- Value for money is one of the biggest reasons people eat fast food.
- So I set out to find out what your money gets you at McDonald’s,Wendy’s, and Burger King.
- I compared the cheapest burger with the most expensive burger at each chain and found that only one chain has an upscale burger that’s worth the extra cost.
- The difference between the McDonald’s hamburger and the double quarter pounder with bacon and cheese isn’t just in the way the burgers are constructed: it’s in the ingredients. With juicy fresh beef and a stunningly photogenic bun, the double quarter pounder looks and tastes like a burger from a better restaurant.
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Fast-food burgers can cost you a paltry penny or a pretty one, but a higher price tag doesn’t always mean higher quality.
Some burgers are better. Some are just bigger. That’s fine if that’s what you’re looking for. Sometimes, you’re better off skipping a chain altogether.
In order to find out what your money gets you at the three biggest burger chains, I compared the cheapest and most expensive burgers at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King. I found that only one chain provided more quality for more money while another chain provided poor value all-around.
Here’s the tea:
MCDONALD’S — The cheapest burger at my local McDonald’s is the hamburger, at $US1.69. The most expensive is the Double Quarter Pounder with bacon and cheese, at $US8.
The hamburger contains 250 calories while the double quarter pounder, which weighs in at nearly half a pound of cooked meat, contains 820 calories. McDonald’s recently switched to fresh beef for its quarter pounder burgers, while it still uses frozen patties for its hamburgers.
WENDY’S — The cheapest burger at my local Wendy’s is the junior hamburger, which costs $US1.49. The most expensive burger is the triple bacon jalapeño cheeseburger, which costs $US8.59.
The hamburger contains 240 calories, while the triple bacon hamburger contains 1,280 calories. Wendy’s prides itself on using fresh, never-frozen beef in all its burgers, so despite the nutritional difference, these burgers contain the same beef.
BURGER KING — At my local Burger King, the cheapest burger is the hamburger, which costs $US1.89, while the most expensive one is the BBQ Bacon Triple Whopper, at $US11.19.
Burger King also uses the same beef for all its burgers. It’s flame-grilled but frozen. The hamburger contains 240 calories while the Triple Whopper contains 1270.
THE CHEAPEST BURGERS
MCDONALD’S HAMBURGER — Made with a toasted regular bun, a beef patty cooked from frozen, ketchup, pickle slices, onions, and usually mustard, the hamburger has been a menu mainstay for years.
Nothing fancy, but all the basics are there, if a bit skimpy.
Despite having been toasted, the bun was dull and dry. The meat, however thin, did taste beefy and savoury. It was no patty of exceptional quality, but it did its job.
The addition of pickles and onions rounded out the burger with tart and sharp flavour notes, which thankfully made the combination of bun and beef more interesting and palatable.
You’d need at least two of these to have a filling meal, or you could fill it out with a side of fries. Either way, it wouldn’t be the most exciting option.
WENDY’S JR. HAMBURGER — The Jr. Hamburger at Wendy’s is made with fresh beef, pickles, onion, ketchup, and mustard on a toasted bun.
The “fresh” beef looked sad and crumbly-dry. I appreciated the single ring of onion, but the condiments seemed to be loosely and skimpily applied. Alas, the bun bore no traces of toasting.
The bun was fluffy, but there was too much of it. The beef tasted far from fresh, and the condiments didn’t do much to punch up the flavour.
Nothing in this burger really tasted like anything except ketchup.
Despite its pride in fresh beef and “quality” ingredients, Wendy’s junior hamburger is far from fresh or satisfying.
BURGER KING’S HAMBURGER — This burger contains a beef patty flame-grilled from frozen, ketchup, pickles, and mustard on a sesame seed bun.
The beef certainly looks more appealing than its counterparts at other chains because of Burger King’s signature “flame-grilled” look.
The sesame seed bun was also a nice addition, and the beef did impart a strong and distinctive flavour onto this burger.
The burger tasted of char, ketchup, and a hint of crunchy pickle. A little too much ketchup, though. I’d have appreciated mustard, but apparently all chains leave out mustard in New York City.
The most important components of this burger, the beef and bun, did their job well enough. Out of all the cheap burgers, this beef had the strongest and most appealing flavour even if the overall flavour balance was a little off.
THE MOST EXPENSIVE BURGERS
MCDONALD’S DOUBLE QUARTER POUNDER WITH BACON AND CHEESE — McDonald’s recently upgraded the beef in its Quarter Pounder burgers to fresh, never frozen. This burger has two fresh quarter-pound beef patties, two slices of melted American cheese, onion, pickle, and sometimes mustard. It landed a spot on the permanent menu in March.
Although the onions were bigger, the pickles and ketchup were the same. But the bun was shiny and round, the cheese was gooey and melted, and the beef was thick and colourful.
The biggest difference between this burger and its cheaper counterpart is the beef. Sure, the hamburger’s beef is satisfactory, but the Quarter Pounder’s beef is good. It’s juicy, greasy, and flavorful.
The sesame-seed bun and the addition of bacon also distinguished this burger from its smaller sibling.
The Quarter Pounder and the hamburger seem like they come from completely different chains. The Quarter Pounder really is just that much better in every respect.
WENDY’S TRIPLE BACON-JALAPENO CHEESEBURGER — This baby has three-quarters of a pound of fresh beef, pickled jalapeños, bacon, cheese, fried onions, cheese sauce, and jalapeño sauce.
Inside the glossy bun was a mess of orange, yellow, and green. The beef patties were thicker but looked to be made of the same beef as the hamburger. The main difference is the pile of fried onions and the cluster of jalapeños.
Although everything was just a little bit glossier, it was obvious from the first bite that the beef was the same. Disappointingly dry, it tasted just as off as the beef in the Jr. Hamburger.
However, the crispy fried onions added a great crunch to the burger’s texture while the pickled jalapeños added a tart kick.
This burger was good despite its beef, and not because of it.
BURGER KING’S BACON TRIPLE WHOPPER — According to the Burger King website, this burger is supposed to come with cheese as well as three quarter-pound beef patties, bacon, lettuce, mayo, tomatoes, ketchup, onions, pickles, and BBQ sauce on a toasted sesame bun.
Sure, that was a long list of ingredients, but I was kind of upset that my Burger King had forgotten the cheese. After all, it’s definitely the third most important ingredient in a cheeseburger, after the bread and the beef.
This burger was so big and heavy that I struggled to hold it up with one hand.
But despite the nearly 10-dollar price difference, this burger was essentially a much bigger version of the smaller burger, except with more sauce and veggies. Same beef, same pickles, similar bun, and all of it was just ok.
They weren’t better ingredients, just more of the same. Way too much of the same.
RESULTS: When it comes down to it, McDonald’s is the only chain where extra money gets you extra quality.
At Wendy’s, more money gets you more interesting burger toppings. But the heart and soul of the burger remain the same.
At Burger King, more money gets you more beef, and that’s about it. Oh, and some lettuce. But both burgers are overpriced for what they are. The price of the Triple Whopper will get you a higher-quality burger at a local restaurant or a fast-casual burger chain like Shake Shack or Smashburger.
Based on this experience, I found that the only chain where the most expensive item is a legitimate upgrade from the cheapest item is McDonald’s. The hamburger and the Double Quarter Pounder could have come from two entirely different restaurants. So if you’re at McDonald’s, why not go for the better one?
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