We need to talk about the recent changes to McDonald’s Dollar Menu. The rising cost of beef has hit the fast food industry pretty hard, with recent focuses on chicken sandwiches and slowly creeping prices on various value menus. The hard times have even hit McDonald’s, who recently recalibrated their dollar menu with some new options and shifted price points. First let’s start out with the nightmare bad news: the McDouble has been raised to $1.19. While this isn’t a huge price increase, there’s just something about America’s favorite dollar burger (or at least, my favorite dollar burger) breaking that threshold that’s kind of sad. There are some new, cheaper burger options, but both of them only include one patty. The other additions are McChicken variations, used to pad out the 99 cent section of the menu. Let’s look at some of these freshman offerings.

*slide whistle*

*slide whistle*

The Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger is pretty simple. It’s a patty with a heaping helping of grilled onions and a slice of White Cheddar cheese, similar to a White Castle hamburger. It’s not bad by any means, but again, compared to the lean, balance recipe of the McDouble, it’s just kinda lacking. Stranger still is the BBQ Ranch Burger, another single patty burger that shares the White Cheddar but adds barbecue ranch sauce and genericized Fritos corn chips. It’s interesting, and I’ll give them points for originality, but it still doesn’t really come together very well. They can’t afford tomatoes on a dollar burger, but even some onion or something might give it a little more of an identity. The last one I sampled was the Bacon Cheddar McChicken, which as you’d expect was a McChicken with bacon and Cheddar cheese on top. It was an improvement over the regular McChicken, but the McChicken patty is still substandard, so if you really want chicken, their premium chicken sandwiches are worth the extra price.

No bad ideas in brainstorming. Actually producing and selling this, though...

No bad ideas in brainstorming. Actually producing and selling this, though…

All in all, the new Dollar Menu sandwiches do little to soften the blow of the McDouble price hike. I appreciate the effort, but none of them are remarkably good, and it’s still probably a better bet to go with the McDouble, even with the markup. It’s took bad they didn’t take a page out of Burger King’s book and try a French Fry Burger, I think that might actually be worth having on their menu.

Subway’s November line of sandwiches claims to be “the hottest they’ve ever offered,” and they’re doing it with the help of everyone’s favorite trendy condiment, Sriracha.  For the uninitiated, Sriracha is a Vietnamese hot sauce, made primarily from chili peppers, vinegar, sugar and salt. It’s used both as a general term for the style of sauce, as well as the product name for the brand sold by Huy Fong Foods in the United States (this will be important later). Sriracha’s appeal is split; detractors characterize it as little more than a fancy ketchup or hot sauce, but the faithful apply it to everything from burgers to eggs to macaroni and cheese. I’ve had the sauce once or twice, but I was interested to see how the Subway sandwich handled it. And to be honest, my opinion is less important than the answer to this question: How much, dear reader, do YOU like Sriracha?

I have to give it to them, though, it IS a clever use of a buzzword. Reminds me of the glory days of "chipotle" stuff.

I have to give it to them, though, it IS a clever use of a buzzword. Reminds me of the glory days of “chipotle” stuff.

Hopefully, the answer was “a lot,” because this sandwich is all about it. Remember how I said that Sriracha is both the general type of sauce and the brand that everyone buys? I’m not positive, but it seems like the sauce on the sandwich is the former, rather than the latter. For one thing, it’s a “creamy Sriracha,” with a lighter color and thicker consistency than the usual Huy Fong version. This alone leads me to believe Subway developed it in-house, as well as the fact that it’s really spicy. I had mine with pepper jack cheese, green and banana peppers, tomatoes, and onions, which didn’t help the spice any. I’ve always preferred spicy foods with a primary flavor to those that are just hot for hot’s sake. It’s a reason I’ve never really gotten on board with Buffalo Chicken. While the Huy Fong Sriracha we know and love works well for me, this just doesn’t. It’s too hot, without a clear peppery taste to make the burning worthwhile. If I were to do it again, I’d definitely cut it with ranch or mayonnaise to cool it down a little bit.

The Sriracha Chicken Melt is around $6 for a six inch sub, which is all I could take of it, honestly. I’ve never been a fan of vinegar-based heat, and that’s really the main thing this has going for it. I’d be really interested in a Subway take on a Bahn Mi, or some other Vietnamese-influenced sandwich idea, but this just feels like they’re trading in on a popular name. But hey, if you like hot stuff, or you looooove Sriracha, maybe you should check it out. Just make sure to grab a drink or something too, you’re gonna need it.

Arby’s has made a lot of money doing one thing very well: roast beef. Sure, they’ve branched out into other sandwiches, especially in recent years, and you’ll never find a more ardent defender of their Chicken Bacon Swiss sandwich than on this blog. But overall, it’s their thin-sliced roast beef that provides them with a reliable foothold in the fast food world. I was interested, then, to try the Smokehouse Brisket, It follows the usual Arby’s format pretty closely, but rather than roast beef, the beef here is smoked, and not only smoked, but smoked for “at least 13 hours,” as the website repeatedly assures us. Sounds interesting, but does it have the juice?

Absolutely, positively no less than 13 hours of smoking! This thing should come with a Surgeon General's warning!

Absolutely, positively no less than 13 hours of smoking! This thing should come with a Surgeon General’s warning!

…To some extent, yeah. The Smokehouse Brisket is piled pretty high with smoked beef, which actually turned out pretty good. It has a nice, distinct flavor, and a texture that’s chewier than roast beef while still remaining pleasing. It’s also loaded up with smoked Gouda cheese (an interesting, if somewhat bland choice), crispy onions, BBQ sauce and mayo. Everything pulls together pretty well, but not overpoweringly so. One odd bit to note is that while the sandwich is designed to be served on a toasted bun, mine came on a basic sesame seed roll, and after comparing the two, I actually prefer the mistake, I don’t know if it’s work a special order, but given the circumstances, I thought it was worth mentioning.

The Smokehouse Brisket is a little pricier than the average Arby’s sandwich, coming in around $7.50 for a combo. I wouldn’t call it a must-buy, but if you’re at Arby’s and feeling a little adventurous, I’d check it out.

The Value Menu game is a competitive one. I discussed the best dollar burger options many years ago in Sandwichtalk’s youth, and there have only been more players getting in on the action since then. I don’t see anyone unseating the McDouble in terms of sheer value anytime soon, which makes the rest of them even more competitive. Chains need to use every tool at their disposal to get ahead, and for Burger King, this now means combining their two major standbys: burgers and fries.

Putting French Fries on hamburgers isn’t a new concept; my brothers have been doing it every time we go to Wendy’s for years. Neither is including potatoes in sandwiches, and as long-time readers will remember, I’m always a fan of adding taters to a wrap to make it a little more filling. What’s kind of interesting here though is that the $1 Fry Burger was clearly designed with the goal of being cheap and easy above all else. There aren’t any new sauces or anything, it’s literally just a value hamburger with a couple French Fries on it.

Five years ago news organizations would be freaking out about this. The Double Down really changed the game.

Five years ago news organizations would be freaking out about this. The Double Down really changed the game.

But it’s actually not too bad! Along with the burger and fries, it includes lettuce, mayo and ketchup. The texture isn’t too bad, and while it’s not the biggest patty Burger King has, it’ll do in a pinch. The combination of lettuce, mayo, and French Fries on a burger feels vaguely foreign, like something you’d get at a Burger King in Hong Kong. Again, this isn’t bad, it’s just kind of odd. One issue I can see with this burger, although it wasn’t a problem with the one I had, is uneven or scant distribution of fries. Ideally, it should have at least five or so fries on it.

Like the name says, the $1 Fry Burger is only one dollar. It’s definitely worth checking out, at that price. In the long term, I think Burger King has better chances of success if they continue with the higher-end, limited release sandwich concepts they’ve been rolling out for the last year or two, since this isn’t better than a McDouble by any stretch of the imagination. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, and if you like it, you’ve discovered something new about yourself you can use anytime you get a combo at any other fast food joint too.

I’ve got something to confess to you guys. I’m not really that discerning when it comes to barbeque. Oh, I enjoy the hell out of it. It’s one of my favorite sauces/preparations. But I’ve never been a strict partisan of one regional sauce and style of preparation over another. I know that in certain parts of the South and the West, them’s fighting words, but not having been brought up in a specific barbeque tradition, I’m pretty forgiving of liberal uses of the term. I’m far more picky about the preparation of certain deli-style sandwiches, such as a Reuben or Philly Cheesesteak. There we go. That’s my sandwich sin.

She said, "Tell me, are you a Christian?" and I said "Ma'am, I am tonight."

She said, “Tell me, are you a Christian?” and I said “Ma’am, I am tonight.”

I tell you this because I want it to be clear that while I really liked Burger King’s Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich, I liked it as a fast food pulled pork sandwich, not as an accurate representation of BBQ in Memphis. From what I know of Memphis BBQ, there are both dry rub and sauce variants. This pulled pork was a typical sauced style, with another tangy sauce and onions on top. Memphis BBQ is traditionally pork shoulders and hocks, but if you think it’s easy to tell what specific cuts of meat are in fast food sandwiches, or that the employees would tell you if you asked, or if they even know, you haven’t been eating Burger King very long. Again, overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Pulled pork doesn’t seem like it’d be too difficult to prepare on an industrial scale, and I’d be pleased as punch if more fast food joints started adding it to their menus. It’s a little smaller than I’d hoped, but that’s nothing some fries won’t take care of.

The Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich runs for around $6 in a combo. It also pairs well with other picks from BK’s summer menu, like their sweet potato fries or lemonade. If you’re an unencumbered barbeque fan like me, it’s definitely worth your while. And if you’re from Memphis, give it a shot, and let me know in the comments how faithful it is.

Pretzel buns are a relative newcomer to the fast food scene. Long established in smaller restaurants as a complement to ham and cheese sandwiches, they began to come into vogue last fall as an Oktoberfest ingredient. Both Steak ‘n’ Shake and Red Robin offered Oktoberfest burgers on pretzel, paired with sauteed onions and spicy brown mustard. It’s a traditional German thing, or maybe a Chicago thing too? I dunno. Anyway, the pretzel bun is making the move to more pure commercial restaurants with Wendy’s new Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger. It’s less ambitious than most Oktoberfest burgers, skewing closer to a basic bacon cheeseburger.

I didn't want to use a stock photo of it because they severely understate how much lettuce there is on it. Look at all that lettuce!! I'm not a rabbit.

I didn’t want to use a stock photo of it because they severely understate how much lettuce there is on it. Look at all that lettuce!! I’m not a rabbit.

The Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger adds a hearty honey mustard to the usual array of bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion. The cheese used is Cheddar, which is a nice step up from the usual American and suits the pretzel bun well. My only complaint is that mine had a bit too much lettuce. It was good lettuce (I’ve never been a fan of the shredded stuff), but it would’ve overpowered the burger if I hadn’t pulled some off. The pretzel bun has a nice flavor and different texture, but isn’t overly chewy or tough. The burger seemed a little on the small side, but overall was tasty and satisfying.

The Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger runs for about $6-7 in a combo, which is a pretty good deal. If the current trends continue and pretzel burgers continue to expand, you won’t have much trouble finding some to try. So far, though, this is among the best of them, and doesn’t appear to be seasonal. Give it a shot.

I’ve been away from my duties as a sandwich blogger for a while now, and things have changed in my absence. McDonald’s once-lauded Angus burger line has been retired. As I’ve stated before, I’m not a fan of the campaign to convince (read: trick) people into thinking that “Angus” is some kind of marker of higher quality, rather than just a specific brand. The Angus burgers were a decent line, as specialty burgers go, but I felt that they lacked creativity and ingenuity to set them apart.

Of course, this doesn’t mean McDonald’s isn’t still going to offer deluxe burgers with various fixings. Empires rise and empires fall; the classic Big ‘n’ Tasty was axed just before the Angus invasion, and obviously the time is ripe for a new set of burgers. This time, McDonald’s is keeping it pretty simple. The new line is an expansion of their basic Quarter Pounder with Cheese, with the addition of bacon to most options as a theme. Not terribly daring, but one of them showed a little bit of promise: the Bacon Habanero Ranch QPC.

HAB

HAB

The Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder with Cheese is the most unique of the new line. Rather than American cheese, it uses a slice of White Cheddar atop a patty and a couple strips of bacon. It also includes lettuce and tomato, but the real draw is the eponymous sauce. It has a low, building heat, but enough of an actual Ranch and pepper flavor that it’s still enjoyable to taste. I kind of wouldn’t mind a little bit more from this sandwich, like actual peppers or crispy onions, but it also seems to have been designed on a budget, which I can respect.

Speaking of the budget, the BHRQPC is affordably priced at around $5 for a combo. The entire line is, which is clearly a reaction to the dip in the higher-priced Angus sales. All in all, it’s a decent deluxe burger. The McWrap is still a stronger bet for taste/quality, and you really can’t beat a couple of McDoubles for value, but if you’re looking for a bacon cheeseburger with a bit of a twist, the Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder with Cheese is a nice pick.

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