This Is the Most Popular Fast Food Menu Item of All Time

Hint: This food has been on the menu since 1949, and sells by the billions every day. Can you guess?

A handful of foods are so popular they’re actually iconic. Most people not only know how they taste but also how they look, their packaging, the way they smell. McDonald’s french fries epitomize this: the thin, pliable red cardboard container, the golden exterior and fluffy interior, the extra fine salt sticking to my fingers. I always dig into the box for the short, brittle, super-crunchy fries, though the longer, softer fries are definitely the best for dipping.

Turns out, I’m far from alone in my love for McDonald’s fries: They’re the most popular fast food of all time.

(Want to know the scientific reason McDonald’s fries are so tasty?)

By the Numbers

Obviously, McDonald’s is a burger-slinging giant, with 37,000 restaurants worldwide and 14,155 in the U.S. alone. They feed 69 million customers every day. How many fries does that require? About 9 million pounds. Every single day.

According to NBC News, McDonald’s uses more than 3.4 billion pounds of U.S.-grown potatoes every year. They’re the biggest buyer of potatoes in the entire world.

More mind-blowing facts about McDonald’s right this way.

Why Fries Are #1

According to HowStuffWorks, french fries are the most popular menu item at McDonald’s. Not only do many people order fries on their own, fries are also included in almost every meal, from Happy Meals to the biggest burger combos on the board.

Fries also have another edge on rival fast food menu items: They’ve been around for decades. French fries first appeared in 1949—back then they were made with fresh potatoes! Frozen spuds came along in 1967. Here’s what the McDonald’s menu looked like the year you were born.

What Makes ’em So Good?

Some people say it’s the coat of sugar the fresh-cut potatoes get before they’re frozen—the slight sweetness offsets all that salt and makes you keep eating. Others believe it’s the company’s artificial beef flavoring, which was added in the mid-’90s when the company switched from frying in beef fat to frying in vegetable oil (a move that made fries trans-fat free). The artificial beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk, so the fries aren’t gluten-free or vegan.

It might not sound particularly delicious, but they sure taste good.

How Do I Make French Fries At Home?

While you can’t beat the convenience of a drive-thru, this copycat fry recipe will satisfy your fast food cravings.


  • 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch julienned slices. A mandoline slicer ($30) makes quick work of this task!
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper


  1. Place potatoes in a bowl drizzle with butter and toss to coat. Transfer to a lightly greased 15x10x1-in. baking pan.
  2. Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 45 minutes until golden brown, turning once. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Craving more McDonald’s? Replicate more of their signature foods at home.

McDonald's Copycats to Make NOW
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Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes, cooks and travels from her home base of Chicago. After going gluten-free over a decade ago, Kelsey turned to home cooking and baking as a way to recreate her favorite foods. Her specialties include gluten-free sourdough bread, pizza and pastry. When not wrangling her toddler, she enjoys reading, watching old movies and writing. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, was published by William Morrow in 2019, and her second is forthcoming.