Why are onion rings and drive-in restaurants forever connected?

(Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

Do you love onion rings? Whether served as a side, topping a hamburger or transformed into that “blooming” option, the fried onion has become a favorite dish. While many people cannot resist that crispy, crunchy fried bite, there is a little secret hiding under that batter. Do you why onion rings are forever connected to drive-in restaurants?

Although recipes for onion rings can be dated back to the 1800s, the desire to fry onions might not be a home cook’s priority. From that leftover oil to getting the batter consistency right, a great fried onion is not as easy as it looks. But, that craving for that taste doesn’t fade easily.

On today’s restaurant menus, onion rings seem to be a staple. While some large-scale brands have made their reputation on the appetizers of blooming, pull-apart style fried onions, the onion ring is slightly different. From the large circles that have to be broken into pieces for consumption to the smaller circles that are almost pop-able, it has become an alternative to a side of fries with many dishes.

What do onion rings have to do with drive-in restaurants?

While some people cannot help but snack on food from that takeout bag from the drive-through window, that concept is not the connection. According to History.com, onion rings were invented by Pig Stand restaurants. Although no longer in existence, Pig Stand restaurants were the “nation’s first drive-in restaurant.” More importantly, it was said to invent onion rings.

Previously known as “America’s Motor Lunch,” the restaurants appeared around the U.S. More and more people wanted the convenience of ordering and eating directly from their car and this restaurant chain delivered.

One of the menu items offered was onion rings, which is believed to be the restaurant’s innovation. Also, it is said that the Pig Stand invented chicken-fried steak sandwiches and Texas Toast. While food history is often debated, everyone can agree that a debt of gratitude should be given to Pig Stand for this fried side.

Unfortunately, Pig Stand restaurants are no longer in existence. The last location in Texas closed in 2006. But, the onion rings that the chain created live on menus everywhere.

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Do you know some interesting food history? Is there a tasty bit of food trivia that you would like to share?