The Most Over-Hyped Fast Food Items Of 2020

There are fast food staples that we can probably all agree will be around for good — McDonald's french fries, Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich, Burger King's Whopper, the Dairy Queen Blizzard. Every major fast food chain has its renowned favorites. However, all too often, the pinnacles of fast food greatness try to add something "new and exciting" to their menus. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't.

Regardless of how good some of these items actually are, though, there's one thing you can rely on — plenty of hype. With major marketing campaigns, social blasts at every turn, giveaways, and celebrity and influencer endorsements, fast food chains are experts at building up hype around their new menu offerings. It's just unfortunate that sometimes the new menu items don't live up to consumers' expectations.

Here are some of the most over-hyped fast food inventions of 2020, some of which have already faded into oblivion, some of which have been completely trashed by diners, and some of which never even made it past the market testing phase.

Buffalo Wild Wings hid its deceptive, subpar cauliflower wings under a mountain of spice and sauce

Buffalo Wild Wings released its cauliflower wings in late Summer 2020, as part of a larger menu revamp. Cauliflower as a chicken wing substitute is nothing new, though, with outlets reporting on the cauliflower wing trend back in 2018.

The wings came topped with the sauce of the diner's choosing: Everything Pretzel spice, sesame, garlic, salt, two types of pepper, and green onions. While you would assume the cauliflower wings are a decent option for diners looking for healthier options or vegetarians who have thus far not been able to find quite a lot of options on the Buffalo Wild Wings menu, that's not the case. All of BWW's fried items are fried in beef shortening (or tallow), meaning these cauliflower wings aren't vegan or even vegetarian. Additionally, a small serving of the cauliflower wings is 440 calories, more than the number of calories in a six-count of traditional wings.

Beyond all this deception, how do they taste? Well, if you're wanting the wing experience, you might as well just stick to the real deal. As one commenter on deal blog Hip2Save pointed out, "Bottom line, these are just breaded and deep-fried cauliflower florets. You gotta love marketing."

Buffalo Wild Wings' Buffalo Wedge Salad was little more than lettuce

At the same time that Buffalo Wild Wings introduced its cauliflower wings, it also rolled out several new salad options, among them a Buffalo Wedge Salad. Meant to be a wedge of romaine lettuce topped with bleu cheese, bacon, tomato, buffalo sauce, and a chicken tender, that's not the experience some diners are finding when they order the salad. Instead, multiple diners are complaining of salads that are little more than a pile of lettuce, with no chicken, bleu cheese, dressing, bacon, or tomato to speak of. One Twitter user posted a box of lettuce with the caption, "If you want a box of lettuce, make sure to order a 'salad' from Buffalo Wild Wings!"

It seems like this is not at all a change from the Buffalo Wedge Salad's predecessor, the Buffalo Chicken Salad, which received similar complaints, one TripAdvisor review stated, "I ordered the Buffalo Chicken Salad and could not believe how sparse/bad it was. No sauce was on the salad, the chicken appeared and tasted like it was baked, not grilled as advertised. The salad was small and there was nothing else to it, baked chicken and bag lettuce." The sentiment isn't limited to the Buffalo Wedge Salad either. Another Twitter user commented, "Buffalo Wild Wings has the worst side salad I have ever ordered."

Bottom line — Buffalo Wild Wings should possibly stick to just wings.

The Reduced Methane Emissions Whopper wasn't as eco-friendly as you think

Most of us likely remember the (kind of) cute Burger King farting cows commercial starring the five-minute-famous yodeler Mason Ramsey. The commercial received a lot of air time and was covered in all sorts of spots, from social media to Forbes. The commercial claimed that the new Reduced Methane Emissions Whopper would offer consumers the same great taste they'd come to know and love, but with an added, eco-friendly benefit. Burger King would begin changing up its beef cows' diets (including lemongrass in the livestock feed) to reduce methane emissions by 33 percent, as methane contributes to climate change.

However, while the sentiment is nice, the hype is unfounded, as one Popular Science article demonstrates. Firstly, it's not like Burger King is rolling the Reduced Methane Emissions Whopper out over all of its locations; it's only available in a few select cities. Second, Burger King is only adding that lemongrass to the cows' diets for a short period of their lives, meaning they're producing the exact same amount of methane the rest of the time.

As a result, the Breakthrough Institute's director of food and agriculture claims that this Burger King change really only reduces the cows' methane emissions by 3 percent.

Chipotle's Tony Hawk Burrito was nothing special

In Summer 2020, Chipotle launched the Tony Hawk Burrito, one of many 2020 fast food schemes that used a celebrity name to hype up a run-of-the-mill product. Take a look at the Tony Hawk Burrito — it's just a burrito with rice, beans, chicken, salsa, and guacamole. You could order it yourself on the Chipotle line and call it a "Whatever-Your-Name-Is Burrito" for the same effect.

The only thing that was actually special about the whole promotion was the first 2,000 individuals to order the burrito received access to a demo of a new Tony Hawk skateboarding video game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

As one blogger noted, "[T]he Tony Hawk Burrito is just a very generic burrito order ... It was fine. For $11, it filled me up, I guess. It was definitely a Chipotle burrito that I ate and that is all I really have to say about it."

McDonald's Travis Scott Meal was concerning for more than a few reasons

When McDonald's Travis Scott Cactus Jack meal — a Quarter Pounder with cheese topped with bacon, onions, and lettuce, served with fries and barbecue sauce and a Sprite, for $6 — launched, it was a huge hit, with rap and food fans alike heading out to the Golden Arches to see what all the hype was about.

Turns out — not much. With a little special ordering, you can have the Cactus Jack meal with no need for a Travis Scott endorsement at all.

But others have pointed out that this hyped-up meal is concerning for other reasons, beyond the lack of creativity. McDonald's franchises have not been entirely happy to associate their branding with a rapper associated with explicit content, according to Restaurant Business. Additionally, Joan Ifland, Ph.D., founder of Food Addiction Reset, says that the meal, due to both the celebrity endorsement and the various sweet-salty ingredients used, promotes food addiction.

McDonald's J Balvin Meal ignored one of McDonald's key issues

But what about McDonald's J Balvin Meal, which followed the Cactus Jack meal later in the year and is named after a reggaeton artist? Another limited offering, the J Balvin Meal included a Big Mac, fries with ketchup, and an Oreo McFlurry — so, again, a meal that any diner could easily order on their own, no endorsement required.

Unfortunately, while the meal itself is all well and good (although one Chicago Tribune reviewer admitted the meal was just "fine" and "made no sense," as it makes little to no changes to the regular menu items) it was as if McDonald's completely overlooked one of its most infamous problems when creating this specialty meal: the dreaded and feared broken McDonald's ice cream machine. One Mashed article published around the meal's release even noted that some J Balvin fans were unable to get the McFlurry the day the meal came out, and so they were forced to settle for an apple pie instead.

Chick-fil-A's Honey Pepper Pimento Sandwich didn't have broad appeal

Pimento cheese is a Southern classic. Containing pimentos (of course), cheddar cheese (obviously), and mayonnaise and served on white bread or crackers. It's a popular appetizer or even a full meal. Maybe Chick-fil-A's development team thought something along the lines of, "Hey, fried chicken is Southern, let's just put this other Southern item on top of it and we'll be good to go!" and that's how they ended up with the Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich.

Alas, it wasn't that simple. According to a Chick-fil-A press release, the culinary developers worked on perfecting the sandwich concept for over a year. The result was a chicken filet drizzled with honey and topped with pimento cheese, served on a toasted bun with mild pickled jalapeños. The chicken chain tested the new menu item in North Carolina and South Carolina in late Summer 2020 ... but the sandwich never made it further than that.

Why? Well, as one Twitter user pointed out, pimento cheese is a Southern thing that appeals to Southern diners. Regardless, South and North Carolinians did not come out in full force enough to roll the sandwich any further out into the country.

Carl's Jr tried to reinvent breakfast with an option no one asked for

If you're ever craving an all-beef patty at 7 a.m., you can now find one, thanks to a 2020 menu offering from Carl's Jr. The Breakfast Burger features a charbroiled beef patty, bacon, egg, American cheese, hash browns, and ketchup, all on a regular burger bun. The September 2020 arrival is not this burger's first appearance, though. It was around earlier in the 2000s, with Carl's Jr. bringing it back every so often. 

Amid all the other chaos of 2020, food and otherwise, however, the Carl's Jr. Breakfast Burger gets lost in the fray. The only thing "new" about it, despite the chain's marketing efforts, is that the hash brown is in a different, more bun-friendly shape.

During one of Carl's Jr.'s last iterations of the Breakfast Burger, LA Weekly called it, "a breakfast item that answers the question no one has been asking since the dawn of time: "How can cheeseburgers be eaten for breakfast?" The reviewer goes on to poetically say, "Before you even unwrap the package, you can almost see all of the plans you had for the day leaving you, your ambitions swirling the drain with the self-respect that you already lost last week. After unwrapping the burger, the second thing you notice is that it seems to have been prepared in the lavatory of a moving Greyhound bus to Minneapolis." Ouch. 

Dunkin' Donuts Ghost Pepper Donut was more schtick than spooky

For 2020's Halloween season, Dunkin' Donuts rolled out a few new offerings, including a spicy Ghost Pepper Donut (yet another breakfast offering no one asked for, but we received regardless). A whole "spicy" marketing campaign revolved around the donut, with involvement from Hot Ones' Sean Evans, a hashtag, and encouragement from the brand for diners to "surprise" their friends with the innocent-looking donut.

The good thing about this fast food item is that, by all appearances, Dunkin' Donuts knows how ridiculous an idea the Ghost Pepper Donut is, and that it's not tasty enough to keep around. It's a schtick.

At least, even if the menu item wasn't a huge culinary hit, reviewers had some fun with it. One at The Ringer noted, "we all know why the Spicy Ghost Pepper Donut really exists: because the world is in a state of chaos where few norms remain intact and fewer boundaries sacrosanct ... But how could we have predicted this specific manifestation of dark energy?"

KFC attempted to win with fries, but failed

KFC does fried chicken very well. With more than 23,000 restaurants in more than 140 countries and territories, KFC is arguably the world's largest and most successful chicken chain. Yet, it can't quite nail any potato product other than its classic mashed potatoes.

KFC's potato wedges were around for a while, then canceled. Now, the restaurant is on to its Secret Recipe fries, introduced in mid-2020, the response was lackluster — even with its 1970 throwback price. Reviewers noted that KFC's original "secret recipe" chicken spices just don't work on fries (giving the fries a spot on a list of the worst fast food fry options).

A quick look at the mentions of "KFC secret recipe fries" on Twitter shows that the sentiment is held by quite a lot of the populace, with Twitter users commenting, "KFC new secret recipe fries not all that" and "KFC sprinkle lil black pepper on their fries and call it 'secret recipe.'"

Popeyes decided to bring back what it called a fan favorite for the 2020 holidays

Popeyes claims that its Cajun Style Turkeys for the holidays are a "fan favorite." For $40, customers can preorder a Thanksgiving turkey, with or without sides. Precooked, the turkey only needs to be reheated before serving. But is the turkey really the fan favorite Popeyes says it is?

Last year, Business Insider gave the turkey a "friendsgiving" test run and revealed that, though precooked, the turkey is frozen again and shrink-wrapped, requiring a day of defrosting. The reheating process takes nearly three hours, which can further dry out the already-cooked turkey. While the reviewer liked the turkey's flavor (though they admitted, it was "far from Cajun"), they also said that the turkey was "a bit tough," with a "sandy texture, which tasted cooked, frozen, and reheated."

"At the end of it all, I wasn't sure how much trouble buying Popeyes' turkey had actually saved me. I still had to defrost, de-juice, re-juice, and reheat the bird," they said. "I'm not sure I'd sacrifice the freshness and texture of a home-cooked turkey for Popeyes' pre-cooked one ..."

Red Lobster's dabbling in Asian cuisine wasn't necessary

Red Lobster's new Kung Pao entrees include a trio of Asian fare, including Kung Pao noodles in a soy-ginger sauce and mixed with cabbage, cashews, onions, edamame, and green onions, and then topped with your choice of chicken, shrimp, or lobster. The first thing many diners noticed? Red Lobster's take on Kung Pao isn't quite Kung Pao. But regardless of the semantics and differences in ingredients, diners took to Twitter to ask, "Why would I want Kung Pao from Red Lobster?"

And it's a good question. When Red Lobster has built a reputation as the go-to spot for chain seafood, with $2.5 billion in annual sales and nearly 700 locations, why go for something other than the classics? The Cheddar Bay Biscuits, coconut shrimp, crab legs, and lobster bisque are all at the ready, sure to outlast any of the chain's forays into the world of poor imitations of international cuisine.

McDonald's went beyond apple pies with new apple fritters

For the first time in nearly a decade, CNN reported that McDonald's decided to offer new bakery items in 2020, including a blueberry muffin, cinnamon roll, and apple fritter. And while the blueberry muffins and cinnamon rolls have been well-received, not everyone is caring for the chain's apple fritter.

One reviewer at The Takeout said, "... This fritter was crusty, dry, and a waste of calories. The glaze was crystalized, the apples invisible, and the flavor disappointing." Social media members held similar opinions, with Twitter users declaring judgments such as, "McDonald's apple fritter [is] like a microwaved honey bun," and "I never had an apple fritter that I didn't like until I had the one from McDonald's.

The honey bun take was a popular one, with multiple users noting the similarities. Still, many Twitter users bemoaned the fact that, since rolling out the items, McDonald's employees seem to have a habit of leaving the fritter out of the drive-thru bag. Maybe McDonald's should've stuck with the apple-flavored baked good that it does best?