Quick, easy, and convenient fast foods are archetypal in this fast-paced modern age. Little surprise that fast foods are so popular all around the globe. But just how many types of fast food are there?
You can categorize fast foods into nine types – burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, wraps, hot dogs, kebabs, deep-fried, desserts, and drinks. And within each type, there are countless variations, many of which are indicative of the local cuisine.
Different regions of the world have developed their fast food brand while also adopting many products from other cuisines. And in this article, we are going to categorize the most popular fast food items around the world and explore the many variations of these types:
Burger and fries are probably the most iconic fast food pairing. We are going to focus on the former of the two first. In its classic and most recognized form, a burger or hamburger consists of a sliced bun with a patty in between. The patty is usually ground meat and vegetables that you compress and flatten into a disc.
Depending on the type of patty, the number of patties, the size of the burger, etc., you will find many variations of burgers. So. let’s look at some of the most popular ones:
One of the all-time classics, a cheeseburger is very simple in concept. It is a hamburger with a slice of cheese on top of the patty, usually melted right before serving. The usual suspects for this application are cheddar, mozzarella, swiss, pepper jack, etc.
Cheeseburgers are a staple of fast food cuisine all over the world. From Asia to Europe, if there is a fast-food establishment, then they will likely sell some version of a cheeseburger. Here are some popular cheeseburgers from famous fast-food chains:
- McDonald’s Big Mac
- Red Robin Whiskey River BBQ Burger
- McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese
- Wendy’s 1/4 Lb. Single
- In-N-Out Animal Style Burger
- Wendy’s Baconator
- Five Guys Cheeseburger
- In-n-Out Double Double
- Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger
- Whataburger Original Whataburger
Here is a vegetarian twist on the traditional hamburger formula. A veggie burger is any burger where the patty does not contain any meat. Not just the patty, though. The entire burger is completely vegetarian-friendly. However, it may or may not be vegan friendly depending on adding other items such as mayonnaise, cheese, etc.
Veggie burgers are the go-to alternatives for vegetarians as well as people allergic to meat products. Since the start of the 21st century, the demand for veggie burgers has gradually increased for various reasons. As such, many established fast-food chains have come up or are inventing their own versions. Some of these include:
- McDonald’s Veggie burger
- The McVeggie
- Burger King Impossible Whopper
- Impossible Foods Impossible Burger
- Denny’s Vegan Beyond Burger
- Shake Shack Shroom Burger
- Houlihan’s Impossible Burger
Steakburgers are the uber-burgers. Or at least, that is how it is marketed. A steak burger uses a mixture of ground steak cuts instead of regular ground meat. These cuts include sirloin steaks, T-bone steak, and round steak.
The steakburger is a popular item on the menu in steakhouses worldwide. But in Australia and New Zealand, steak burgers refer to a sandwich more than a burger. It contains an actual serving of whole steak rather than ground meat.
Perhaps the most well-known steak burger comes from steak ‘n Shakes, an American restaurant chain specializing in steaks. But other fast-food brands have also made their own versions of it:
- The Steakhouse – Burger king
- The Steakhouse Burger – Carl’s Jr.
- Ultimate Steak Burger – IHOP
- Mr. Steak’s steak burgers
What happens when you make a burger small enough to eat in one bite? The answer is a slider. It is actually an American term that refers to any burger with a very small diameter, usually around 2 inches.
A slider packs all the flavors and juiciness of a regular burger in a compact package. You can easily eat multiple of them at a time. Many fast food stores will sell these burgers in a pack – half a dozen, one dozen, ten, thirty, etc.
The popular story goes that the burger was a creation of White Castle restaurant, an American burger joint that specializes in various sliders. Since then, many other companies have come up with their versions:
- White Castle Sliders
- Burger King Sliders
- Krystal Sliders
Double Patty Burgers
A double patty burger is what his name says – a burger with two patties to satisfy your insatiable appetite for meat. Ideally, you can convert any regular burger into a double patty or twin patty burger simply by adding an extra patty. But this burger means more sauce, more vegetables, and more taste.
Pretty much any burger joint that sells a variety of burgers will also have an option for a double patty burger. Here are a few examples:
- Double Quarter Pound King – Burger King
- KIng Double Chicken – Burger King
- Double Cheeseburger – Denny’s
- Dave’s Double Cheeseburger – Wendy’s
- Double Double, Animal Style – In-N-out
Deep-fried fast food arguably represents all that is great and unholy about the concept of fast food. Most of the prep work is done in advance. All that is left is for you to fry the food completely submerged in oil, usually for 5-10 minutes. These dishes are super quick, super appetizing, and invariably super unhealthy.
But people still love deep-fried fast food regardless. And you really cannot claim to be a multi-variety fast food store without having at least one deep-fried item. So, in celebration, let’s look at some of the most popular deep-fried dishes in fast-food restaurants:
Fried chicken comes in many forms. It can come from any part of the chicken – the drumsticks, thighs, breasts, or wings. It can be pan-fried, air-fried, or pressure fried. But most people use the technique to deep fry them in oil.
Thanks to the popularity and spread of KFC, almost anybody with a vague sense of fast food is aware of fried chicken. But many other brands have gained fame simply on their fried chicken items.
- Classic Southern fried chicken
- Barberton chicken (Serbia)
- Chicken and Waffles – Popular breakfast option
- Chicken Maryland – Popular in America, Britain, and Australia
- Hot chicken – Or Nashville hot chicken is fried chicken with a spicy sauce coating
- Popcorn chicken – Bite-sized fried chicken.
The other part of the iconic burger and fries duo, french fries, are a staple of fast-food restaurants anywhere. Though the name suggests a clear link between this dish and France, the real origin of french fries is debated. These deep-fried strips of potatoes are the ultimate side dish in any fast food meal.
Regardless, the dish has been adopted by cuisines all over the world. As such, different regions call it different names. People in the United Kingdom will refer to them as “chips”, while many Americans will simply call them fries.
This has simultaneously led to many variations on the classic formula, with many regions and fast food chains making their signature french fries. Here are some of them:
- Curly fries
- Dirty fries
- Crinkle-cut fries
- Chili cheese fries
- Tornado fries
- Sweet potato fries
- Curry chips
- Oven fries
Now, look at French fries’ sweeter and slightly more acidic cousin – onion rings. First, you cut large onions breadth-wise to get cross-sections of onions resembling rings. Then you coat them in a batter and/or breadcrumbs, and deep fry them until they turn nice and golden.
Like french fries, onion rings serve as an excellent appetizer or side dish. But they also come in multiple forms.
- Onion ringlets
- Salted onion rings
- Baked onion rings
- Blooming onions
- Mozzarella sticks, onion rings
- BBQ-style onion rings
Chicken nuggets are bite-sized, boneless pieces of chicken that have been seasoned, coated in batter, and deep-fried. It is frequently served with a serving of sauce or dip of various flavors. This item was invented during the 1950s by food science professor Robert C. Baker.
Chicken nuggets are a great choice for an appetizer. Many fast-food brands also sell frozen packs of chicken nuggets for customers to make at home.
Falafel comes from Middle Eastern cuisine, especially those of the Levant and Egypt. It is one of the predominant street food items in the Middle East. And it has found itself on the menu of many street vendors in the US and many countries in Europe.
Falafel consists of deep-fried balls or patties of ground chickpeas or fava beans. Various herbs and spices accompany the chickpeas. Vendors usually serve these balls in pita bread.
- Egyptian falafel – made with only chickpeas
- Syrian falafel – made with chickpeas
- Baked falafel
- Falafel coated chicken
The history of pizza goes back several hundred years and across multiple civilizations, with Italy being the most prominent participant. What started out as a cheap and convenient dish for the working class has now become one of the hallmarks of fast food cuisine. And it has gone through many variations and iterations over that period.
Otherwise known as Chicago-style pizza, a deep-dish pizza is where the pizza has a very deep crust. You achieve this by baking the pizza in a deep pan with high edges. This deep crust also allows you to fill it with more sauce and cheese.
- Chicago-style deep-dish pizza
- Mini deep-dish pizza
- Deep-dish pizza casserole
- Deep pan pizza
- Skinny deep-dish pizza
Thin Crust Pizza
Now we have the opposite of a deep-dish, a thin crust pizza. It is the perfect choice for people who love delicious toppings but are not so keen on the crust. The crust can be extremely thin, almost like a chip. Because the dough is so slim, the eventual crust becomes crispy and firm.
- Crunchy thin crust pizza
- No-knead thin crust pizza
- Marshmallow thin crust pizza
- New York-style thin-crust pizza
- Thin Crust Suburban Chicago Pizza
Stuffed Crust Pizza
Stuffed crust pizzas are pizzas where the outer edge of the crusts are loaded with additional ingredients, most often mozzarella cheese. Pizza Hut popularized this sort of pizza. Another variety of this concept is where you stuff the edges with sausage.
Pan pizza is a recent style where you bake the pizza in a pan instead of simply placing it on the oven’s surface or a pizza stone. The pan can be deep or shallow, depending on preference.
Perhaps the most popular iteration of this type of pizza comes from Pizza Hut. Often, the pizza is served within the pan for more visual effect. Some of the most popular styles of pan pizzas would be:
- Sicilian pizza
- Detroit-style pizza
- Italian tomato pizza
- Deep-dish pan pizza (Chicago style)
Neapolitan pizza or “pizza Napoletana” is a style of pizza that originates from the city of Naples in Italy. And it has very strict guidelines as to what can constitute a Neapolitan pizza.
The authentic recipe for a Neapolitan pizza is such: the dough is a mixture of type 0 or 00 flour, brewer’s yeast, salt, and water. The tomato you use in this pizza has to be San Marzano tomatoes, and the cheese must be one of two varieties of mozzarella – Fior di Latte or mozzarella di Bufala.
All of this process and more give Neapolitan pizzas their signature taste, texture, and look. And within this set guideline, there are three official variations for a Neapolitan pizza:
- Pizza marinara
- Pizza Margherita
- Pizza margherita extra
As the name suggests, pizza Romano is a style of pizza that originates in Rome, but its popularity has spread throughout Europe. Two popular varieties of pizza can be grouped here:
- Pizza Al Taglio
- Pizza tonda
Pizzas in Indonesia are a mixture of the traditional pizza formula with native flavors. Pizza Hut is the leading fast-food brand in this part of the world. And they have come up with many iterations that celebrate these flavors, such as:
- Balado pizza
- Rendang pizza
- Satay pizza
While it is tempting to classify any dish with two slices of bread and a filling as a sandwich, some distinctions must be made between sandwiches, burgers, and wraps. Yes, you can technically call burgers a sandwich. But burgers are such a diverse group that it deserves to be their own thing.
According to the British Sandwich Association, a sandwich is any form of bread with a filling, generally assembled cold. So, this rules out things like burgers and hot dogs. Instead, let’s focus on some fast foods that unequivocally sandwiches:
A club sandwich or clubhouse sandwich consists of two slices of bread, sliced poultry, ham, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise. This type of sandwich was first popular in clubs. Hence, the name. Clubs will cut the sandwich into halves or quarters and stick a cocktail stick in the middle.
What makes a submarine sandwich a submarine sandwich is bread. Instead of a square slice of bread or burger bun, you use a long, cylindrical bread that you cut lengthwise. The roots of this dish go back to Italian Americans from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. Hence, this sandwich is also called an Italian sandwich.
Outside of the States, submarine sandwiches are popular fast food items in several European nations, particularly France and Scotland.
- Meatball sub
- Pastrami grinder
- New York-style hero
- South African Gatsby
Grilled Cheese Sandwich
The classic American sandwich consists of 2 slices of bread, some cheese, and butter. Nothing more and nothing less. Of course, you can easily modify this dish. Here are some famous grilled cheese sandwiches from fast-food chains:
- Dairy Queen’s grilled cheese on Texas Toast
- Five Guys’ grilled cheese sandwich
- Chick-fil-A grilled cheese
- Shake Shack’s grilled cheese on a potato bun
- Culver’s grilled cheese on sourdough
Bacon, lettuce, and tomato – this sandwich is simple in concept. Since it is such a basic dish, fast food restaurants can give it their own signature and truly make it their own.
Sloppy joes consist of ground meat, onions, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and other seasonings wrapped in a burger bun.
Porilainen is a very popular street food item in Finnish cuisine. This sandwich consists of white bread and thick slices of sausages, which are frequently accompanied by diced onions, sliced pickled cucumber, mustard, and ketchup.
The main thing to note here is that the bread in a wrap completely covers the entire filling. In contrast, the bread in a sandwich frequently covers the top and bottom but not the sides.
Burrito is a wrap from Mexican cuisine which consists of a flour tortilla wrap with a filling. The filling consists of various sliced vegetables and cooked meat. Restaurants will often serve this dish with a side of salsa, guacamole, or crema. Some variations include:
- Wet burrito
- Breakfast burrito
- Vegetable burrito
Another classic dish hailing from Mexico, tacos have become a staple of street foods, especially in America, Mexico, and Norway. Unlike a burrito, you do not wrap the taco completely. Rather you keep the top part of it open. Tacos can come in many forms, some traditional and some not so.
- Tacos al pastor
- Tacos de asador
- Tacos de cazo
- Tacos de pescado
- Hard-shell tacos
- Soft-shell tacos
- Indian tacos
Kathi roll is a famous street food option found all over India. Traditionally it comprises a skewer roasted kebab wrapped in paratha, which is a type of flatbread found all over the subcontinent. Nowadays, any filling that is wrapped in a roti or paratha comes with the name of Kathi roll.
No fast food itinerary is complete without mentioning hot dogs. Not a wrap, not quite a sandwich – you can say hot dogs belong in a realm of fast food all on their own. The simple formula calls for a steamed or grilled sausage that you place in a hot dog bun and top it off with various condiments,
You will find hot dogs all over the world and in many forms. Here are a few worth mentioning:
- Reindeer dogs (Alaska)
- Sonoran hot dogs (Arizona)
- Pink’s hot dogs (California)
- Coney dog (Michigan)
- Italian hot dog (New Jersey)
- Completo (Chile)
Kebabs have their roots in Middle Eastern cuisines. They are one of the most prominent street food items in countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Arab, Azerbaijan, and more. And they have gained popularity in other parts of Asia and Europe.
Shawarma is popular street food in Egypt, the Levantine countries, and the Arabian Peninsula. The source behind this dish is the doner kebab. Similar to a doner, the meat in shawarma is cooked on a vertical rotisserie.
Shawarma has become a prominent fast food item in many countries, both in Asia and Europe. Typically, a place that serves shawarmas, in particular, is called a shawarma joint. They can sell a wide variety of shawarmas
- Chicken shawarma
- Beef shawarma
- Vegetable shawarma
- Chicken cheese shawarma
Gyros is the Greek interpretation of the doner kebab. It implements the same concept of cooking meat on a vertical rotisserie. The cooked meat is either wrapped in pita bread or stuffed in one. The dish is one of the primary street foods in Greece, where it is frequently served with tzatziki sauce.
Doner kebab is a popular dish originating in Turkey during the Ottoman empire. It is arguably the most popular fast food and street food item in the Middle East. And its concept has inspired many other dishes, such as shawarma and the Greek gyros.
The specialty of doner kebab is that the meat is cooked on a vertical rotisserie. The outer layer gets cooked first and shaved. The meat is then wrapped in a flatbread with other ingredients such as vegetables and sauces.
Souvlaki is another famous Greek fast food, where the main stars are small pieces of meat grilled on a skewer. You can eat it straight out of a skewer or by wrapping it with pita bread. This dish has a few variations across the Mediterranean:
- Souvlaki pita
Sheek kebab originates in Southeast Asia, particularly Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. It is similar to souvlaki in that the meat is cooked on a skewer and grilled.
Fast food is not inherently savory. They can be just as adept at finishing off a meal as starting it. So, let’s look at some of the popular dessert fast food items:
Cookies are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth. And it is not just coffee shops selling these desserts; most fast-food chains have their signature cookies to go with the rest of their meal plan.
Muffins are another dessert staple. You can eat it casually at a restaurant or take it with you for a travel meal. And different parts of the world prepare them in different ways:
- American muffin – quickbread muffins
- English muffin – flatbread muffins
- French breakfast muffin
Ice cream is a popular item on many fast-food chains’ menus. They already come with the convenience of portability. And throughout the years, different companies have come up with their own brands of ice cream.
- Mcflurry – McDonald’s
- Chick-fil-A Icedream Cone
- Dairy Queen Oreo Blizzard
- Baskin Robbins Mint Chocolate Chip
- Burger King Vanilla Cone
Soft serve is like the leaner version of ice cream. It is made with only 3-6% milkfat and has a softer, more delicate consistency. Many fast food stores will sell soft serve instead of ice cream as it is much easier to dispense.
- Dairy Queen Blizzard
- Wendy’s Frosty
- Burger King: Soft Serve Cone
- Sonic Drive-In: Vanilla Cone
Donuts are such a mainstay in the industry that many fast food stores are dedicated to selling various donuts. From Tim Hortons to Dunkin Donuts, donuts are America’s go-to choice for on-the-go snacks.
But these donuts have variations all across the world. Here are a few:
- Jalebi – South Asia
- Balushahi – Indian SUbcontinent
- Sufganiyot – Israel
- Tulumba – TUrkey
Drinks are the ideal way to wash down all the fried, baked, or grilled food. And you have several options to choose from.
A milkshake is a very simple concept – blend ice cream and milk with the requisite amount of sugar, spices, and flavorings. If you want to get fancy, you can top it off with whipped cream and a cherry or chocolate syrup.
Some may have the idea that smoothies are the healthier counterpart to only homemade milkshakes. But many fast-food chains offer smoothies along with shakes. Smoothies differ from milkshakes in that they always contain pureed fruit. And here are a few popular varieties:
- Mixed berry
Soft drinks are predominantly carbonated water. Usually, fast food restaurants will have a dedicated soda fountain or dispenser to serve a variety of soft drinks. Some of the popular choices are:
- Mountain Dew
- Dr. Pepper
Slushies are similar to snow cones but with a thinner texture. These are flavored ice with various drinks. The drink can be carbonated or noncarbonated.
What Is the Most Popular Fast Food Item?
In terms of sales, French fries are the single most popular fast food item all over the world. And if you go by brands, McDonald’s sells the most French fries around the globe than any other fast-food chain. This one item accounts for 75% of the company’s global revenue. 
What Is Considered Fast Food?
For a food item to qualify as fast food, it has to check some boxes. For example:
- The production is fast and can be mass-produced
- It is made with frozen, pre-cooked, or preheated ingredients
- It is sold in restaurants in the form of take-out or portable packages.
- Affordable price
What Is Another Name for Fast Food?
You can call fast food convenient food, as convenience is its biggest selling point. Since they are often sold on the street, people also refer to them as street food. In terms of nutrition, many fast foods fall into the “junk food” category.
Who Invented Fast Food?
Selling ready-cooked food dates back to ancient Rome and is linked with urbanization. The British classic “fish and chips” started selling in stores in the mid-19th century. White Castle opened the first hamburger chain in the US in 1921, which hugely bolstered the popularity of fast food throughout the nation.
To conclude fast foods are a prolific food in this fast-paced, modern society. Whatever your opinion on fast food is, it is clear from sales and demand that fast foods and fast-food restaurants are here to stay.