- This year, fast-food chains have released a number of attention-grabbing menu items.
- From KFC’s polarizing fried chicken and donuts sandwich to McDonald’s collaborations with artists Travis Scott and J Balvin, some fast-food launches broke the internet this year.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Fast-food releases during a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and an attention-grabbing election have admittedly been hit or miss.
While some new menu items barely registered with customers, others sent fans scrambling to their nearest McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack, and more.
Travis Scott’s meal collaboration with McDonald’s caused burger shortages as customers tried to get their hands on the limited-time offer, while the chain’s spicy nuggets quickly sold out just two weeks after being released.
McDonald’s also decided to bring back the polarizing McRib, much to customers’ delight. However, one Insider reporter was a little let down by the nostalgic menu item’s return. Jack in the Box and Shake Shack also answered fans’ requests to bring back popular menu items.
Here are all the fast-food releases customers have loved in 2020, so far.
Arguably one of the chain’s most famous menu items, Jack in the Box delighted fans when it announced Tiny Tacos would make their return to menus nationwide in January. QSR Magazine called the Tiny Taco’s return “highly-anticipated” and referred to the item as a “fan-favorite.”
A miniature version of the chain’s regular tacos, Tiny Tacos can be ordered plain or “loaded” with cheese sauce, shredded lettuce, and Jack in the Box’s taco sauce.
In February, KFC launched its polarizing fried chicken and donuts sandwich nationwide.
After testing out the calorie-packed creation in select cities back in 2019, KFC launched its donut fried chicken sandwich nationwide earlier this year. Though only available for a limited time, the sandwiches quickly captured the attention of fast-food lovers nationwide.
Described as “viral” and “controversial” by Business Insider, the overall consensus of our team of taste testers was that “although the chicken-and-doughnuts combo tasted like sweet, artery-clogging death, it was also the most delicious new item that KFC has come out with in a long time.”
Taco Bell released a new Grilled Cheese Burrito in July.
While Taco Bell has a stacked lineup of burritos, the grilled cheese burrito stands above the rest as a fan-favorite — one of Insider’s food reporters even called the new menu item “the chain’s best dish in years.”
Reactions on Twitter to the menu item are also overwhelmingly positive, with one user calling it “the best burrito ever,” while another said, “I have an insatiable hunger that can only be satisfied by Taco Bell grilled cheese burrito.”
It’s easy to see why the new menu item has become a fan favorite — the cheesy burrito only costs $2.99.
McDonald’s brought out a spicy version of its iconic chicken McNuggets in September, to much fanfare.
The new limited-time-only menu item was thought to be in response to the flourishing market for fast-food chicken products, as well as the smash success of Wendy’s spicy chicken nuggets.
And, while Business Insider’s fast-food taste-tester Irene Jiang found that the spicy nuggets fell short of her expectations, customers seemed to disagree — the menu item and the spicy hot sauce they came paired with quickly sold out just two weeks after being released.
“We’re thrilled with the positive response to these limited-time offerings,” McDonald’s said in a statement. “If our customers truly can’t get enough, there’s always a chance we’ll bring limited-time menu items back in the future.”
McDonald’s and Travis Scott’s “Cactus Jack” meal collaboration broke the internet after its release in early September.
The “Cactus Jack” meal includes a Quarter Pounder with cheese, bacon, and lettuce, plus a medium fry with barbecue sauce, and a Sprite with extra ice for $6. Fans went wild for the meal, as well as the musician’s line of McDonald’s-themed merchandise.
As a result of the massive popularity of the meal, McDonald’s told Business Insider that the chain was even experiencing burger shortages.
“It’s been so lit, some of our restaurants have temporarily sold out of some of the ingredients in the meal,” McDonald’s said. “We’re working closely with our suppliers, distributors, and franchisees to resupply impacted restaurants as quickly as possible.”
Shake Shack’s Hot Chick’n sandwich was released in September.
Following the smash success of Popeyes’ chicken sandwich last year, many chains released new iterations of their own this year.
After three years of Shake Shack fans asking the chain to bring back its Hot Chick’n sandwich, the New York-based chain finally delivered. On September 1, 2020, Shake Shack announced it would be bringing back its spicy sandwich in either hot, extra hot, or fire, plus hot chicken bites and hot and spicy cheese fries.
“Like with the Shack burger, a major factor is the potato bun. There may be breads on this earth just as good, but there are few that are better. The sandwich comes with a slaw that neither subtracts nor adds too much for me,” wrote TC Fleming of the Dallas Observer. “The full picture does add up to an enticing item we should all be glad to welcome back.”
Also in September, Whataburger released a limited-time-only spicy chicken sandwich.
After its release on September 29, 2020, fans of regional chain Whataburger were quick to shout out the new limited-time-only spicy chicken sandwich.
Shelby Stuart, a writer for Chron, wrote, “Because of its impeccable spice and heat, I think the sandwich can compete for the top spot among fast spicy chicken sandwiches, right up there next to Popeyes’ famed offering. All other food chains and their spicy sandwiches are sub-par — and maybe this is the Texan in me, but what Whataburger has done puts everyone else to shame.”
People on Twitter also praised the new menu item, with one user calling it “a better spicy chicken sandwich than @PopeyesChicken” and another saying, “Now this is a GREAT Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Others need to take note how this thing taste! Spicy, flavorful wonderful. Hope they make it permanent.”
Chick-fil-A began testing a brand new chicken sandwich – the Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich – in September, as well.
Chick-fil-A, which only offers a regular chicken sandwich, a deluxe version, and a spicy version, delighted fans with the release of its Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich in select markets in South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina.
While the menu item has yet to be expanded to other states, some online reviewers managed to get their hands on the new offering.
YouTube reviewer PapiEats was a big fan of the new sandwich and said the pimento was perfectly spicy and that the sandwich had “tasty jalapenos.”
“Hopefully they’ll bring this nationwide because it’s amazing,” he said in a YouTube review of the sandwich.
The following month, Wendy’s dropped its own spicy chicken sandwich.
In an age where seemingly every chain is dropping a new fried chicken sandwich, Wendy’s also threw its hat into the ring this year. A different variation on the chain’s original spicy chicken sandwich, the spicy crispy chicken nixed the tomatoes and added a layer of mayonnaise to a crispy chicken patty.
While the sandwich didn’t make as many waves as the Popeyes chicken sandwich last year or even the multiple new sandwiches this year, Wendy’s still held its own among a lengthy list of new releases this year that simply went unnoticed.
According to data from Google Trends, searches for Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwiches increased after the new version was released.
Following the huge success of McDonald’s Travis Scott meal in September, the chain launched another celebrity collaboration with J Balvin in October.
Available through November 1, J Balvin’s McDonald’s meal included a few classic favorites — a Big Mac with no pickles, a medium fry, an Oreo McFlurry, and ketchup. For customers who ordered the J Balvin meal through the McDonald’s app, they would get the Oreo McFlurry for free.
While some fans were left puzzled by the meal’s simplicity and the choice to remove pickles from the chain’s iconic Big Mac, it created quite a buzz online regardless, with hundreds of tweets talking about it.
In October, everyone was talking about Dunkin’s Spicy Ghost Pepper donut.
However, while the internet was buzzing about the donut — Dunkin’s tweet announcing the new item got over 800 likes and 500 quote tweets — actual reactions were mixed. Some were initially scared by the donut’s spicy appearance, yet in reality, many found the donut mostly sweet with a slight kick, rather than a hot, eye-watering experience.
“The frosting is where the ghost pepper really comes into play. I thought it was mild and still more sweet than hot,” one of Insider’s reporters said.
McDonald’s shocked and delighted fans when the chain revealed it would bring back the McRib in December.
McDonald’s tweet announcing the return of the McRib on December 2 received more than 28,000 likes and 2,000 retweets. Fans nationwide haven’t been able to get their hands on the item since 2012, and many have been begging for its return for years.
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” Matt, who runs McRibGate, a website dedicated to McRib lovers with the aim of getting McDonald’s to bring the item back, told Business Insider.
Customers on social media immediately went to social media to share photos of them in line to get their McRibs. However, Insider found that the McRib we tried, though still tasty, was a little under-sauced.