originally published July 22, 2014

Every so often, I forget how much I despise fast food. I find myself seduced by the siren scent of McDonalds’ temptress fries, or the dangerously sweet allure of a Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfait (though I prefer substituting the hot fudge for caramel – my personal Achilles has remarkably fat heels). I know about the chemicals, I know about the trans fats, and I am fully aware that the caloric count of a Big Mac exceeds that which some humans will consume in a week.

But in those euphoric final seconds before that initial bite, there exists the possibility that this will be the numinous rajah of burgers, the godly Big Mac that actually tastes like something other than special sauce and pickle. Once – and only once – I thought I found it. A local McDonalds that concocted the perfect drive-thru construct, a veritable clone of the freakish stunt-food they eat in the commercials. Perhaps it was only a dream.

While my devoteeism to the perils of fast food fodder may be no more than a hidden shame in my gustatory closet, there are those who boastfully snarf down the grease-laden vittles procured by our corporate masters. And thanks to their crafty spelunking of these establishments’ stock items, they have uncovered (and shared) some of the secret menu items we can all use to pretend we are connoisseurs of comestible compost.

If you’ve already sampled KFC’s Double Down sandwich and didn’t find quite the surge of self-loathing you were looking for, why not sample a Big McChicken from McDonalds? Sure, you could wuss out and grab a McGangBang (some McEmployees will actually make it for you if you ask for it by name), but that’s just a McChicken crammed inside a McDouble burger. The Big McChicken requires you to order three McChickens, throw out everything but the breaded meat, then use those as a substitute for the buns on your Big Mac. I guess this is a viable choice if the only thing you’re looking to cut out is carbs. And common sense.

If you’re looking for something else to jazz up your Mcsperience, but without causing your arteries to foreclose on your circulatory system, try out the Mc10:35. You’ll only be able to charm this across the counter right after they stop serving breakfast, but if your server is in the right mood, you can cram a McDouble’s burger patties inside an Egg McMuffin for a surreal treat. No good? Wait for March and try out a McLeprechaun Shake – that’s a Shamrock Shake mixed with a chocolate shake for some tasty mint-on-chocolate action.

Not every secret-menu item is an abomination of glutinous excess. Some are simple tweaks on a classic – for example, if you’ve got a yen for a club sandwich but you possess a vehement disdain for bread that has been cut into tiny triangles, you could fashion a BK Club at your local Burger King. Sure, it’s breaded chicken instead of fresh turkey breast, but with tack on lettuce, tomato and bacon to your Original Chicken Sandwich and you’ll never know the difference.

Okay, that’s a lie. Your taste buds know better; most of the sludge offered up by the King is only edible by the most generous definition of the word. Other suggestions, like the Rodeo Burger (BBQ sauce and onion rings on a burger) or the Mustard Whopper (a Whopper with… wait for it… mustard) are subtle variations to a menu whose contents would best be used as garden mulch, not dinner.

I have always found KFC’s bowls to be visual cacophonies of veritable digestive abuse. Had they graced the Colonel’s menu back in the days when I’d inhale a fist-full of cannabis and conquer the food court for sustenance, I probably would have cannonballed into those plastic tubs of corn, potato, cheese and Original Recipe goodness. But those days have drifted into a green-sepia mist.

That said, if you’ve got a savvy slinger of poultry procurements working behind the counter of your local KFC, you can ask to customize your bowl with whatever ingredients you fancy. Want fries in there? Biscuits? Bacon? They might do it for you. Alternately, you can pluck a Triple Down off the secret menu – that’s exactly what it sounds like, an expanded version of their infamous bunless monstrosity.

It struck me as surprising that the Peanut Buster Parfait is listed on the Dairy Queen secret menu – perhaps my American friends aren’t fortunate enough to witness this glorious dessert on their local menus. But I’m intrigued by the Marshmallow Creme Sundae. I wasn’t aware that DQ boasted a liquefied marshmallow goo-substance (known as ‘Fluff’ to the masses) among their possible toppings. After your double-cheeseburger with traffic-cone orange cheese-stuff, one of these might be downright groovity to the palate.

Other DQ secrets include the Banana Split Blizzard, a whipped concoction of their banana split fixins, the Midnight Truffle Blizzard, which features dark cocoa fudge and Truffle Bits (and I have to say, the Truffle Bits would be a great name for a neo-punk/clarinet-heavy acid-jazz band), and something called the DQ Frozen Hot Chocolate. Just ask them to take their hot chocolate, dump some ice into it, then blend it up. Chances are, the kid taking your order will be awe-struck, as though you had just unlocked the cryptic mystery of flavor exultation.

Not really fast food, but since the holy purveyors of mass coffee-ism have a secret menu as well, I don’t feel it’s right to leave Starbucks off the list. Above you can marvel at the Starbucks Liquid Cocaine: four shots of espresso and four pumps of white chocolate syrup, topped with ice and some milk in a grande cup. Not enough?  Ask for a Green Eye, which is a regular coffee, iced or hot, with three nerve-goosing shots of espresso stirred in. Feed one of these to your three-year-old and watch the fireworks show.

The Frappuccino, which is more a candy/Slurpee hybrid than anything resembling a coffee beverage, has numerous incarnations around the secret menu. The Twix Frap mixes caramel, chocolate and hazelnut. The Cotton Candy Frap is a Vanilla Bean Frap with extra pumps of raspberry syrup. And the Thin Mint Frap can kick the McLeprechaun Shake right in his green little nuts: a Tazo Green Tea Creme Frap, with two pumps of chocolate syrup, one of mint, some java chips and a splash of honey will make your tongue howl at the moon. The Girl Scouts need to get behind this treat.

Every speed-grub establishment has its own secret menu. So long as you have an open mind and you aren’t asking the restaurant staff to sling together your artistic vision during the swampy throes of a dinner rush, you can probably have some fun with your selections. Just stay away from the stuff that’ll kill you. No one needs a Triple Down.

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