founder Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy's in 1969, he wanted an ice cream dessert on the menu. He liked chocolate, but he thought something too chocolately would overwhelm the taste of the burgers. He also thought that milkshakes were too thin, and wanted something thicker. Thus the Frosty, the "light chocolate" frozen dairy dessert, was born. In 2006, a vanilla version was introduced in response to customer requests. Though Wendy's is primarily a burger joint, the Frosty certainly ranks high on a list of special fast food desserts.
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