When you think about fast food, you don’t often think about what’s different. The thoughts that start streaming into your head are probably all of the typical ones: burgers, fries, pizza, maybe fried chicken and tacos. How often, though, do you really get to try something truly different, something truly innovative at a fast food place? Sure there have been items that came and went because the public just couldn’t handle them, but then there are the strangely popular fast food items that stuck around. They hit just the right chord with people that they instantly became fixtures in the fast food world. Some of these items may only be available at certain times of year, but people wait for those periods like kids getting excited for Christmas. No one probably would have expected any of these fast food items to become as popular as they did, if only because of how strange some of them seemed at first. However, all of these strangely popular fast food items now have their place in the history. If there’s any lesson we can all learn from this, it’s that we shouldn’t turn our nose up at ideas that seem a little bit crazy at first. After all, if we did that all the time, we may not have ended up with the light bulb, or the computer, or the pumpkin spice latte. When we keep our minds open, we get to have more fun experiencing these crazy creations. These are the top ten strange but also strangely popular fast food items.
The McRib was introduced in 1981 and is probably what most people would consider the holy grail of strangely popular fast food items. People tend to go a little crazy when the McRib comes around because of its limited availability. McDonald’s typically only sells the sandwich for a short amount of time every fall. However, the popularity of this sandwich has overshadowed how strange it actually is when you really think about it closely. It’s a pressed patty made of pork (McRib is also a bit of a misnomer since the patty is made mostly of pork shoulder), shaped to look like ribs (bones included, because why not?), and served on a long sandwich bun with onions and pickles. It should have been a flop simply because of what a strange idea it is, however McDonald’s seemed to stumble onto something amazing with this sandwich, because it is one of their most endearing and popular menu items. There’s even an entire website dedicated to telling you where you can get a McRib. Part of that may be due to its limited availability, giving it somewhat of a legend status. If you want the McRib year round, you could always move to Germany, where the sandwich is a permanent menu item.
The Baconator is the ultimate example of the KISS method: Keep it Simple, Stupid. As far as the items on this list go, the Baconator is probably not exactly the strangest fast food item, but it is one of the most ambitious. First of all, let’s talk about the name. Calling this burger the Baconator makes it sound like its going to literally terminate you with bacon. It was a gambit on the part of Wendy’s to introduce a burger so callously unafraid to be what it is: beef and bacon. The sandwich consists of two beef patties, cheese, and six, count ‘em, six strips of bacon. It is also one of the only burgers the chain offers that doesn’t feature any vegetables, because let’s face it: if you’re ordering something called the Baconator, you’re not exactly in the market for something healthy. It may have been the intimidating name, and it may have been the content of the sandwich, but the Baconator has become one of Wendy’s signature sandwiches since it was introduced in 2007. Burger King may have tried to copy the Baconator with its own BK Stacker, but come on, when it’s stacker vs. Baconator, who do you expect to win the fight?
8. Stuffed Crust Pizza
When you’re talking about strangely popular fast food items, it’s absolutely impossible not to mention one of the first novelty pizzas ever introduced at Pizza Hut. That’s right, we’re talking about the stuffed crust pizza. You might remember the ads that said the best way to eat this pizza was crust first, because it was filled with gooey, melty, mozzarella. If ever there was a way to make people eat their pizza crust, this was definitely it. The stuffed crust pizza was first introduced in 1995 and it quickly became a hot item. Pizza Hut dumped $45 million into an ad campaign for the new menu item, and even hired Donald Trump to appear in the commercials. It seems like an antiquated idea now, seeing as we live in the age of “add cheese and bacon to literally everything,” but back in the nineties, the stuffed crust pizza blew people’s minds. As the years went on, Pizza Hut continued to innovate this already innovative menu item by adding pepperoni, bacon, and even more cheese on the top of the crust. Although, when it comes to stuffed crust pizza, adding anything else to it is really just trying to improve on perfection.
7. Dippin’ Dots
“Why do you need to make ice cream differently?” That’s what people were probably thinking when they saw Dippin’ Dots for the first time. Originally marketed as the ice cream of the future, Dippin’ Dots were invented in 1988 by flash freezing ice cream mix in liquid nitrogen. While no one was ever going to think that these tiny, colourful balls were going to totally replace ice cream, they really did become popular as a novelty item, something that you could only really get if you were at an amusement park (which was where they really started to gain momentum with ice cream fans). There really is something fun about eating ice cream in a completely different form. Dippin’ Dots could almost be considered one of the first mainstream examples of molecular gastronomy: something that everyone knows but made differently to appeal to all of your senses. Dippin’ Dots is still going strong and was brought back into the public consciousness by an unlikely source: former US Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who had some kind of weird feud with the company. Either way, this unlikely way to consume ice cream seemed to appeal to people who wanted to try something different but familiar, and really that’s the key to making strangely popular fast food items: take something everyone knows, and tweak it just a little bit to create something new and amazing.
People love McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches and people love pancakes, so why did it take so long for someone to come up with what is essentially the best breakfast sandwich of all time, the McGriddle? You’ve got everything you could ever want: sausage or bacon, cheese, and egg sandwiched between two pancake buns with the maple syrup baked right into them. As far as perfection goes, the McGriddle is about as close as you’re going to get (at least in terms of fast food breakfast items). The sandwich was first introduced in 2003, and since its release it has become a beloved staple of the McDonald’s breakfast menu. Unfortunately, it is not included as part of the all day breakfast, so if you want one of these masterpieces of fast food engineering, then you’re going to have to get up and get one before 11AM. When the McGriddle first appeared, people were a little bit confused by it, if not a little incensed. It might have been the idea of mixing that McDonald’s cheese with syrupy pancakes, but the combination just works somehow. The McGriddle has since been improved by using a real egg instead of the original folded, powdered scramble.
5. Naked Chicken Chalupa
Taco Bell has never been any stranger to making some very weird food items, but because of their willingness to experiment, they have created some of the most endearing and strangely popular fast food items on the market today. One of those is the naked chicken chalupa. People might have scoffed at the idea of using a folded breaded chicken breast as a taco shell, but the naked chicken chalupa proved to be an insanely popular menu choice for people. Like the McRib, the naked chicken chalupa is only available for a limited time during certain parts of the year, but its elusiveness just makes it all the more tempting. The innovative taco is filled with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and avocado ranch, but if you’re willing to get experimental, you can add any number of ingredients to it, including even more meat. This makes the naked chicken chalupa one of the ideal fast food menu items for people trying to get a little more protein in their diet (don’t get us wrong, it’s still not healthy). So if you’re in the market for getting even more meat in your fast food by any means possible, you could do a lot worse than the naked chicken chalupa, as long as its available in your area.
4. Chicken Fries
“Why should fries only be made of potatoes?” Asked some genius at Burger King headquarters. That may not exactly be how chicken fries came to exist, but it’s fun to think that these crispy, meaty sticks came to exist because some guy was tired of spuds. Burger King introduced chicken fries in 2005 as a menu item that would appeal to older, more sophisticated fast food diners. Chicken fries were meant less as a meal and more of a causal snack. The box was even designed to fit in the cup holder of a car. People went crazy for this innovative item from Burger King, and the restaurant chain even introduced an ad campaign that utilized a band called Coq Roq in order to further market chicken fries to men aged 24 to 36. However, the restaurant chain was sued by the band Slipknot because the commercial band was so similar to their on staged masked personas. Despite the legal hiccup, chicken fries remained a popular menu item at the King. Chicken Fries also became one of the big comeback stories in fast food. They were discontinued in 2012, but brought back for a limited time in 2015. They proved to be so popular once again that they have now become a permanent menu item at Burger King.
3. Pumpkin Spice Latte
It comes every single fall, and over time it’s become a punch line of sorts, but the pumpkin spice latte, far from being basic, is one of the most enduring and endearing strangely popular fast food items to ever be unleashed upon the world. The PSL, as it is known in internet shorthand, was first introduced by Starbucks in 2003. Initially, the drink was so popular that locations couldn’t keep up with the demand. It seemed strange that something that was supposed to taste like pumpkin pie, itself a divisive dessert among people who love sweets, would become such a raging hit among coffee drinkers. However, the PSL, a regular latte spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, soon became a staple of the Starbucks coffee family. Though it is only available during the fall of every year, it is always one of the most hotly anticipated and strangely popular fast food items at Starbucks. Surprisingly, despite the name, the original drink never actually contained any pumpkin flavour. In 2015, Starbucks began adding a small amount of pumpkin puree to the drink. Some people may lament what has come to be known as “pumpkin spice season,” when everything is suddenly pumpkin spiced flavour, but the PSL did it first, and some would say, still does it best.
2. Doritos Locos Taco
Come on, you knew we couldn’t make a list about strangely popular fast food items without mentioning this monster. It seemed like something out of a stoner’s fever dream: what if there was a taco, but the shell was made of dorito? Dude, it’s totally real. The Doritos Locos Taco was introduced by Taco Bell in 2012, and it immediately became a huge hit with consumers. While it was as much a punchline as a popular fast food item, it didn’t change the fact that Taco Bell had clearly hit the sweet spot between silly and delicious that every fast food giant is looking for. While the original Doritos Locos Taco utilized the chip’s famous nacho cheese flavour, it was only a matter of time before Taco Bell introduced the Cool Ranch variant of its Frankenstein monster of a taco. The Doritos Locos Taco continues to be one of Taco Bell’s greatest hits, even producing its own limited time only Doritos flavour. Yes, that’s right. Doritos made a flavour that was based on a taco that utilized Doritos flavour. If your mind is totally blown by that fact, then you must not be thinking about how insane that actually is.
1. Double Down
It’s the absolute king of all the strangely popular fast food items. The KFC Double Down has proven that it is not going anywhere, and that it clearly has a lasting appeal with people. When it was first introduced in 2010, it was widely mocked as an indicator of fast food decadence gone completely off the rails. “So wait a minute, you’re just eliminating the bun and adding more fried chicken? What is this, a heart attack in a box?” And yet, the Double Down has become so insanely popular that there have been many different variations on it, including the newest chicken and waffle Double Down. Like the naked chicken chalupa, the double Down is packed with protein (at the cost of saturated fat and calories, of course), however if you wanted something slightly more healthy you could get the sandwich with grilled chicken instead. The Double Down is a fantastic option if you want a lot of meat with absolutely no bun to get in the way of your enjoyment. Did we mention that this thing also includes cheese and bacon? What more could you want from a sandwich? Things may change and the world will keep turning, but the KFC Double Down will endure, because it is what we all want out of life, even if we’re too ashamed to admit it.