In a day and age where we rank pretty much everything, it's hard to believe no one has compiled a definitive list of the most popular fast foods on the planet; But alas, no such treasured document exists. However, that doesn't mean we weren't able to use some related data to compile a list of the most popular fast foods on our own.
We used this Forbes list of the top ten global fast food brands, which ranks fast-food restaurants based on the number of international units they have, to determine which restaurant chains have the best worldwide reach. We also looked at a QSR ranking of the top 50 brands in quick service and fast casual, which ranked by systemwide sales in the United States in 2014, to help fill in some gaps.
From there we researched the most popular item at several of those aforementioned chains, and our list of most popular fast foods on the planet began to take shape.
However, because this is not an exact science, we've also included some popular international fast food items that might not be familiar to American diners but are still making a splash around the world.
McDonald's French Fries
With nearly 37,000 restaurants worldwide, McDonald's is the most popular fast food chain on the planet. And what's the most popular item at the most popular fast food chain on Earth, you ask? According to Business Insider, that honor goes to the brand's iconic French fries, which are sold in all corners of the world. Though tasty, McD's fries are packed with sodium; still, they actually fared pretty well on our list of McDonald's menu—ranked!
McDonald's Big Mac
Since McDonald's is so popular—the chain has nearly 19,000 international outposts alone—it seemed only right to give it another spot on this list. Per Business Insider, the second most popular Mickey D's item of all time is the Big Mac. This sandwich made its debut in the late 1960s and has since been consumed well over 550 million times in the U.S. alone.
McDonald's Happy Meal
While you might be getting a bit of McDonald's fatigue, no fast food ranking would be complete without mentioning the Happy Meal—an entree marketed to children worldwide for the first time in the 1970s. Since kid's food had previously been an untapped market, the Happy Meal is now McDonald's fourth most popular dish of all time. Estimates suggest more than 3.6 billion Happy Meals have been sold worldwide.
KFC's Original Recipe Chicken
There are over 20,000 KFC outlets in more than 125 countries and territories around the world, and nothing beats the chain's Original Recipe Chicken. Made with a unique blend of 11 herbs and spices, it's not difficult to see why this classic is so beloved across the globe. In fact, in 2006 KFC sold more than one billion chicken dinners. Other popular KFC dishes include popcorn chicken, boneless wings, and the extremely unhealthy Double Down, where two pieces of fried chicken serve as the bun of the sandwich.
Subway's Italian BMT
Since there are 38 million subway sandwich options available for customers, it's difficult to determine which sandwich reigns supreme. However, the general consensus seems to be that the chain's most popular item is the Italian BMT—or "Big Meaty Tasty—sub, with salami, pepperoni, and ham. Check out this list of Subway subs, ranked by nutrition, to see how your favorites stack up.
Pizza Hut's Pepperoni Pizza
Pizza Hut is the most popular pizza chain in America, and that's to say nothing of the roughly 5,900 stores the company operates internationally. According to a 2012 Facebook post that came from the Hut itself, the chain's most popular item is a large pepperoni pizza.
Wendy's currently has locations in 30 countries around the world, and though the chain is famous for its burgers, one of the most popular Wendy's items is a Frosty. According to How Stuff Works, the chocolate Frosty was one of Wendy's original five menu items and remains a top seller for the fast-food chain. In fact, Wendy's sells about 300 million of the milkshake-like beverages each year.
Burger King's Whopper
Though Burger King hasn't quite reached the popularity of rival McDonald's, the burger chain still has a hit on their hands with the flame-broiled Whopper, which consists of one-quarter pound beef patty between a sesame seed bun with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and sliced onion. In addition to thousands of stores stateside, Burger King has franchises in 69 other countries around the world. It's estimated the chain sells millions of Whoppers each year.
Taco Bell's Crunchy Taco
Taco Bell serves more than two billion customers each year and sells roughly the same amount of tacos via its 7,000 restaurants worldwide. Thrillist reports the crunchy taco was the most popular item on the Taco Bell menu in 2016, followed by the soft taco. The bean burrito, nacho cheese Doritos locos taco, and nachos round out the top five.
Chick-fil-A's Waffle Fries
According to Chick-fil-A's blog, The Chicken Wire, the fan-favorite waffle fries placed first on the chicken chain's list of most-ordered menu items. Fun fact from Chick-fil-A itself: their waffle fry recipe has remained unchangedsince its debut in 1985.
Chick-fil-A's Chicken Sandwich
Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy is often credited with inventing the boneless chicken sandwich, so it makes sense the beloved fast food item would be amongst the most popular in the world. Though only operational in portions of the United States and Canada, those who love Chick-fil-A simply can't get enough of it. In fact, Business Insider reports Chick-fil-A's average sales per restaurant in 2014 were $3.1 million, while fried chicken competitor KFC sold $960,000 per restaurant, though they have many more stores.Even though Chick-fil-A sells more chicken sandwiches than other rival chains, according to the restaurant, their fried chicken sandwich only places third on their list of most-ordered menu items. (Right behind soda!)
Before you chow down on chicken, familiarize yourself with the menu with this comprehensive list of Every Item at Chick-fil-A—Ranked!
Dairy Queen's Blizzards
Dairy Queen has 6,400 stores in the United States (with 600 in Texas alone) and an additional 802 stores across the globe, making it one of the most popular fast food chains worldwide. Though DQ serves burgers, fries, and other savory items, its ice-cream based Blizzards are most popular. If you're curious as to how your favorite DQ sweet treats stack up, take a look at Every Dairy Queen Blizzard—Ranked!
McDonald's Japan's Ebi Filet-O
Of the 37,000 McDonald's restaurants worldwide, roughly 3,000 of them are in Japan—which is second only to the U.S. in the number of Golden Arch establishments per country. One of the most popular items on the menu is McDonald's Japan's Ebi Filet-O, which is akin to a Filet-O-Fish, but with shrimp.
KFC China's Shrimp Burger
China is the most populous country in the world, and believe it or not, KFC is China's most powerful international brand. The shrimp burger (similar to McDonald's Japan's Ebi Filet-O) served there is one of the most frequently-ordered menu items, with billions estimated to be sold each year. Other popular KFC China offerings include a double Sichuan spicy chicken burger and a curry pork chop with rice.
KFC India's Potato Krisper
KFC has also made quite an impression on the world's second-most populated country—India. There, The Daily Meal reports you can order something called a potato krisper, which is essentially a sandwich consisting of a potato patty and a tangy sauce in a bun.
Unfortunately, potato krispers aren't great for your waistline, so if you're traveling internationally and looking to indulge, be sure to brush up on the best fat-burning foods!
One of the main reasons for fast food's popularity is the convenience factor. Instead of having to spend time in your kitchen and at a grocery store preparing a meal you can spend mere minutes at a fast food restaurant and get a full meal.What is the most popular fast food in the world? ›
But what is the biggest fast food chain? The world's top fast food restaurant chain is McDonald's with 40,100 stores worldwide. McDonald's is also confirmed to be the most popular chain worldwide in 2021 with over 40,000 stores and sales of over 21.07 billion in 2020.Why is fast food so popular does it taste good or bad? ›
Fast food is popular because the food is inexpensive, convenient, and tastes good. Fast food may include refined grains instead of whole grains, contain saturated fat, cholesterol, and added sugar, and it can be high in sodium (aka salt) which is used as a preservative and makes food more flavorful and satisfying.Why is fast food bad for you reasons why you should skip the trip to your favorite fast food restaurant? ›
Such risks include obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and various cardiovascular conditions. This is because most fast food is high in sugar, salt, saturated fat, trans fats, processed ingredients, and calories. It is also generally low in antioxidants, fiber, and many other nutrients.How does the popularity of fast food restaurants affect society? ›
Especially because “meat,” dairy, and eggs are the main ingredients in fast food, the exponential increase in its consumption has engendered a wide range of negative social impacts—including rapidly rising rates of diet-related disease, worker exploitation, systemic animal abuse, and environmental degradation.What are the effects of eating too much fast food? ›
Eating a poor quality diet high in junk food is linked to a higher risk of obesity, depression, digestive issues, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and early death.When was fast food most popular? ›
Fast Food during the 1950s and 60s. In the 1950s and 60s, fast food chains – epitomized by McDonald's – revolutionized the restaurant industry and changed farming and food distribution businesses.Why is fast food popular in America? ›
Fast food in the United States is popular because it's just that - fast! Its convenience and speed make it an easy choice for families and people on the go. Most families in America (83% of them) eat it at least once a week. Many fast food meals are even eaten in the car, as much as 20%.Is fast food worse than restaurant food? ›
Full-service restaurant meals:
Had an average of 1,033 calories, over half of the daily recommendation for energy intake. Contained 38% more calories than fast-food meals, on average. Were 3x less likely than fast-food meals to be under 600 calories (the UK public health recommendation for a meal)
Most junk food has a high amount of salt, sugar and trans and saturated fats that foods cause the release of neurotransmitters called dopamine and oxytocin from our brains. These neurotransmitters then transmit the feeling of relaxation, joy and pleasure, that makes us want to come back for more.
Junk foods can hamper the signalling of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin (the happy hormones). This can lead to depression and other mental health disorders. Canadian researchers have found that fast food can often result in people feeling more hurried or impatient.Is fast food always unhealthy? ›
Fast food is typically loaded with calories, sodium, and unhealthy fat—often enough in one meal for an entire day. It also tends to be low in nutrients and almost totally lacking in fruit, vegetables, and fiber. That doesn't mean you have to avoid fast food entirely.Does fast food have a positive or negative impact on society? ›
Fast food has many adverse effects on our health and society. The long-term health risks include obesity and heart disease. Fast food also impacts the environment by producing waste and carbon emissions.What is the negative impact of fast food industry on environment? ›
Many fast food industries also leads in consumption of paper and waste production for packaging purposes. Unnecessary packaging wastes litter around and goes to landfills. Proper recycling of plastic packaging does not occur which leads more to pollution.How much does fast food affect the economy? ›
Globally, fast food generates revenue of over $570 billion, which is bigger than the economic value of most countries. US revenue was a whopping $200 billion in 2015 versus $6 billion in 1970. By 2020, US revenue is forecasted to exceed $223 billion.How bad is eating fast food everyday? ›
Long-term effects of eating junk food
Eating a poor quality diet high in junk food is linked to a higher risk of obesity, depression, digestive issues, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and early death.
A review of studies on fast food and heart health found having fast food more than once a week was linked to a higher risk of obesity, while eating fast food more than twice a week was associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and death from coronary heart disease.How often is too much fast food? ›
Remember that junk foods are okay to eat occasionally, but they should not make up more than 10% of your daily energy intake. In a day, this may be a simple treat such as a small muffin or a few squares of chocolate. On a weekly basis, this might mean no more than two fast-food meals per week.What is America's #1 favorite food? ›
The Number 1 Most Popular Foods in America are Hamburgers! What is this?What is the most popular type of food in the US? ›
With an average of over 3.35 million searches per month in the U.S., Chinese is Americans' favorite food. Mexican food. With an average of 1.22 million Google searches per month in the U.S., Mexican is Americans' second favorite food. Thai food.
The largest fast food chain in the US is McDonald's, with a revenue of $23.18 billion and a market share of 43.8%. As of 2021, the US fast food industry has a market size of $366.9 billion. 36.6% of Americans consume fast food every day.What is the 2nd most popular fast food in the world? ›
|Country of origin||Name|
You may eat quickly not only because you feel like you're doing something wrong but also because it's so exciting! When we are excited to do (or eat) something, it naturally causes us to speed up and rush through it - it's the same, or even more so, with food.What country eats the most fast food? ›
According to a study by CEO World Magazine, the United States and the United Kingdom are the most fast-food-obsessed countries in the world. France and Sweden ranked third and fourth spots, followed by Austria, Mexico, and South Korea.When did fast food become more popular? ›
In the 1950s and 60s, fast food chains – epitomized by McDonald's – revolutionized the restaurant industry and changed farming and food distribution businesses.Is fast food getting more popular? ›
In California, there was a 49% increase in fast food consumption in 2021. That ranks 10th out of the 50 states in the country. According to the study, McDonald's is the most popular fast food restaurant in California. For 2021, the study says Sonic was the most popular in 14 states, which is the most in the country.What are the reasons that have contributed to the increased popularity of Western fast food chains in India? ›
High income and growing urbanization have also contributed to a shift in the traditional Indian food habits. High-income urban dwellers are seeking variety in their choice of foods and are willing to spend more on international cuisine, including fast foods.Why is fast food so popular in America? ›
Fast food in the United States is popular because it's just that - fast! Its convenience and speed make it an easy choice for families and people on the go. Most families in America (83% of them) eat it at least once a week. Many fast food meals are even eaten in the car, as much as 20%.Why is fast food so addictive? ›
Eating junk food causes a release of dopamine in the brain. This reward encourages susceptible individuals to eat more unhealthy foods.Why do Americans eat so fast? ›
Fast food is high in calories, fat, and sodium, which are associated with increased risks for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Fast food is also convenient, affordable, and readily available. These are just some of the reasons why Americans eat it so much.
According to the study — published last week in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — even with lighter items in the mix, fast food menus are less healthy than they were 30 years ago.Is fast food really the main cause of increased obesity rates? ›
Impact of junk foods on body weight
High intake of fried foods and artificially sweetened drinks are found to be directly linked with high body mass index and obesity in children.
While the researchers emphasized that eating junk food is still certainly unhealthy, they concluded that the overwhelming majority of weight problems are not caused by consumption of soda, candy and fast food alone. Rather the problem is that many Americans are just eating too much and not exercising enough.