The American Fast Food the World Loves: Top Global Brands

8. Dunkin' Donuts

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SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 7: American donut chain Dunkin' Donuts now has 40 outlets around China, including 18 here in Shanghai, with ambitious plans to expand to 100 stores in China within the decade.  Shanghai is in the midst of what has been called "the donut wars," as Dunkin' faces competition from Krispy Kreme, Mister Donut, Donut King, and a host of other local shops, all for the morning palates of Shanghai's increasingly affluent young consumers.  What's not clear is whether sweet American-style donuts are popular in China, where morning breakfast generally consists of congee, or rice porridge, soybean milk, and maybe a plain, steamed bun.   Here, two men relax in the shade on benches outside a Dunkin' Donuts outlet.(Photo by Keith B. Richburg/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

With the American economy still sluggish, many fast-food chains have focused recent expansion overseas.

After a growth spurt last year, there are more than 66,000 units of U.S.-based fast-food restaurants abroad just among the 10 largest chains, data from trade publication QSR magazine shows.

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The fastest-growing major U.S. chain abroad is Subway, which added over 1,000 international units last year. Growth markets include Russia, Brazil, China, and United Arab Emirates.

Subway operates in 100 countries now, adding Suriname and Romania last year. The chain does substantial menu changes for individual markets, including going vegetarian in its India restaurants.

Hot on Subway's heels is Dunkin' Donuts, which opened more than 900 donut shops overseas in 2012.

Last year saw Dunkin's first shops open in India and Guatemala, and Vietnam is coming this year. Chile, Colombia, and Peru were growth markets last year.

In third place in the international-growth derby is KFC, which added nearly 700 restaurants abroad. Sales at its more than 4,200 restaurants in China floundered, in part thanks to a poultry-supply scandal, but the Yum! Brands division kept on growing overseas.

Leading the pack in international presence is -- no surprise -- McDonald's, which now has more than 18,700 international units.

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McDonald's had a slow year in 2012 for international growth, though, growing by only 212 units, QSR reports. The UK and Russia were standout international performers last year for the Golden Arches.

As McDonald's story shows, if you've got a big enough lead on the competition, you don't necessarily need big growth to be the biggest global player.

Some of the biggest chains internationally didn't grow a lot in the past year, but still have the largest overseas store counts.

Here are the top 10 fast-food chains with the most restaurants overseas:

1. McDonald's

Number of international restaurants: 18,710

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STR/AFP/Getty Images

McDonald's added just 212 eateries overseas last year, but its commanding lead left it still tops in international presence amongst American-based fast-food-chains. Pictured here is a McDonald's meal in Yichang, China.

2. KFC

Number of international restaurants: 11,798

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The Yum! Brands division has more than 4,200 restaurants in China, where a poultry-feed scandal caused sales to decline last year. Shown here: A meal at a Shanghai KFC.

3. Subway

Number of international restaurants: 10,109

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Miguel Medina/AFP-Getty Images

Subway operates in more than 100 countries now, having added Suriname and Russia last year. Above is a Subway sign at a restaurant in Paris.

4. Pizza Hut

Number of international restaurants: 5,890

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Pizza Hut -- a sister company to Yum! Brands' KFC -- build 367 new international stores in 2012. The pizza chain also sold all its corporate-owned foreign restaurants to independent franchise owners last year.

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5. Starbucks

Number of international restaurants: 5,727

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Business Wire

The java giant now has coffee shops in over 50 countries, and added 220 international shops last year. Shown here: A Starbucks in Japan.

6. Burger King

Number of international restaurants: 4,998

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AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

America's number-three burger chain is well-known abroad -- it's available in 73 countries. The chain ended the year with 170 more restaurants overseas. Shown here: A Burger King in London.

7. Domino's Pizza

Number of international restaurants: 4,422

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AP Photo/Sunday Alamba

Domino's now delivers in over 60 countries around the globe. The company's overseas restaurant count grew by 350 last year. Shown here: A Domino's in Lagos, Nigeria.

8. Dunkin' Donuts

Number of international restaurants: 3,005

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Keith B. Richburg/The Washington Post via Getty Images

As you can see from the Chinese storefront above, Dunkin' is a familiar name the world over. The U.S. donut leader operates in more than 30 countries and is on a huge international push, growing its overseas presence by more than 900 stores last year alone.

9. Dairy Queen

Number of international restaurants: 802

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AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

DQ’s hot eats and cool treats are familiar in 18 countries, including China -- which got its 500th Dairy Queen last year -- and Mexico, where the chain opened its 100th unit. The chain's overseas store count rose by over 150 last year, including the opening of its 100th restaurant in Mexico and 500th Chinese store. Dairy Queen is also bringing Orange Julius to more countries with its initiative to begin offering the juice and smoothie brand, which it owns, in its own Dairy Queen stores.

10. Papa John's

Number of international locations: 755

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Papa John's positioning in the marketplace -- offering 'better pizza' for the masses -- paid off last year as the chain added 86 new overseas stores. Per-unit revenue is low compared to some other fast-food chains, though: Papa John's is #10 in number of units, but #20 in foreign revenue.

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