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Secret Menus, Menu Hacks: The 5 Best Fast Food Items of 2022

Shake Shack made a nod to stoners and the McDonald’s secret menu finally became official.



Shake Shack made a nod to stoners and the McDonald's secret menu finally became official.

A year is a very long time in the world of fast-food, with many promotions lasting only a couple of weeks or at most months. A unique shake or burger from last spring might as well be from another lifetime when one looks at today's menus.

In 2022, fast-food chains tapped into trends ranging from fusion of what was once considered un-fusable to the nostalgia for one's childhood menus. Seasonality also played a larger role than it had in the past as Wendy's  (WEN) - Get Free Report toyed with a strawberry Frosty in the summer and a peppermint one in the winter while Shake Shack  (SHAK) - Get Free Report made a nod to the questionable April holiday of 420.

As the year winds to an end, we thought we'd take a look at five of the most unique fast food promotions of the year.

A Not-So-Secret Secret Menu

Fans of McDonald's  (MCD) - Get Free Report know that whispers of a "secret menu" date all the way back to the 1980s--that was when some superfans first started asking workers to stack a Filet-O-Fish on top of a cheeseburger and calling it a Surf-N-Turf. There are now entire websites dedicated to finding hacks that will allow one to get the ultimate McDonald's item.

In January, McDonald's finally validated this community by launching items like the Surf + Turf, the Hash Brown McMuffin (a McMuffin with the chain's hash brown in between the egg and sausage), the Crunchy Double (chicken nuggets over a burger) and the Land, Air & Sea (a monster of a stacked McChicken, a Big Mac, and a Filet-O-Fish) at locations across the country. The one caveat was that they came as separate items for fans to assemble themselves (some are just too large and risk collapsing before getting to the customer.)


A Meal Fit for  Stoner

In time for spring, Shake Shake launched a milkshake called the "Wake And Shake" -- some fans saw it as a riff on the term "wake and bake" and the combination of vanilla custard, Red Bay coffee, maple syrup, and orange zest could certainly be perceived as the type of meal someone who smokes marijuana first thing in the morning would have.

While the reference was a joke (nothing in there but the ingredients above!) and not officially acknowledged by the burger chain, the fact that Shake Shack even went so far indicates the loosening social and a corporate attitudes toward marijuana as more states moved to legalize. 

Only a few years ago, a mainstream brand would not risk having its image associated with anything more than hemp and CBD.

Shake Shack

The Rotating Frosty Flavor

Wendy's has been making a big push to expand its breakfast offering but one of the most popular changes came when it started expanding with different Frosty flavors -- strawberry in May and peppermint in November.

Prior to this year, the chain rarely deviated from the chocolate ice cream drink that has been on the menu since the burger chain launched in 1969 and the vanilla that came around by 2006.

As the machines at most Wendy's restaurants are only equipped to offer two Frosty flavors at a time, this is truly a limited-time promotion--Wendy's temporarily pulls the vanilla to give fans a new seasonal flavor that is gone for good when the promotion ends.

Search for the Perfect Plant-Based Burger 

Burger King may have had a quieter year than some of its counterparts but the Restaurant Brands International  (QSR) - Get Free Report-owned chain been on a mission to dominate the plant-based burger space.

In June, the chain launched a lineup of different Whoppers made with Impossible meat to a menu that was already not absent of plant-based burgers -- the Impossible King with American cheese, onions, pickles and ketchup and even the Impossible Southwest Bacon Whopper for the mistrusting carnivores (the bacon is real but the beef is plant-based).

Meanwhile, McDonald's spent years talking about how it would launch the McPlant but ultimately pulled it from U.S. menus after sales did not live up to expectations

Nacho Fries, Mexican Pizza And Much More

For years, Yum!  (YUM) - Get Free Report Brands-owned Taco Bell has been the king of LTOs (that's short for "limited-time offers"). While it does have a steady menu of workhorses, the Tex-Mex chain constantly plays with fans hearts by introducing and then pulling certain items.

While this year Taco Bell experimented with everything from strawberry truffles to the Enchirito (an old-school classic that some still remember from the 1980s), the true winners of 2022 were the Nacho Fries and Mexican Pizza -- the outrage when the chain ran out of the latter amid high demand was so loud that Taco Bell CEO Mark King finally caved and promised to make it a permanent menu item.

"I had more feedback--hate mail!--over the removal of Mexican pizza [than any other time]," King first told Fortune Magazine.

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