Don't eat at McDonald's until you read this

Let's be honest here — there's a good chance you've been to McDonald's before. Considering the burger-based restaurant chain is practically ubiquitous (there's probably one near you right now, isn't there?), you'd be more hard-pressed to find somebody who hasn't eaten there.

But that doesn't mean everyone does it right. McDonald's is home to dozens of different meals, countless deals, and all kinds of funky technology. And while we'd never even entertain the thought of telling you how to enjoy your food, it's still worth checking in on the latest hints, tips, and hacks to make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck. Here, then, is a rundown of everything you need to know about eating at one of the world's biggest fast food chains; from the secret menu items, to the money-saving tricks, to the dirty little secrets the restaurant doesn't want you to know. Because if you're not going to do something right, why do it at all?

Don't do the "no salt" thing

You've no doubt heard about the hack to getting the freshest fries at McDonald's: Just ask for them with no salt. Once you've got your fresh fries, throw a bit of salt on them yourself, and voila, you've beaten the system.

Except you haven't. In fact, putting this so-called hack into practice is a waste of your time and everyone else's, and isn't even going to make your fries that much better anyway. According to Thought Catalog, it's actually a breach of fast food etiquette because it causes a hold-up in the queue as staff scurry to make that fresh batch. Applying table salt to fries isn't the same as the restaurant's method of applying finer salt to them, either. By throwing your own on there, you're just going to waste a bunch of salt and make your fries taste weird. Not to mention the fact that applying salt to each of your fries takes way more effort than just putting up with the ones that have sat out under the heat lamp for a few minutes. So why bother?

And that's not all. Asking for this special order is a huge hassle for the cooks themselves, who have to remove the fries currently under the heater, make sure the bin is free of salt, and start a whole new batch of fries — all because you wanted to try out that funny little hack you found online. Just don't do it, okay?

Get the right egg

Here's one for anyone fond of McDonald's breakfasts. You might already be aware of the existence of the classic McDonald's egg — it comes in things like their breakfast sandwiches and tends to be a weird, square and yellow thing that looks more like cheese than anything else. In fact, it's a scrambled egg concoction that is pressed into a square patty. Luckily, however, it's not your only choice of egg on the menu.

If you'd rather have the egg more commonly associated with the Egg McMuffin, all you have to do is tell your cashier that you'd like your sandwich made with a "round egg." They'll make sure your order contains the poached version, and it'll cost you nothing extra. You could probably host a whole debate over which McDonald's egg is superior, but this is a great little tip for anyone who prefers theirs round — and just a little more natural-looking.

Store your ketchup properly

Now here's a hack worth knowing. In January 2019, the internet exploded (metaphorically, obviously, or you'd have noticed) when a Twitter user discovered a great new use for the flap at the top of the fries boxes at McDonald's: storing ketchup. Yes, the idea appears to be that you can fold the flap back on itself, creating a neat little shelf upon which your ketchup or alternative condiment can be stored. Naturally, other Twitter users went wild (again, metaphorically).

Some, who claimed to have worked at McDonald's for years, said they never realized the true purpose of the flap. Others deemed it the greatest thing to happen to fast food since the Frork. One user declared it a "silly idea," while another worried about the potential for messiness which might occur if such an idea were put into practice.

Considering McDonald's has never made any noise about this "feature," it's probably safe to say that it's an unintended bonus of a box which is designed, as one Twitter user pointed out, to allow workers to grab the top without burning their fingers on hot, oil-covered fries. But that doesn't mean it's not a good idea.

Hack the menu for the Poor Man's Big Mac

The Poor Man's Big Mac is another one of those classic McDonald's hacks you might've heard about. Here's a run-down: you order a McDouble (about $2 per the app, as of June 2019) and ask for it without mustard or ketchup, but with shredded lettuce and Big Mac sauce. What you end up with is essentially a Big Mac (minus the center bread and sesame seed bun) for about half the price. But is it really worth it?

According to Serious Eats, it might be. The beef and cheese is identical to that found in the Big Mac, although the construction of the burger makes for a slightly different experience (Big Macs are made upside-down and the toppings are placed below the burger, while the McDouble has its toppings on top). This does mean, however, that the McDouble's cheese is melted better than the Big Mac's.

By their measure, the toppings seem to be of equal quantity on both burgers, although the Big Mac is significantly taller and a little heavier. Essentially, however, it's just the bun and some seeds that make the Big Mac that much more expensive than the McDouble.

The jury's out on just which option is better, and much of it comes down to taste. But if you're working on a tight budget, the Poor Man's Big Mac might be your best bet.

Ask for a receipt

Of course you don't need a receipt for your McDonald's order, but you should always ask for one. The reasoning behind this is simple: It's a way of signalling to the staff that you could be a secret shopper, even if you're not. Because secret shoppers, otherwise known as gapbusters, have to be reimbursed for their meal by their employers, they need receipts to prove what they've eaten. Most customers, however, won't need a receipt, and therefore won't ask for one. If you do make that request, however, the store will be all hands on deck to make sure you get the freshest food, quickest service and biggest smile — just in case.

Visiting during peak hours (specifically between 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.) will up your chances of coming across as a potential gapbuster, too, because those are the hours during which they usually appear. Play your cards right, and you can nab yourself a totally superior McDonald's experience.

Hands off the kiosks

The self-order kiosks that McDonald's started installing in 2018 are another bit of nifty fast food tech. They're a great convenience for the customer, certainly, and mean that diners don't have to spend time giving their orders to cashiers, while the cashiers can focus on getting the orders served up. There's just one little problem: hygiene.

Scientists discovered that the McDonald's kiosks were covered in bacteria, including fecal bacteria and all kinds of other digestive bacteria that could cause health problems to those who ingest them. "We were all surprised how much gut and fecal bacteria there was on the touchscreen machines," explained Dr. Paul Matewele of London Metropolitan University. "These cause the kind of infections that people pick up in hospitals. For instance Enterococcus faecalis is part of the flora of gastrointestinal tracts of healthy humans and other mammals. It is notorious in hospitals for causing hospital acquired infections."

Dr. Matewele's research took place on restaurants in the U.K. and found that touchscreens in every single one of eight different restaurants hosted live bacteria. McDonald's responded by issuing a statement: "Our self-order screens are cleaned frequently throughout the day. All of our restaurants also provide facilities for customers to wash their hands before eating."

Maybe it's best you just ignore the kiosk and speak to a cashier in the future.

Know the secret menu

Nothing quite beats the ingenuity of mankind. Just take this so-called McDonald's "secret menu" (as reported by Cosmopolitan) for example. It's not so much an in-store secret offered by the chain as it is a series of different inventions and combinations crafted by some clever McDonald's customers.

Some highlights include the Land, Sea, and Air Burger, a combination of the Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, and McChicken, all stacked together. Or the Hash Brown McMuffin, which is a simple yet delicious combination of the McMuffin and a hash brown. There's the McDouble Chicken, which involves adding two Chicken Selects to your McChicken, and the Chicken Cordon Bleu McMuffin, which adds a chicken patty to your McMuffin in honor of the classic French dish.

Or how about the McAffogato? That's an espresso combined with a vanilla milkshake. You could even try the McCrepe, which is an order of pancakes containing a Fruit 'N Yogurt Parfait, or the McChipwich — McFlurry ice cream between two cookies.

You've also got the BCB (beef, chicken, beef), which is exactly what it sounds like, as well as the One-And-A-Half Pounder, which… again, you can probably guess. Some of these ideas are downright brilliant, others are utterly grotesque, a few are both, and all deserve your undying admiration. The sky is apparently the limit with McDonald's — all you need to do is ask.

Download the app

Since the McDonald's experience tends to be more about the food than anything else (duh), you'd be forgiven for overlooking some of their more helpful tech. After all, why bother going through the trouble of downloading an app when you just want to get your hands on your damn burger?

Don't write off the shiny stuff too quick, though — the McDonald's app is a veritable treasure trove for regular McDonald's-goers. The gist is simple: You download the app onto your phone and use it to choose meals or menu items; next, you pay using your card (still on your phone) before going to pick up your food at a nearby store. That last part happens entirely on your own terms, too, so you can use the app to specify that you want your food brought outside to you, collected at the drive-thru, or just served up inside the restaurant — without having to worry about the line.

Then you've got the deals. These are exclusive to the app and change all the time, so it's always worth checking out what's going on. As of June 2019, the three app-based deals include 50 cents for any sized soft drink with purchase of a medium or large fries, one free McCafé for every five purchases, and $1 off any McCafé Frappé, Mocha or Latte. Worth a go, isn't it?

Don't expect a lot of options with the Late Night Menu

Have you ever been tempted to stop by a McDonald's in the middle of the night? Well, you're not the only one. The existence of 24-hour McDonald's branches means time is no longer a factor in determining whether you can pick up a burger and some fries, and there's nothing stopping you from heading out on a cheeky 3 a.m. McNuggets run.

Unfortunately, things aren't as hunky dory as they used to be. In April 2019, McDonald's announced that they'd be removing a number of items from their Late Night Menu, with some of the restaurant's most iconic items counted among the departed. After 12 a.m., you can say goodbye to your Signature Crafted burgers, your Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwiches, your Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Tenders (and Sandwiches), your Filet-O-Fish, and any of your premium salads.

In a statement given to Business Insider, who first leaked the news, a McDonald's rep explained it was simply a matter of streamlining. "We always want our customers' experiences to be simple, smooth, and delicious — any time of day," they said. "That means, day and night, we're always looking for ways to serve them even better."

Save a little money

Fast food is typically a fairly affordable option for eating out, but what if you're really pinching pennies? Turns out there are a few easy ways to change up your Mickey D's order and save a little dough in the process.

You'll want to skip the premium burgers, for one. McDonald's higher-end meals will run well over $5, which might not seem like a lot, but it's a fortune compared to what you could be getting away with. In 2018, McDonald's reintroduced the $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu, which holds the key to getting you more for less. Off this menu, you can get a McChicken Sandwich for a dollar, for example. On the $2 Menu, you'll find the Bacon McDouble, as well as the Sausage McGriddles (they also offer two-piece Crispy Tenders, but that's hardly worth it at $1 per strip). Hit the $3 Menu and you'll find the Triple Cheeseburger and the Classic Chicken Sandwich. Once you start to combine these options with the cheaper main menu items (the chain frequently runs promotions on fries and coffee), you've got full meals for only a few bucks.

Happy Meals can also prove valuable for money-conscious diners. Depending on a variety of factors, a Happy Meal (with hamburger, fries, milk or juice, and yogurt or apple slices) can cost around $4 (per the McDonald's app as of June 2019). Not the most grown-up lunch you'll ever have, but it might just be the cheapest.

Get the most out of your cheat day

Oh, alright then. Some days you just can't help yourself, can you? And on those days, if you're not giving it your all, pigging out just feels like a waste. So here, according to Insider, are the least healthy things you could possibly order at McDonald's.

Among the not-quite-so-bad-but-still-hardly-good options, you've got the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (780 calories), the Big Breakfast (750 calories), and the Bacon Clubhouse Burger (also 750 calories). At the over-800-calories end of the spectrum, there's the 20-piece McNuggets (890 calories; who needs moderation?), and the large chocolate shake (with 840 calories plus 122 grams of sugar, to boot).

Of course, it goes without saying that each of these choices come with their own horrific dollop of sodium and fat. In fact, some of these menu items contain more than half the amount of salt a human ought to consume over a whole day.

What we're saying is, if you're looking for the most bang for your buck on cheat day, go for a 20-piece McNuggets, a large fries, and a large chocolate shake. It's the cheat day to end all cheat days.

Keep it healthy(ish)

Yeah, okay, so you're probably not going to McDonald's because you're on a health kick. But that doesn't mean you have to completely pig out when you go there. McDonald's does have some things on their menu that are (relatively) good for you, and anyone who finds themselves in that weird gray area between wanting to eat healthy and really wanting a McDonald's would do well to take note of these menu items.

According to Thrillist, the healthiest McDonald's dishes include the Egg White Delight McMuffin, which comes in at 260 calories despite containing griddled egg whites, Canadian bacon, and a slice of cheddar. Elsewhere, you've got the plain hamburger, which makes a decent enough quick-fix meal at 250 calories; the Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich, which comes in at 380 calories; and the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad, which hits 350 calories.

If you're after something sweeter, you could do worse than the Fruit 'N Yogurt Parfait (210 calories) or the Strawberry Banana Smoothie (190 calories, plus a bunch of fruit!). As with all things, the trick to keeping it healthy at McDonald's is taking all things in moderation. Even chicken nuggets will be fine as long as you're not gorging on them. And you're not doing that… right?