Taste of America: Unpacking America’s Food Preferences

America's Food Preferences

If there’s one thing Americans love to do, it’s grabbing a bite to eat. America is a big place, though, and the foods that are popular in one area aren’t always popular in another. 

For that reason, it can be difficult to know what kinds of foods the general population actually wants or enjoys. 

To answer that question, we looked at data collected from YouGov, an international research data and analytics group. The survey examined the responses of approximately 1,500 people selected from the organization’s research panel. 

The first three charts in this piece are collected from YouGov’s research article, “The Most Popular American Dishes” (Q2 2023). Additional data comes from YouGov’s Global Cuisine Survey for May through December 2018. 

The following datasets contain the preferences of American survey participants reflecting popular food items as well as dishes they enjoy from around the world. We also created a new variable to suggest and recommend foods that would be a good combination of international cuisines that many Americans haven’t yet tried but that have been previously enjoyed by those who have. 

Key Findings

  1. The top American dish is mashed potatoes. 85% of Americans polled had a positive opinion of this timeless side dish.
  2. Though they are a classic dish for barbecues and parties, sloppy joes have fallen out of favor and are only seen positively by 68% of Americans.  
  3. Americans’ top three dishes include mashed potatoes, hamburgers, and cheeseburgers, with respective rankings of 85%, 84%, and 84%. 
  4. Desserts aren’t high on Americans’ favorite foods. In fact, apple pies, the first dish on the list, are only seen positively by 79% of Americans
  5. Another popular classic, hot dogs are low on this list with only 72% of people agreeing that they have a positive opinion of them. 
  6. A southern favorite has made it into the top 10 favorite dishes with Southern-style fried chicken reaching a 79% approval rating. 
  7. French fries ranked sixth in popularity, but the related potato dish “tater tots” only made number 16. 
  8. In a surprising upset, the Philly cheesesteak took the lead over chicken pot pie, hot dogs, and sloppy joes with a 74% approval rating.

The Top 20 American Dishes By Popularity

20 American Dishes By Popularity

1. Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are at the top of the list for Americans. These crushed potatoes are normally mixed with milk and butter until they get a fluffy, easy-to-eat finish. At 85% popularity, they are even more popular than hamburgers and cheeseburgers. 

2. Hamburgers

Hamburgers are an American staple. They took their modern form in the United States, becoming a popular lunch, fair, and roadside stand food in states including Texas, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Connecticut. Today, hamburgers rank second on this list with a popularity score of 84%. 

3. Cheeseburgers

Surprisingly, cheeseburgers and hamburgers score the same despite cheeseburgers having a variety of cheeses topping their meaty patties. Also scoring 84%, cheeseburgers have been around since approximately 1924, and they are still a common lunch or dinner dish eaten by millions of Americans every day. 

4. Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese sandwiches are easy to throw together in a pinch. Butter some bread, and fry it with cheese between the slices. Due to this simple construction, grilled cheese scores 83% in popularity among Americans. From eating it alone to adding a side of tomato soup, this is a classic sandwich many Americans enjoy.

5. Steak and Baked Potatoes

Steak and baked potatoes are a core meal choice in the U.S., and this dish is still very popular. 83% of those polled agreed that they had a good impression of steak and baked potatoes, a hearty dish that satisfies almost anyone and that steakhouses bet their businesses on. 

6. French Fries

French fries are so popular that there is a National French Fry Day on July 13 — and this popularity is also reflected with fries making the top six on this list. Scoring 82%, the majority of people polled think favorable thoughts about fries, a common side dish. 

7. Fried Chicken

Fried food is extremely popular in America, and it’s easy to pick it up in drive-thru lines or to make at home in a fryer. Fried chickens of all kinds make this list with a popularity level set at 82%, the same as French fries. Fried chicken ranks just slightly higher than Southern-style fried chicken, which is number 10 on this list. 

8. Corn on the Cob

Corn on the cob is a popular side with steak and potatoes, hamburgers, and other American dishes. It’s so popular that it scored 81% and made it into the top 10 dishes, outsourcing other popular favorites such as hash browns and apple pies. 

9. Hash Browns

Made of finely chopped potatoes and fried to a crisp, hash browns are a breakfast favorite in America. They’re even served at McDonalds as a part of the breakfast menu. Most Americans look at this potato dish favorably, resulting in a score of 81%. 

10. Southern Style Fried Chicken

Falling just a few places below fried chicken is Southern-style fried chicken. This type of fried chicken scores only 79% in popularity, but it is getting more popular with the expansion of fast food restaurants such as Popeyes and Joellas. 

11. Apple Pie

An American classic, apple pie is the first dessert on this list. Interestingly, it scores well below several heartier dishes but is still looked upon favorably by 79% of those surveyed. Apple pies are popular in the U.S. due to the success of apple trees across the nation — it’s a one-time international dish from England that was first created in 1381

12. Steak and Fries

At number 12 on the list of most popular American dishes is the combined favorite of steak and fries. 78% of those surveyed have a positive opinion of steak and fries. This dish is perfect for breakfast (just add an egg) or as a quick lunch. 

13. Roast Beef

Roast beef is a dish that takes a long time to make at home. But it has risen in popularity, thanks to its use in the ever-famous restaurant, Arby’s. Shaved thin and served on a bun, roast beef sandwiches are a common fast-food treat. Roast beef scores 76% on this list. 

14. Turkey Sandwich

While it might not seem like much, the common turkey sandwich is a popular favorite food among Americans. Turkey sandwiches come in a variety of structures with wheat bread, white bread, plenty of veggies, mayo, and more. Its variability helps it land high on the list with 76% of Americans thinking about them favorably. 

15. BBQ Ribs

No summer is complete without a barbecue cookoff, which is one reason why BBQ ribs are on the top 20 list of popular American dishes. Slow-roasted ribs fall off the bone and make for a tasty dinner or party food. Ribs are so popular that there is the All American Rib Cook-Off and other kinds of events featuring ribs as the main dish. 

16. Tater Tots

Small, compact, and crispy, tater tots are a kid’s favorite and a popular side. The rounded tots are simple to eat in their bite-sized shapes and they pair well with other top dishes on this list. 75% of those polled have a positive opinion about tater tots. 

17. Philly Cheesesteak

The Philly cheesesteak started out as a simple shaved steak dish. The shaved steak is placed on a heated sub, and onions and provolone cheese top it off. Today, you can get all kinds of ingredients on a cheesesteak, which helps it make the top 20 list for popularity. It scores 74%. 

18. Chicken Pot Pie

As a hearty dish that can easily be made at home, chicken pot pie is a comfort food that many Americans enjoy. It contains healthy vegetables, a creamy sauce, and a crunchy outer pie crust. At number 18 on this top 20 list, it scores 72% for popularity. 

19. Hot Dogs

No baseball game is complete without getting a hot dog from the concession stand. In fact, hot dog stands are a popular place to get these quick eats in New York, Ohio, and other states. Hot dogs get a 72% popularity score. 

20. Sloppy Joes

Sloppy joes come in a variety of flavors but all consist of the same core ingredients — beef, a tomato sauce mixed with spices, and a bun. This is a quick but messy dish, which may be why it’s at the bottom of the list and has a popularity score of only 68%.

The Perception of American Foods Among Older Adults

Perception of American Foods Among Older Adults

There is a difference in the popularity of different foods based on the age groups that are eating them. While younger people might enjoy fried or fast foods, for example, older adults may want to eat a little healthier or be more outgoing in their tastes. 

In general, older adults have a more positive perception of foods such as apple pie, barbecue ribs, or roast beef compared to millennials. In fact, Baby boomers like BBQ ribs approximately 13% more compared to millennials. For apple pie? 12%. And for roast beef, the difference is 11%. 

Similarly, some foods aren’t really enjoyed by this group. Baby boomers like tater tots around 6% less than millennials, and they like hot dogs approximately 1% less. 

Millennials placed mashed potatoes, hamburgers, and French fries at the top of their lists with 82% popularity for each. The bottom three choices for millennials are BBQ ribs, chicken pot pie, and sloppy joes with scores of 69%, 69%, and 67%.

The next oldest group, Generation X, chose mashed potatoes, hamburgers, and cheeseburgers with scores of 87%, 86%, and 85%, respectively. Their least popular choices were Philly cheesesteaks (73%), sloppy joes (70%), and hot dogs (69%).

Taste in Food By Gender

Difference in taste buds in American men and women

You can’t forget that males and females may have different tastes in food. Hormones such as progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen can influence what men or women like to eat and their cravings for foods.

According to our research, women like French fries approximately 6% more than men. They also like corn on the cob approximately 5% more than men. Both grilled cheese and mashed potatoes are favored by women 4% more than by men, too. 

The most pointed differences are when it comes to “cookout” foods such as hot dogs (-9%), Philly cheesesteak sandwiches (-8%), roast beef (-6%), and BBQ ribs (-5%). Those foods, which are often associated with grilling or sporting events, seem to be liked less by women than men. 

Americans Like American Food Dishes…But What Do They Like Internationally?

Top and bottom 10 cuisines to try for Americans

Americans often eat American foods, but they have some preferences when it comes to international dishes as well. 

10 International Foods Americans Like Most

There are 10 types of international cuisine that most Americans have tried and enjoyed. They include the following in order of popularity.

  1. Italian food
  2. Mexican food
  3. Chinese food
  4. Spanish food
  5. Japanese food
  6. Greek food
  7. French food
  8. Thai food
  9. Caribbean food
  10. German food

Americans are familiar with the major international countries such as Mexico, America’s neighbor, China, Italy, Greece, and others. As a result, Americans are often more familiar with the types of cuisine these cultures produce. In fact, Italian was the most popular cuisine following American food with 88% of people saying they have tried and enjoyed it. That could be thanks to pizza, pasta, and other carb-heavy meals being a common part of the American diet. 

Mexican cuisine is next-highest on the list with 86% of people stating that they like it, and it’s followed closely by Chinese cuisine at 84%. Interestingly, Spanish food is lower than Mexican and Chinese but still makes the top 10 list at 79%. Japanese food is a popular staple in American culture and around three-quarters of Americans like it (74%). French cuisine, which is less common, falls in line with Greek food, both of which 69% of people like. Thai food, another Asian staple in many American homes, is liked by 68% of Americans, the same amount as those who like Caribbean foods. Finally, German cuisine makes it into the top 10 types of cuisine Americans like with 63% of people saying they’ve tried it and liked it.

10 International Foods Americans Like Least

Americans also have international cuisines that they often do not like. These dishes may taste unusual or not suit their palates — or they could simply be unfamiliar. 

The least preferred cuisine options include (from most popular to least popular):

  1. Turkish food
  2. Australian food
  3. Danish food
  4. Indonesian food
  5. Norwegian food
  6. Singaporean food
  7. Malaysian food
  8. Finnish food
  9. Saudi Arabian food
  10. Emirati food

According to the findings, Emirati foods were the least liked, and only 23% of Americans like to eat them. Saudi Arabian food ranks higher at 24%, and Finnish food is a bit higher than that at 27%. From there, there is a jump in the percentage of people who like Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine with 34% of people reporting that they do like it. Comparatively, Norwegian cuisine was liked by only 38% of people who ate it, and Indonesian food fared similarly with 39% of those polled stating that they liked it. Turkish and Australian food, which are the least disliked foods on the list, are only liked by 43% of Americans. Danish cuisine was liked by under half, with 41% of people saying they have eaten it and like it.

International Cuisines Most Americans Have Not Tried

International Cuisines Most Americans should try

The reality is that there are many international food options that Americans have not tried. 

On this chart, you’ll find different international cuisines that Americans have not tried and what their opinions were after trying them. Here’s a breakdown. 

  1. Australian dishes had not been tried by 53% of Americans, but when they did try it, 43% approved. 
  2. For Peruvian food, 53% of Americans had never tried it. When they did, 44% of Americans liked it.
  3. Argentinian dishes hadn’t been tried by 52% of Americans, but after trying them, 48% of those who tried them liked them.
  4. Lebanese food was unknown to 51% of Americans. When they tried the dishes, 47% approved.
  5. Taiwanese food is becoming more popular, but half of Americans have not tried it. Once tried, 48% of Americans say they like it/.
  6. Moroccan food has never been eaten by 49% of Americans in this study. After trying it, 47% agreed that they liked it.
  7. Hong Kong’s foods are unique and approximately 49% of Americans had not tried it. After trying it, 50% who tried it liked it.
  8. Looking at Brazilian cuisine, 47% of Americans polled had never tried it. After doing so, 55% said they liked it. 
  9. For Vietnamese food. 40% of polled Americans said they had never tried it. After they did, 59% agreed that they did like it.
  10. Caribbean food is unique to most parts of the country. 35% of Americans said they had never tried it, but after doing so, 68% said they liked it.

From this data, it can be suggested that Caribbean, Vietnamese and Brazilian dishes are most likely to be liked by Americans who have not tried them before. For Brazilian cuisine, the food was popular among 55% of Americans, but Vietnamese food polled higher at 59% of Americans liking it. The highest-rated dishes came from the Caribbean, however, with 68% of Americans stating that they liked it. 

Wrap Up

During our look at the American food preferences in these studies, the data has provided invaluable insights into what Americans of different genders and demographics enjoy eating. This data shows there is deep-rooted interest in traditional American dishes over international cuisine, with mashed potatoes ranking high on the top of most Americans’ lists. These are followed by national favorites including hamburgers and cheeseburgers.

It’s safe to say that the classic comfort foods known today as traditional American foods still capture the attention of most Americans thanks to being well-known, hearty, and easy-to-access foods. This is further proven by looking at how open Americans are to international cuisine and the fact that there is still a significant opportunity for new dishes from many cultures to make their way into American diets.

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