One thing I try to do for Sandwichtalk is keep things somewhat interesting and novel. I focus mainly on either new and limited time sandwiches from large chains, or I review small local places that readers may not have heard of. I don’t usually review the basic menu at most fast food restaurants because I assume most people already have a solid understanding of what they taste like, and various opinions on them. The maxim I always used to explain this was “It’s not like I’m going to post a review of a Big Mac or something.”

 

UNTIL NOW.

 

Burger King’s Big King, an absolutely shameless knockoff of the famous Big Mac, gives me the perfect opportunity to do just that. Let’s start with a quick overview of the Big Mac, for comparison. I like it. I don’t love it, and I much prefer the tried and true McDoubles if we’re going with McDonald’s, but the layers patties and bun set-up is interesting, and the combination of the sauce and pickles and onions is a cool alternative to the basic lettuce and tomato plan of most deluxe burgers. In short, I like the concept. But is Burger King’s execution an improvement on the original?

You come at the king, you better not miss.

You come at the king Mac, you better not miss.

Not really. The patties are a little higher quality, probably, as are the buns. It is Burger King, after all. And actually, so is the lettuce. It’s sort of the intangibles that get me on this one. It doesn’t taste like a Big Mac, exactly, but that’s not for lack of trying. If it was a little closer in taste, to the point that they were indistinguishable, I might rate it higher. I’d also like the other option, adding an extra element or something to rise above. But as it is, it’s just kind of a curio.

Excited for Dairy Queen's entry into the race, with two Dilly Bars swapped out for the patties.

Excited for Dairy Queen’s entry into the race, with two Dilly Bars swapped out for the patties.

I also tried the Chicken Big King, which does set itself apart by swapping out burgers for chicken. This isn’t too bad in theory, except that two processed chicken patties is way too many for one sandwich. The reason the Double Down worked (outside of wretched excess) is that KFC chicken is good. Burger King chicken is not that good, and this is too much of it. A chicken sandwich with lettuce, pickles, onion and sauce would probably work better.

All in all, I can’t fault BK for trying, but the Big King is more familiar than impressive. If you want two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese onions pickles on a sesame seed bun, just go with a Big Mac.

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 theĀ 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.

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.

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.

Arby’s isn’t the first chain to partner up with King’s Hawaiian, a small baking company known for their thick, sweet Hawaiian rolls. KFC pulled a similar trick a few years ago with the Doublicious, which itself was (my theory) a way to salvage the good parts of the shock value-based Double Down. I’ve been a fan of King’s Hawaiian even longer than that, ever since a friend and roommate brought a batch of rolls back from home after Christmas one year. When I saw that Arby’s added it to the menu, I figured it’d be right up my alley.

Did you guys see The Descendants? I liked it. I mean, not as much as Up In The Air, but it was still pretty good.

Did you guys see The Descendants? I liked it. I mean, not as much as Up In The Air, but it was still pretty good.

And it was, for the most part. The biggest issue I had with it couldn’t really be helped, which was that roast beef wouldn’t be my first choice as a meat pairing with this type of bread. I usually make ham sandwiches with it, and it went slightly better with chicken and bacon. Still, Arby’s roast beef is some of the best you can get around, and it certainly didn’t taste bad. The sandwich also includes Swiss cheese, a Dijon sauce, and pickles, which was kind of a new and interesting addition for an Arby’s sandwich. It was also much more filling than I expected, owning in part to the thicker, fuller bun, as well as the larger portion of roast beef.

The King’s Hawaiian Roast Beef and Swiss runs for around $6 in a combo. It’s a pretty great deal, given that it’s tasty, filling, and different from most other offerings. Still, if you can’t afford all that, Arby’s also has a basic roast beef on King’s Hawaiian. I’d highly recommend trying this sandwich while it’s still around. Everyone should learn the truth that is King’s Hawaiian, and this is a relatively low-risk introduction.