I enjoy fast food more than the average person...and probably more than any person should, average or not. There's something comforting about knowing exactly what you're going to get every time—a cheeseburger is a cheeseburger, no matter where you go. Even when they modify the recipes, overhaul the menus for other countries, or simply offer a special limited-time-only item, there's a joy in trying something new—even if it's weird, it's at least safe, because fast food is fast food, no matter what you get.
Usually, at least.
When McDonald's debuted their third-pound Angus burger some years ago, I gave it a shot. Better-quality beef on a sandwich that more closely resembles what you might get in a sit-down restaurant than a grease-and-go like Mickey D's? Sure, I'm there.
Worst thing I've ever had at a fast food joint. Actually, that's a lie; I've eaten at Duchess. Third worst, then. Don't let the promotional glamor shot fool you—instead of being a high-class sandwich that pushed the limits of what fast food could be, it tasted like a regular restaurant burger that was pushing the limits of what humans consider food. Slimy on the outside, cooked beyond what was necessary on the inside, and raising questions of whether the meat I was eating had actually spoiled, I swore off the Angus burger about three bites in.
Fast forward to October 2012, when the white cheddar moguls of the world have begun sneaking white cheddar into Burger Kings and McDonald's across the country, leaving these two big businesses to do what any two competitors would do: compete, mano a mano. (Though, because we're talking burgers, it's more like mayo a mayo.)
Contestant #1: Burger King Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper
Contestant #2: McDonald's Cheddar Bacon Onion (CBO) Angus Burger
Angus. ::shudder:: Quoting from the McD's website: "Three delicious ingredients—white cheddar, hickory-smoked bacon and caramelized onions—make for one gourmet taste." Judging from their conspicuous omission, I'm reading this description to mean that beef and bun do not make for a gourmet taste. It's also interesting that the usual toppings—tomato, pickle, lettuce—are nowhere to be found, either; perhaps they have the good sense to be on a sandwich that won't make them look worse by association.
First off, this wasn't a planned taste test. My wife and I were hungry. So we went to Burger King. I'd heard about this so-called White Cheddar Whopper, and with fond memories of the Indy Double Whopper (which you may recall as a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tie-in, and which tasted like adventure), I found an excuse to stop.
I ordered a Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper with no tomato, no pickle.
I got a Tomato Pickle Whopper with no Wisconsin White Cheddar.
I politely pointed out this irony to the person at the counter, who, with no apologies to the proverbial starving children in Africa, banished my faulty sandwich to the nearest trash bin. A little shocked and indignant as this flagrant waste of food, I never did end up telling the person that dropping a slice of melty white cheddar on my old burger would have been sufficient—heck, I would've even removed the pickles and tomatoes myself. But no, the new burger was already on the way.
In retrospect, perhaps they did fish the old burger out of the trash and slap some white cheddar on it while I wasn't looking.
While it is possible that I doomed my own alliteratively titled Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper by declining mission-critical pickles and tomatoes, I believe it's more likely that the individual ingredients feel too self-important to work together with each other to form a harmonious burger. This supposed symphony of a sandwich was the gastronomical equivalent of a concert in which there's no discernible melody because each part is loudly playing a tune of its own; some little green thing singing, "I'M THE PICKLE!" isn't going to be missed.
The core problem, really, is that I'm not big into Whoppers. The toppings—while still being standard, innocuous toppings—tend to overpower the taste of the beef, and the beef usually tastes more like the grill than the cow to me. So either way, I can't win. What set the Indy Double Whopper apart was that it had about the same balance of toppings against double the amount of beef—thereby solving the first part of the problem—and that the Cajun mayo and pepper jack cheese sufficiently masked the husky flavor of the beef—thereby solving the second part of the problem.
The Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper was, as previously assessed...just a whopper. With a different color cheese. And another topping to add to the cacophonous pile. Yet it was still better than that miserable third-pound Angus burger from years ago. Which brings me to our other contestant...
When my wife and I arrived at a McDonald's not even a week later, it was for no other reason than that she and I were hungry. The presence of this ominous new CBO on the menu was a surprise, but more than that...it was an unexpected challenge. Could the amateur food connoisseur in me stand strong against the memories of that one fateful, miserable Angus burger that were oozing into my stomach and taste buds? I panicked for a moment over how much I actually wanted Chicken McNuggets, and then my wife talked some sense into me: "You want the burger."
If there's one thing I trust my vegetarian wife about, it's burgers. Besides, the opportunity for a comparative blog post was too good to pass up. I ordered the Cheddar Bacon Onion Angus burger and braced myself for the worst.
What I got, instead of the worst, was a high-class sandwich that pushed the limits of what fast food could be. Truly, it put the "g" back in "Angus."
Quality beef, lots of it, properly melted white cheddar that complemented the patty, onions that brought diversity to the main flavor without overwhelming it, bacon that enhanced the beefiness with a smoky twist, a surprise slathering of creamy mustard sauce to keep the production pleasantly tangy and never too dry, and a cushy bun that comfortably encased all the ingredients without muscling in on the flavor? Yes, please.
Absolutely no contest here: McDonald's' CBO is the superior sandwich.
Whopper fans might argue otherwise, but switching out the cheese and adding a topping probably won't be enough to convert you if you aren't already a Whopper fan. Kudos to McDonald's for not just assembling but crafting a burger that actually deserves that "premium" descriptor that's so often bandied about...and kudos for finally dispelling that wave of nausea that used to come over me anytime I saw the phrase "Angus burger." Well done.