McDonald's New Burgers Really Are An Improvement

McDonald's decision to make changes to its burgers seems like a pretty big deal, yeah? I mean, this is an iconic product with a pretty singular flavor in the fast food world. McD's elicits fond childhood memories in just about everyone, and its menu has even influenced a lot of chefs (check out the Le Pig Mac at Cochon Butcher in New Orleans). To make any alterations to such a recognizable stable of burgers seems risky, and I applaud it. Instead of growing complacent, McDonald's has declared, "If it ain't broke, well, we're making some tweaks anyways." Or, maybe McDonald's burgers have always been a little bit mediocre, able to be improved upon and changed this entire time.

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All in all, McDonald's has outlined four changes to its burgers:

  • The Big Mac will have more sauce.
  • The cheese will be melty.
  • The onions will be added to the patties on the grill, rather than being added after cooking (I don't know if this means they'll be cooked more or not, but we'll get into that). The onions will allegedly have "juicer, caramelized flavor."
  • The burger buns are changing to become softer, and each will be toasted lightly brown.
  • These tweaks have already been rolled out to numerous McDonald's locations on the West Coast. And while all of them are welcome changes, reading through the list made me stop and say, "Wait, what the hell? McDonald's hasn't been melting its cheese, caramelizing its onions, and toasting its burger buns for 68 years?"

    These three very basic techniques are paramount to creating a good burger. Honestly, it's surprising that the brand was able to grow into such a global juggernaut without them. Per the press release:

    "I'll always remember my first burger from McDonald's. And now my culinary team and I have the best job in the world: thinking about ways to bring even more of that iconic McDonald's taste to fans," said Chef Chad Schafer, Senior Director of Culinary Innovation, McDonald's USA. "We found that small changes, like tweaking our process to get hotter, meltier cheese and adjusting our grill settings for a better sear, added up to a big difference in making our burgers more flavorful than ever."

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    Do the new burgers really have a better sear? It'll be interesting to find out. As The Takeout's Los Angeles correspondent (self-proclaimed), I tracked down these new and improved burgers to taste them for myself.

    I spoke to the manager of a McDonald's just outside LA, who confirmed all of the changes to the burger preparation—and also noted that there were some more changes not highlighted by the press release. He was incredibly pleasant and very helpful. Give this man a raise immediately. Anyway, I tried a Big Mac and a Double Cheeseburger to see if I could detect any changes. Here's what I found.

Tasting the new McDonald's Big Mac

On its face, this burger is the same ol' stacked Big Mac, which hasn't changed much at all in the past 50 years. Now, however, it's being made slightly differently: The onions are added to the burger patties on the grill, and the finished burger allegedly features more Big Mac sauce.

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There really is a noticeable difference in the amount of sauce here. The above photo might look dry, but in between each tier of bread there is a generous slathering of sauce, which oozes out of the sides of the Big Mac just like it does in the marketing photos. Evidently the staff has been given clear instruction to be more liberal with the secret sauce. I simply don't remember the Big Mac being this messy before. This burger is starting to read like a an animal-style smash burger, the kind of Californian, loaded-up-with-sauce double double you find everywhere in LA.

The onions, meanwhile, had no perceivable difference in flavor. They might now be added to the burger patty while it sizzles on the grill, but McDonald's burger onions are famously tiny. They're minced, dehydrated, then rehydrated. They barely taste like anything, and in a saucy Big Mac, they certainly get lost. The sauce, lettuce, pickles, and sesame seed bun contribute much more to the flavor of this entree.

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The McDonald's manager also said that the Big Mac burger buns had become smaller, with fewer sesame seeds. This seems to be part of an initiative set in motion a few years back, and we could be seeing the results in 2023; it sure doesn't seem anywhere close to 178 seeds to me. Again, a negligible difference. This is the same ol' Big Mac with more sauce, but I do indeed think it's improved.

Tasting the new McDonald's Double Cheeseburger

McDonald's refreshed Double Cheeseburger is a giant upgrade, all things considered. The cheese does indeed appear to be slightly melted instead of just a cold, processed square slab slapped on a burger patty. The result makes a huge difference. I have never been a big fan of McDonald's Double Cheeseburger (Quarter Pounder excluded, which uses fresh beef), but the melty cheese brings the whole thing together nicely. This feels more like a cohesive burger than what's been served in the past. Each ingredient melds with the other. I actually really enjoyed eating this. Am I going to Hell?

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Once again, as far as the onions go, I'm not sure what to think. These onions are added to the burger patties while cooking, sure, but I can't tell if there's really that much caramelization happening. Some of them look like they're glistening, but their flavor is nothing to write home about. As soon as McDonald's said "caramelized," I wanted to call bullshit immediately. Can onions really caramelize on a burger patty cooked in 42 seconds? The answer: Absolutely not.

Hey, check out that toasted bun, though. That adds some good flavor and texture, and coupled with the upgrade to warm, melty cheese, the whole Double Cheeseburger experience feels altogether more indulgent. I almost want to say this is a really good burger, period, but the fast food quality of the meat kind of stands in the way of that. Still, these are real improvements to a couple of classics. Good on ya, McD's.

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