I Fail to See the Improvement
McDonald's New "Improved" Burgers
McDonald's is not known for making "good" food. They are sustaining, sure. Fatty and greasy, yes, but it's hard to deny that there is a certain something about their slabs of seared ground meat. I don't exactly like McDonald's food but, every once in a very great while, I do have a craving for the very specific taste. No one makes burgers quite like the Golden Arches, and generally that's a good thing. Generally...
Recently (as of early 2023 for those reading in the future) McDonald's announced that they were upgrading their burgers. A couple of specific innovations were being added to make the burgers taste better. Being one of those people that would sarcastically say, "well, you can't make them taste much worse," I knew I had to get over to the Arches so I could try out these "improved" burgers for myself. My test was done at my local Mickey D's with an order of a Two Cheeseburger Value Meal, and here in is my report.
Before we get to my thoughts, though, let's go over just what "innovations" McDonald's put into the burgers to make them "improved." The basic composition of a Mickey D's meat cheeseburger is: a cook ground beef patty, adorned first with a single slice of American cheese, followed by pickles, diced onions, ketchup, and then the bun. Go into any Mickey D's and that would be the exact cheeseburger you would get. It's easy to make, and every store would make it the same. They may not be great but they are absolutely consistent.
To "improve" the burgers, corporate mandated some basic tweaks. First, the diced onions are put on the griddle with the meat so they could cook and caramelize, adding their flavor to the burger. In theory this could give a McDonald's burger a flavor profile in like with the White Castle slider, with the onions in the patty, cooked right in. No one has the illusion that this will suddenly turn a Mickey D's burger into an Oklahoma Onion Cheeseburger, but a little extra flavor would be nice.
Second, the cheese would be applied while the patty was on the grille, letting it get "melty". While I'd never noticed if my cheese was especially melty or not on a McDonald's burger, some Online have reported that they would appreciate a little extra heat getting on their cheese slice. It's American, so there's only so much you can do to "melt" it, but hey, this is again something that maybe could improve the flavor profile.
On top of this, the chain promised more sauce on their burgers. This extends not just to the Big Mac (which I will admit I didn't sample here, for reasons we'll discuss below) but to all the sauces put on all their burgers. That's part of why I grabbed the cheeseburger meal from the store; in the past I've found their dollops of ketchup to be lacking, leaving the burger just a little dry. I wanted to see if the stores had really gotten the message and were finally applying a good amount of liquid to their burgers.
And finally, the burgers were getting softer and more pillow brioche-style buns. These would first be toasted before being applied. I've gotta admit that I never felt like it was the buns that were holding the burgers back. At the same time, though, I have had more than a few stale burger buns served from McDonald's establishments so if these would add in an extra level of bun scrutiny to avoid stale breads, then that might just be worth it.
So those are the improvements in theory. How did they work in practice? Well, I think that's where we run into a big issue with this whole idea because, frankly, a McDonald's burger will always be a McDonald's burger. You're fighting a steep, uphill battle to improve what the store does, especially when any major change could alienate the actual fans of the food. Improvements, then, will feel incremental at best, and that's how the above list feels: little changes they could get away with that wouldn't alienate anyone.
Of the changes, I feel like grilling the onions had the least impact on the burger. The onions have always been little more than garnish; you could see them if you opened the bun up but I doubt anyone (that didn't absolutely despise onions) would notice they were there if they weren't looking. The diced onions are small, scattered, and barely applied even in the best of circumstances. Taking the same amount of tiny, diced onions and putting them on the burger while it cooks isn't going to change anything at all because they're still too small to notice. They exist as a talking point but they add nothing.
The cheese also really didn't seem to add anything by being melted. By the time the burger got to me the cheese had already solidified up to the point that I didn't notice, texture-wise, that it had been melted at all. Sure, I could see it when I lifted the bun and saw that the cheese had taken on the distinct form of the burger below. It didn't add anything to the eating experience, though. Maybe if I got it hotter and quicker, but I really didn't waste any time. I grabbed the bag when it was handed to me, sat down, and opened the wrapper, and in just that brief time the cheese was already firm. That says a lot about the resilience of American cheese, but it says far less about McDonald's and their ambitions.
On the plus side, I did certainly notice the extra sauce on my cheeseburgers this was the first time in a while where I didn't lament the lack of ketchup on my burger. It was just right, not too drippy but with enough moisture and flavor to carry the burger. I didn't really notice the improvements on the bun, meanwhile, but it didn't come out stale so, hey, that's a win in my book. So hey, some improvements were noticed, maybe just not as much as the Golden Arches would have wanted.
Now, for you Big Mac fans, I wanted to confirm I didn't get the Big Mac for this test. The press release saying, "the Big Mac will get even more sauce," put me right off. I wasn't one of those people thinking that burger needed more sauce; I thought the classic way was already just right (if not verging on already having too much). The thought of even more of it (which has been confirmed by others stating just how messy the new Mac is) made me queasy. Hey, if you want even more Big Mac sauce on your burger I bet it'll be there for ya. Just go in prepared.
So thats it. The "new and improved" burgers were basically the same as the old ones. The only changes I noticed were "more ketchup" (which I could fix on my own with a ketchup packet) and "my bun wasn't stale", which really feels like a low bar McDonald's should have been achieving without this new initiative. Nothing else really stood out leaving me saying, "yep, it's a McDonald's burger." If you like it then you already like it, but anyone hoping this initiative will suddenly improve the McDonald's burger experience will just need to keep waiting.