21 McDonald's Hacks You Should Know Before Ordering

Fast food isn't as fast as it used to be. At least it can feel that way at times, but one thing is for certain: It's not as cheap as it used to be. As prices climb at once-inexpensive chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell, more of us need to look to tricks and hacks on social media to stretch our dollar as far as it can go.

This is particularly true at McDonald's, a franchise with a history of food hacks and secret menu options. These were so big they even briefly became a menu item in the brand's disappointing Menu Hacks promotion in 2022.

Still, there is plenty the average fast food lover doesn't know about getting the best and freshest food at McDonald's, using as many coupons and tricks as possible, but we're here to enlighten you. Along the way, we might stop by the secret menu and create some fan favorites as well as a few of the more outrageous modifications. These are 21 of the best McDonald's hacks you need to know before ordering.

1. Use the McDonald's app to earn rewards

You won't get anywhere these days without the app. It's more than just a joke from the latest season of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," it's the truth. When it comes to fast food chains especially, the apps almost always offer exclusive deals that you won't get anywhere else. Case and point is McDonald's.

The McDonald's mobile app allows for mobile ordering so you can skip the wait times at the register. It also offers daily deals that you won't find anywhere else. Additionally, each purchase made via the app, or by scanning your rewards QR code at the kiosk, will earn you reward points, which equals free food down the road. Between the exclusives and the convenience, there's no reason to not have the McDonald's app if you are a frequent diner.

2. Use your rewards points wisely to get the most bang for your buck

Aside from getting your food faster, you'll also earn and accrue points by purchasing food using the McDonald's app.-There are a handful of tiers with a few different options for rewards at each, but it's hard to know how to spend your points. Here are the best deals at each tier and overall what gives you the best bang for your buck.

There are four tiers of items on the McDonald's Rewards menu that cost 1500, 3000, 4500, and 6000 points respectively. Each tier has one breakfast item and three all-day items to choose from. Technically, you get the best value at the lowest 1500 point tier, since you are cashing in $15 worth of spending on an item valued at least $2.29. Even compared to the Filet-O-Fish offered at the 4500 point tier, the best option at tier 3, you are spending three times the amount of points on a sandwich valued at only $5.69. The returns on the top tier are paltry in comparison as well since the Big Mac and Quarter Pounder with Cheese both go for $5.89 at our local McDonald's, only 20 cents more than the fish. 

Choose rewards based on your preferences, but when in doubt always do the math to see what the best deal is. They aren't all equal.

3. Upgrade your way to a Bigger Mac

If you're a Big Mac fan and want a larger, juicier burger there is a hack that lets you have it your way. What you're going to want to get is what McDonald's secret menu hackers call the Denali Big Mac, or the Bigger Mac. You can order a larger Big Mac by asking for Quarter Pounder patties. You'll pay for the upgrade, but you'll get twice the protein and a veritable number of additional calories.

Once you pound down one of these, you might not be able to eat anything else for the rest of the day. By utilizing this clever modification, you'll get more bang for your buck.

4. Make the swap for steamed buns

If you've ordered the Filet-o-Fish at McDonald's, you know there is a little something different about the buns on that sandwich. They are softer and chewier than the typical burger bun and there's a big reason for that. Instead of being toasted, like those used for McDonald's chicken sandwiches and burgers, the Filet-o-Fish buns are steamed. And you can ask for a steamed bun for any sandwich.

Hack your way to a softer, more pillowy bun for your regular McDonald's order by simply asking to swap it out for steamed buns. Note that this may not work for some orders, like the Big Mac and the other larger sandwiches, so you'll need to ask.

5. Order well-done hashbrowns to get them extra crispy

Look, there's no denying that it's not McDonald's breakfast without the hashbrowns. But if there is any flaw with those crispy, salty, flaky bundles of greasy joy, it's that they sometimes aren't quite golden brown. Pale gold, sure, to match the arches, but not quite brown enough. If you find this to be the case, welcome to your new favorite McDonald's hack.

To get that extra crunch you crave and deserve, ask for your hashbrowns to be cooked well done. It's worth noting that this hack works for french fries as well. By asking for this, your items will be run through the fryer an extra time and served up piping hot and crispy.

6. Turn hashbrowns into a bun

We've gone to the extreme end of this hack and beyond with the viral McDonald's ice cream sandwich hashbrown earlier in 2023. But you don't need to take things quite that far to enjoy a hashbrown as the bun for your sandwich. As long as it's breakfast time and Mickey D's is serving hashbrowns you can go ahead and ask for a hashbrown bun on any sandwich. Delicious, right?

Here's the deal, this breakfast menu hack will never come to the full menu. You can ask for it if you like, although be warned it has a history of driving McDonald's workers a bit up a wall. Our advice? Don't order this one when the restaurant is slammed. If you roll in during one of the quiet times at breakfast, then we deem it more acceptable to request this operational monstrosity.

7. Hack your way to a grilled cheese

On the opposite end of the spectrum, here is a hack that is quite easy for McDonald's workers to pull off. The Grilled Cheese sandwich is a well-known secret menu item that everyone can agree on. All you need to do is order a cheeseburger without the meat.

While this hack is easy to ask for, you will need to pay the full price of the burger (unless a McDonald's worker is feeling especially generous). From here, you can even ask for toppings or extra slices of cheese if you are feeling adventurous.

8. Get a Poor Man's Big Mac on the cheap

There are more NSFW names for this secret menu creation, but for the sake of the article let's stick to Poor Man's Big Mac. Now, there isn't one definitive way to make this, but it has a few required ingredients: two beef patties, cheese, and Big Mac sauce. The cheapest way to order this, at most McDonald's locations, is to just get a McDouble with a side of Big Mac sauce.

If you want to sweeten the deal and get even closer to emulating the Big Mac on a budget, you can request no ketchup and extra lettuce. You likely will not be charged for these mods, either, but you will have to pay extra for the sauce.

After all that, if you are missing that middle bun, we recommend creating your own with a layer of french fries. Which, c'mon, we know you already got on the side.

9. Customize your breakfast sandwich and save money too

If you aren't a diehard for cheese on your breakfast sandwich, this hack is a game-changer. Looking at McDonald's menu prices, we see it's almost always cheaper to get a plain sandwich with just the protein and then order scrambled eggs on the side. In the case of the sausage biscuit, for example, getting the egg-free version and then ordering eggs on the side can save you some money depending on the prices at your local McDonald's.

This hack is also great if you are not an avid fan of cheese. The McGriddles sandwiches for example offer a sausage, egg, and cheese option as well as a plain sausage option. If you want just sausage and egg in this case it also may be cheaper (and easier) to get a Sausage McGriddle with an egg on the side, as opposed to having to scrape off the cheese or make a special request. 

10. Order a round egg for freshly-cracked eggs

Once you've tried this one, it's admittedly hard to go back. Some of that is a personal preference for sure, but if you've sampled the menu of McDonald's breakfast options, you know the round egg is superior. This freshly cracked round egg is typically only served on the Egg McMuffin, which means if you are ordering a biscuit sandwich or McGriddles, you are getting a premixed scrambled egg. But let's say you want a biscuit and won't settle for artificial eggs, then what do you do?

All that's required for this hack is to ask for a "round egg" on any breakfast sandwich. This will ensure your biscuit includes a McMuffin-style fresh egg instead of the scrambled eggs you would normally receive, upping the quality exponentially. 

11. Elevate your McFlurry with extra mix-ins

If you like ice cream but find the McFlurry treats that McDonald's sells to be a little lackluster, we have the hack for you. In 2017, McDonald's fans in the UK discovered they could pay a small fee for bonus toppings in their McFlurry orders. At that time, a small McFlurry was 99p but for 20p more you could add a bit of extra chocolate sauce on the top, or perhaps an extra helping of Oreo cookie crumbles.

Clearly, this trend began to catch on internationally because McDonald's put out a statement in the form of an FAQ in 2018 declaring this option was not a national guarantee. Instead, these extras are available on a store-by-store basis so you are just going to have to ask and keep your fingers crossed.

12. Discounted coffee and soda for seniors

There was once a time when McDonald's gave free coffee to senior citizens. That is no longer the case, but you will get some perks if you are over 55.

Special promotions aside, many McDonald's still provide senior discounts on coffee and soft drinks. If you can show that you are age 55 or above, there is a chance you can get a reduced price on the beverage of your choice.

13. Look for military and teacher appreciation discounts

While McDonald's doesn't have any standing discounts for seniors or veterans, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be on the lookout for limited-time offers. Occasionally, the chain offers free drinks or discounted items in honor of teachers or those who have served in the military.

In May 2023, Southwestern Virginia McDonald's offered free drinks to educators during Teacher Appreciation Week. The chain is also no stranger to giving away meals for Military Appreciation Day and Veterans Day.

14. Purchase Happy Meal toys à la carte to complete your collection

You don't have to be a kid to get a Happy Meal. That's not actually the hack here, though, since the real appeal of the McDonald's Happy Meal is the toy that comes with it. Whether it's themed like a classic McDonald's character or is the latest movie-tie, kids will want to collect them all. So here's a hot tip for you: Just buy them all at once.

That's right, you can purchase Happy Meal toys all by themselves, without needing to purchase a Happy Meal. They sell for about $1.69, but that price is cut down to 79 cents if you've already purchased one Happy Meal. With this hack, you can stock up on toys for all the kids -– or complete a collection –- without needing to purchase half a dozen little boxes filled with nuggets and fries.

15. Get cheap, bulk ice for your party

This is actually the most surprising McDonald's hack on this list, by a wide margin. Sure, it makes sense that you can get ice at a fast food joint, but who knew that you could buy it in bulk? Well, relative to a massive operation like McDonald's, 4 to 8 pounds at a time doesn't make a dent.

Hit up the fast food chain next time you need to buy bags of ice by heading to the drive-thru or stopping inside. All you need to do is ask the cashier for a bag of ice and if they have the stock to spare, they'll sell it for prices as low as $1 for an 8-pound bag. In some instances, the price of McDonald's ice is even cheaper than the local alternatives.

16. Use your receipt to your advantage

You usually don't have to ask for a receipt at McDonald's. There are a couple of important reasons for this that don't involve your order number or a code for the bathroom. If you don't get one, it's in your best interest to ask, and here's why: The receipts at McDonald's will often come with surveys that you can complete to earn free food.

Additionally, going out of your way to ask for a receipt at certain times will ensure the best experience possible because McDonald's is known for sending in secret reviewers, or "Gapbusters" to ensure quality stays consistent all day. These shoppers always ask for a receipt and often show up between 12 and 2 p.m. or 5 and 7 p.m. So if you are insistent about your receipt during these windows, you are likely to be served the freshest food as fast as possible.

17. Turn your fry box into a ketchup holder

While the McDonald's fry box might just strike you as just a garish identifier of the brand, the iconic red box sporting the golden arches has more than one purpose. It has an ingenious bit of design that allows you to transform it into a holder for condiments, namely, McDonald's one-of-a-kind ketchup.

Listen, this is no Burger King Chicken Fry box with its perfect slot for inserting a dipping cup of BBQ or Ranch, but McDonald's box design does allow you to do this. By flipping down the flap on the back side, you can create a ledge to safely empty out a ketchup packet. This is a useful hack for when you want to dip your fries on the go.

18. Stay connected with free Wi-Fi

Here's an added freebie that technically comes with every meal you purchase. Every time you dine in at McDonald's your meal includes free Wi-Fi. For the cost of just a cup of coffee, McDonald's can be your spot to connect to the Internet.

You don't even need to enter a code from a receipt or log in; just connect to the McDonald's network and accept the terms of agreement that pop up. According to the company, most McDonald's locations offer free Wi-Fi as a service, although some owner-operators may choose to disable it so beware that the Internet may be spotty or turned off momentarily.

19. Ask for modifications

While there are dozens of menu hacks for McDonald's, a plethora of them involve smashing two items together and calling it a day. So here is a real tip for you if you want the best food the chain has to offer: Make modifications to your order. 

Asking for a mod to your sandwich will ensure that you get something fresh and not a burger that's been sitting under a heat lamp for ages (which is anything over 10 minutes by McDonald's standards). If you want an extra ingredient or want your sandwich without something that normally comes on it, the restaurant will need to make it as fresh as it can get.

20. Order salt-free to ensure freshness

This hack is a classic and a lot of people have admittedly tried this surefire way of getting fresh french fries. It's become so prolific that it started to annoy a number of McDonald's employees at different locations. Still, we can't deny that the salt-free fries request does work every time; it just might not make you a new friend.

Asking for fries without salt at McDonald's will ensure that you get the freshest batch possible. Since they are immediately salted every time after coming out of the fryer, asking for fries with no salt will ensure a fresh — small — batch is whipped up just for you. If that sounds like overkill, know that it is. However, if you truly cannot eat the extra sodium do not feel bad about asking for this option. Just know that if you are looking for fresh fries at McDonald's, well, you are probably getting them anyway, especially if you visit during peak lunch or dinner time hours.

21. Or just ask for fresh fries like an adult

At the end of the day, if you want something fresh from McDonald's the best way to get it is to ask. All the menu hacks in the world can't provide the service that one human can when they actually know exactly what you want. We aren't advocating for nastiness, but if you want a hot tip to getting a fresh sandwich and fries from McDonald's, there it is in two words: Ask politely.

That means if you don't want or need unsalted fries, it's best not to try and pull this move just to get something fresh. Considering how fresh the fries are at McDonald's during most times of service, a new batch every seven minutes, you probably don't have to worry. But, if you want to be sure, just smile and ask politely.