These Jack In The Box Smash Burgers Aren't What They Seem

The Smashed Jack and Bacon Double Smashed Jack burgers hit the menu earlier this month.

The worldwide frenzy for smash burgers doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. George Motz's new restaurant focuses on the California-style burger exclusively, and smashed patties have even taken London by storm. It truly feels like ages ago that the smash burger craze started, but the Double Double has staying power for good reason: It's just a delicious, practical way to enjoy a burger, and the food science backs that up. Surprisingly, even Jack in the Box has capitalized on the moment by rolling out its brand-new Smashed Jack and Bacon Double Smashed Jack burger for a limited time only.

California has 944 Jack in the Box locations, the most of any other state. To release a smash burger here, in the epicenter of the smash burger blast radius, is a curious decision. Southern California needs smash burgers like it needs more police helicopters roaming the sky (it's constant). The burger scene in Los Angeles is dominated by beloved franchises like In-N-Out, Fatburger, and dozens of privately owned burger joints all serving up delicious smashed beef patties and caramelized onions. How can Jack in the Box hope to compete?

The suits clearly made a savvy move, because the Smashed Jack is selling like hotcakes. The single costs $8.29, and the double smash with bacon runs up to $11.09. That's a bit steeper than the competition; for reference, the Double Double combo at In-N-Out costs $11.09, while the Double Double on its own costs $5.89. Jack in the Box, then, is more expensive than arguably the most iconic smash burger of all time. Does it really have a chance of outshining In-N-Out? I ordered both Smashed Jacks to find out.

How do the new Smashed Jack burgers taste?

Both burgers come boxed up, but wrapped in paper old-school-style, just like at In-N-Out. These burgers also reek of onions, beef, pickles, and special sauce (a new condiment that Jack in the Box is calling Boss Sauce). Like, they really smell. The fragrance is pleasant, though. I always forget just how much odor a smash burger emits until a bag of the stuff is sitting in my car. They look real pretty, too. Peep the single:

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We'll start with the bad: Jack in the Box's single, ¼-lb. Smashed Jack is simply not a smash burger. The patty here is not smashed enough to qualify. The beef has that chewy, cheap texture and flavor, rendering it squeaky, and features none of those crispy, lacy edges one is used to seeing in a quality smash burger. Perhaps that's because Jack in the Box allegedly uses frozen beef, as opposed to In-N-Out, which only uses fresh. The difference in quality, unfortunately, is stark. Paramount to a good smash burger is the use of fresh, malleable beef, and Jack doesn't have it.

Still, this isn't a bad burger by any means—if anything, Jack in the Box just aped McDonald's. The pickles, onions, and Boss Sauce are reminiscent of a Big Mac sans lettuce, and I finished the whole thing. The beef gets somewhat lost in the other ingredients, which is nice. The less you can taste these beef patties, the better.

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Jack in the Box's brioche bun, while not traditional, is also very good. It comes toasted, and it's rich and squishy, with none of the weird flavor that many people find in McDonald's buns. Still, these are no potato buns, which some consider a necessary feature of a classic smash burger. For homemade smash burgers, chef J. Kenji López-Alt recommends using Arnold's potato buns to get close to the In-N-Out experience, where the buns are baked special by Puritan Bakery.

The pickles, onions, and Boss Sauce are a wonderful combination, if not impossible to screw up. The Smashed Jack is not a smash burger in the technical sense, but it's not bad at all.

The Bacon Double Smashed Jack, meanwhile, is a wrong turn down a road you don't want to go. It's simply way too much, a behemoth with virtually none of the nuance you see in a classic smashed burger. Remember, smashed burgers are so good because of the technique used to make them. Smashing the burger serves a scientific purpose: By creating more surface area on the patty, there's more room for the Maillard reaction to happen, and that browning process creates wonderful new flavors along the crispy edge that you can't otherwise achieve.

None of that feels present here. While every ingredient of a classic smash burger melds into each other, creating one sumptuous, melty, squishy experience, this burger remains disjointed. Jack's Bacon Double burger flops and slides around with each bite.

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Take a look at the burger patties (sorry if this is gross.) They're just far too thick for a smash burger. The single Smashed Jack is a perfectly fine experience, and its onions and pickles shine brighter because of the ratio of meat. But the Double is an abject failure because you don't really want to taste this much beef at Jack in the Box. This is a thick, brutish burger posing as a smash burger. Can (allegedly) frozen beef patties even be smashed on the flattop? How would one go about doing that?

The one thing Jack in the Box has going for it is that you can get your food relatively easily. In-N-Out can draw some pretty hefty traffic in its drive-thru lines, which often spills onto the LA streets in an annoying manner. In-N-Out, while technically "fast" food, can require a bit of a wait. If you're impatient, Jack in the Box lines are usually much shorter. Just don't go expecting an authentic smash burger. Good smash burgers are all about getting the science right. Jack in the Box has the wrapper, but that's about it.

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