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.

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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.

Burger King has been moving through new burgers and sandwiches at a fast clip this year. This is good, for me, in that it gives me more to write about. It’s also become something of a double-edged sword, as I haven’t been able to review everything I’ve wanted to. Their Chicken Philly sandwich in particular is one I’m sad to have missed. It’s also something I need to make sure to stay on top of, to maximize the usefulness of these reviews. So without further ado, here’s the Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Burger!

I stole this promotional image off of Huffington Post, which makes me happy.

I stole this promotional image off of Huffington Post, which makes me happy.

This is actually Burger King’s second attempt at a stuffed hamburger patty. Like the Stuffed Steakhouse XT, the patty has chopped bits of ingredients mixed in, as opposed to a central pocket of cheese or something. This patty includes bacon bits and nuggets of cheddar cheese. It’s not terrible, per se, but there’s not quite enough of a flavor from the cooked-in ingredients to make it worthwhile. I don’t really think this is Burger King’s fault. The best stuffed burgers I’ve ever had have either been home-cooked or made to order at a steakhouse or burger joint. It’s a conceit that doesn’t translate well to machine-pressed patties, and Burger King isn’t really equipped to cook any other way. The rest of it (lettuce, tomatoes, onion rings, ketchup and mayo) is all fine, but nothing special.

Being as it’s Burger King, the Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Burger runs $7-8 in a combo. While it’s not inedible, the execution doesn’t nearly live up to the concept. I’d avoid this one. There are plenty of other interesting options at BK right now, including a turkey burger and veggie burger, and I can’t imagine they’re going to slow down over there this summer. Save your money and try next month’s special.

As part of their revitalization efforts, Burger King has launched a new line of chicken sandwiches. It’s kind of hard to come up with a new spin on chicken sandwiches, particularly with McDonald’s offering a Chick-Fil-A style southern chicken sandwich nationwide. Indeed, most of BK’s new chicken sandwiches follow the basic chicken club recipe. One, however, does not: the Chicken Parmesan.

Chicky chicky parm parm.

The Chicken Parmesan does things a little different. It’s a chicken breast (crispy or grilled, so obviously I went with crispy) topped with marinara sauce and melted Parmesan cheese. It’s simple, but it’s something new to fast food. There are so many variations on “cheddar bacon chicken ranch club” that doing another is unwise, and this is a nice alternative. The cheese and sauce are all perfectly fine, and the chicken breast patty is a nice size. It’s nowhere near the best sandwich I’ve had, but it’s a nice, vaguely Italian change of pace.

As a combo, Burger King’s Chicken Parmesan sandwich runs for around $6-7. It’s well worth the price. A couple of years ago, a sandwich like this might not have made waves, but in this fruit smoothie and snack wrap climate, an idea like this is nothing short of daring.

 

I actually hadn’t been to Burger King since they were overtaken by Wendy’s as the number two fast food chain. Since then, they’ve put a lot of effort into redefining their image. The King is gone, and their focuses on their unique sandwiches and drinks to set them apart from the competition. While they’ve introduced a line of cafe style beverages and chicken bites like McDonald’s, I’m eternally grateful that they still seem to be dedicated to burgers, unlike their golden-arched competition.

Even the fonts they’re using are more clean-cut.

I just wish I had better things to say about the Carolina BBQ Whopper. The Carolina BBQ tops a 1/4 patty with pepper jack cheese, bacon, onion, lettuce and tomato, and finishes it all off with a sweet southern BBQ sauce. All the elements are fine, if unremarkable. I don’t claim to be an expert on BBQ so I can’t tell you how authentic the sauce is, but it’s nice that they’re acknowledging the different styles and heats of various sauces. The problem is that there’s way too much lettuce and bun in this sandwich. I understand that BK generally doesn’t double up on Whopper patties, but the lack of meat in the sandwich really hurt it in my eyes. I don’t know if I can recommend it in good conscience.

One thing I can recommend are the sweet potato fries. I know it’s outside of the blog’s purview, but I wanted to say something nice, and these fries are great. They’re a bit on the salty side, but they’re made from real sweet potatoes, and you can taste the difference. I was skeptical of them initially but they’re totally worth checking out. So in closing, skip the Carolina BBQ, but don’t write Burger King off entirely. I admire the way they’re not trying to change over into a weird coffee shop thing the way McDonald’s is. BK just released a new line of chicken sandwiches, and I hope to review them soon. Stay tuned!

According to research firm Technomic, Wendy’s has dethroned Burger King as the world’s number two fast food chain.  While Wendy’s narrowly edged out BK in terms of annual sales, both were still far behind McDonald’s, with an enormous $34.2 billion in sales.

There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on, invoking everything from mascots to health food trends.  Some of it’s on point, and some of it (in my opinion) is way off.  To me, I think this is an indicator of Wendy’s hard work at managing their image as a higher quality, healthier alternative to McDonald’s.  They’re not going after Burger King or anyone else specifically, they’re just presenting themselves as a niche market, a drive-thru burger place with leaf lettuce and fresh(er) tomatoes.  McDonald’s is always going to be on top, because they’ve found the ideal point of convergence between price and quality, but Wendy’s can pick up the more discerning crowd, which lacks in volume but (hopefully) is loyal.

Winter is coming.

Remember, I’m not saying Wendy’s actually is a healthier, higher-quality alternative.  I don’t have any nutritional values in front of me, but it feels like if you’re health-conscious, any place with a drive-thru probably isn’t the best bet.  But through their advertising campaigns, Wendy’s has managed to project an air of quality, which seems to have caught on.  People know they can go there and pick up a salad instead of a burger in they so choose.  For their part, Burger King seems to be in a bit of a tailspin.  They’ve been trying a couple of different brand concepts and menu items, but nothing so far seems to have caught on.  They’ve relied on being a household name for too long, and now they’re going to have to work to stay in the game.

When you play a game of thrones, you win or you die.

The thing to keep in mind about this is that when chain restaurants compete, you win.  Prices drop, and franchises begin offering more creative, bold options in an effort to redefine their brand.  As long as Burger King puts in work and doesn’t thrash around, we should be in for some interesting sandwiches over the next year or so.