One bag telegraphs purity, the other an earthy earnestness. Which will win? Could it be a tie? And why do they insist on calling them “sandwiches”?
The Big Mac was born in 1968, when a burger modeled on the Big Boy invented by a Pittsburgh franchisee was nationalized. It has been the flagship of the McDonald’s fleet ever since. The Big Mac features a pair of small patties, a bun sectioned latitudinally into three, pickles, twin slices of American cheese, iceberg lettuce, and a “special sauce” that tastes like a mixture of mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. As Wikipedia points out, the sauce is squirted onto the burger with a caulking gun.
The Whopper originated in 1957, but has been reformulated several times since. It is of the species once known as the “garden burger”: a patty lavished with fresh vegetables, back when people thought that beef was the healthiest of meats, and a hamburger the ultimate health food. The Whopper sports a single large patty, and is cooked on a conveyor belt via a process known euphemistically as “flame grilling.” Burger King styles itself as the “Home of the Whopper.”
Our purpose today is to pit these two iconic burgers–perhaps the most famous products in the fast-food galaxy–against each other a half-century down the road, and see which holds up to its initial promise.
Which packaging do you find more appealing? The armor plating of the Big Mac box, or the minimalist tissue swaddling of The Whopper?
THE STATISTICAL WORK-UP
We bought two of each burger, and presented one of each to the Fork in the Road lab staff for statistical workup. Here is their report. Obviously, the meat has been weighed in its cooked form:
Total wt 7.6 oz
Meat wt 2.2 oz (two 1.1 oz patties)
Total wt 8.6 oz
Meat wt 2.4 oz
Amazing how little difference there is in appearance between the Big Mac (left) and The Whopper (right).
The Big Mac feels like a piece of architecture. The pickle plays nicely off the flavor of the Secret Sauce, but the slices of cheese on the lower bunk make the thing heavy as lead. The meat is sadly divided from itself, mimimalizing its impact. A mysterious flavor lingers after you’ve swallowed a bite.
The flavors of The Whopper feel elemental: the allium bite of strong onion countered by the smoky flavor–artificial or otherwise–of the patty, which reads as meat, even though it comes smothered in lettuce, mayo, and ketchup. The ripe tomato, in two lush slices, provides an unexpected surprise–at least something’s fresh.
Next: the conclusion
The Whopper wins the taste test, hands down.
In celebration of The Whopper’s victory, we present an early BK commercial, before the Burger King turned scary.
And as a bonus for reading this far, here’s a youtube of the Burger King engaged in a victory dance:
Check out some of our earlier Battles of the Dishes:
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 8, 2009