- McDonald’s announced tweaks to its burgers, including its Big Mac.
- We tried Big Mac burgers in Ohio and California to see how these tweaks manifested in real life.
- We focused on buns, cheese, condiments, Mac sauce, and burgers in our review.
McDonald’s recently announced ambitious plans to improve its burgers.
The chain said small tweaks like softer buns, meltier cheese, and saucer Big Macs would make a “big difference in making our burgers more flavorful than ever,” Chad Schafer, senior director of culinary innovation at McDonald’s USA, said in a press release in April.
But change comes slowly when you’ve got over 40,000 restaurants, so many are just getting a taste of the new burgers.
We tried out the burgers earlier in December, which happened to be a very busy week for the chain. (The chain announced official details for its spinoff restaurant CosMc, said it would add about 9,000 restaurants to its fleet, and signaled it would bring back wraps.)
After confirming with the chain and franchisees that the stores we visited in Ohio and California had the new improvements, we set to work evaluating them. We focused on buns, cheese, onions, pickles, lettuce, sauce, an the burger itself using information the chain released and some details revealed in another publication.
Here’s what we found.
McDonald’s promised: “Softer, pillowy buns that are freshly toasted to a golden brown.” The Wall Street Journal noted the bun was “a buttery brioche” with “sesame seeds more randomly scattered for a homemade look.”
Gloria: The buns are definitely soft. It dimpled under my finger when I held the Big Mac out to take a photo. The buns may have been inching toward too soft. The Big Macs I tried were difficult to eat without falling apart. The scattered sesame seeds were a nice touch, though.
Nancy: Presentation-wise, it looked great with the new pillowy bun, which was warm to the touch. Sometimes McDonald’s buns can be cold. Still, McDonald’s said they are using a buttery brioche bun, but I couldn’t taste any butter in the flavorless bun.
McDonald’s promised: “Even more of everyone’s favorite Big Mac sauce, bringing more tangy sweetness in every Big Mac bite. The special sauce is bumped up to half an ounce from one-third.”
Gloria: There was a ton of sauce on the Big Macs. I got the feeling the sauce was trying to hide that the burger was dry.
Nancy: When I took a bite, the sauce began oozing out of the burger like toothpaste from a tube. The corner of my lip and part of my chin was covered in sauce. (See pic above)
Onions, pickles, and lettuce
McDonald’s promised: “Juicier, caramelized flavor from adding white onions to the patties while they’re still on the grill.” The chain told the Journal the onions were dehydrated after harvesting and rehydrated in the restaurant and “dispensed through plastic shakers onto burgers as they cook.” The lettuce and pickles were expected to be fresher than previous burgers as they were stored in smaller containers, “requiring crews to refresh them from the cooler more often.”
Gloria: I saw haphazard onion distribution with no noticeable flavor. The opposite happened with the lettuce. There was so much! The extreme amount of lettuce made the Big Mac messier. Between the sauce and the lettuce, the burgers were sliding around, and the super soft bun couldn’t hold it all in place. The pickles, however, offered a perfect sour crunch.
Nancy: There was a paltry amount of tiny chopped onions on the top patty of my Big Mac. If they want tips on how to grill onions with a burger, they should check out In-N-Out Animal-style burgers. I could not taste the onions at all. I’d rather have real onion slivers than dehydrated/rehydrated onions. The shredded lettuce on my Big Mac didn’t look or taste any different. I didn’t see any wilted pieces. The two pickles, on the other hand, did look bigger. One was oblong-shaped compared to the standard round pickles.
McDonald’s promised: ”Perfectly melted cheese that will make you want to savor every last bit off the wrapper.” And told the Journal that “the cheese is taken out of refrigerators ahead of time so it melts more easily.
Gloria: This was the biggest miss, in my opinion. Melty, gooey cheese can cover a multitude of sins (like dry burgers). But my cheese was very much an unmelted square.
Nancy: The cheese was not perfectly melted as billed. It was unevenly melted. In fact, the oversauced Big Mac caused the cheese to turn into a cheese spread in the center of the beef patty.
McDonald’s promised it was “adjusting our grill settings for a better sear.” They told the Journal it was cooking six burgers at a time instead of eight for improved consistency, and had “calibrated the gap on the metal clamshell that presses burgers on the grill down to the millimeter, to avoid pressing too hard and squeezing out all the juices.
Gloria: I had low expectations here, and the burger met them. It’s hard to churn out as many burgers as McDonald’s does and keep them juicy. It seems much easier to control things like toppings. I’m not over the cheese.
Nancy: The top patty had two very noticeable holes. Not a good first impression. Time to recalibrate the grill. These patties had no juice to them, but they still had a greasy aftertaste. Each Big Mac patty was paper thin. It looked like they were cooked in a vice. Maybe things will change soon. CEO Chris Kempczinski told CNN that the chain is looking into creating “a larger burger.” It’s unclear if he means a new bigger-size burger or bigger patties.
Gloria: In theory, I understand wanting to make these small tweaks. People love McDonald’s burgers, particularly the Big Mac, so they would be outraged by any significant change. But some of these tweaks don’t seem to fit into the McDonald’s restaurant model, which values speed. One of the tweaks, having employees get lettuce and pickles from coolers more frequently for optimal freshness, seems like the opposite of efficiency. And as much as I want that perfectly melted cheese, how do you automate and streamline getting the cheese out of the fridge and onto the burger at just the right time to make sure it melts on the burger? I think McDonald’s needs to rethink quite a few of these tweaks and consider how to scale them.
Nancy: It’s taken McDonald’s seven years to revamp its dry burgers. For that amount of time, I expect a major transformation. I expected a burger that would dazzle me from the first bite. Little tweaks like the improved pickles and bun made the Big Mac present better. But it didn’t taste better. I came in with high expectations and left with a greasy, not juicy, taste in my mouth. Maybe it’s time to invent an entirely new burger, rather than spend seven years repairing burgers that can’t be fixed.