Burgers hold a special place in my heart. They conjure images of family road trips, lazy movie marathons, and late-night refuels after tearing up the dance floor with friends.
And if I’m honest, I’m not talking about just any burger. If it’s not precisely “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame-seed bun” as the iconic advertisement describes it, then it simply isn’t the fast food burger of my dreams.
So when I discovered our recipe for a copycat Big Mac, not only did I leap into action making it, but I rushed straight out and picked up real thing to compare and contrast. All for the sake of science, of course.
So below is my entirely unscientific study into this well-loved burger. I outline my goals (lofty) and methods (rigorous), and leave no burger bun unturned to answer the question: Can a homemade Big Mac compare to the real thing?
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I am setting out to see just how similar our Double-Decker Drive-Thru Burgers are to a McDonald’s Big Mac. This will be done by comparing the flavor of the burgers, their presentation and eatability, as well as an individual assessment of each burger’s special sauce.
Double-Decker Drive-Thru BurgersIntroduced by a certain fast-food chain, the double-decker—two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun—has solidified its place in American pop culture.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
My first task was to enlist the help of seasoned McDonald’s expert and passionate consumer, my fiancé Daniel. We planned to both do a blind taste test of each burger to decide which we preferred. Now that the judges had been decided, it was time to cook.
- Preparing the ingredients. This took mere minutes—I just shredded some lettuce, sliced some tomatoes, and diced some onions. I stirred together my burger sauce, being sure to taste for that familiar creamy-tangy flavor I (and the other “billions and billions served” around the world) love so much. Verdict: Nailed it.
- Forming the patties. I formed the ground beef into 2-ounce balls, and then flattened each one with a pie plate into a 3½‑inch patty. This made them the perfect size to fit directly on the burger buns.
- Cooking the patties. Our Drive-Thru Burgers don’t require the use of a backyard grill (fortunately as I’m making them from my second-floor apartment), and are instead cooked on the stovetop; a feature that I imagine makes them similar to the classic McDonald’s kitchen-cooked patties. To get the signature flat patties, I weighed them down with a Dutch oven to ensure that they didn't puff up as they cooked.
A few flips later and I’ve already sent my fellow judge, Daniel, to McDonald's for a Big Mac. He returns with an extra handful of fries which I happily snack on while I assemble the burgers.
It’s time to judge.
The Ultimate BurgerTake a deep dive into achieving burger greatness. The Ultimate Burger covers updated classics, regional favorites, homemade everything (from meat blends to pretzel buns), and craft-burger creations, plus fries and other sides and frosty drinks.
We arranged the Big Mac and Drive-Thru burgers on separate plates, and assessed the visual appearance before digging in. Daniel and I took turns tasting each burger, and while we tried to pretend that this was a blind tasting, it was pretty clear which was which. (Should we have been blindfolded? Have I mentioned I’m not actually a scientist?)
- Visual appearance. There’s no doubt that the homemade Drive-Thru burger achieves impressive height, and the slice of American cheese has already started to melt on the juicy patty. The Big Mac, by contrast, is squatter with noticeably thinner patties.
- Taste. The Drive-Thru Burger has a rich, savory, meaty flavor contrasted by the tangy and piquant burger sauce. Meanwhile, the Big Mac has a less pronounced meatiness, instead sharing the flavor with the floury sweetness of the sesame-seed bun.
- Eatability. The Big Mac is much squatter than the Drive-Thru Burger, which, although it doesn't look as impressive, makes it easier to take a bite out of. This also may have something to do with the buns I selected, which admittedly are a bit too thick.
My vote is clear: Our Drive-Thru Burger wins hands down. The freshness of the ingredients, the homemade burger sauce’s iconic tang, and the meat—still hot and sizzling from the frypan—wins big over the patties of its competitor, which have cooled on the long journey to our dinner table.
Daniel is more hesitant about his choice, though. While he admits that ATK’s Drive-Thru Burger tastes more like a “real burger,” there’s something about the iconic, nostalgic, undeniably “fast food” taste of the Big Mac that he couldn’t look past.
“The homemade burger is delicious, and I would happily eat it any day of the week. But if I’m craving fast food, I’d be disappointed with anything other than a Big Mac,” he says.
And I guess he’s got a point.
These burgers are a perfect dupe for a Big Mac, made even better by loving and careful homemade preparation (if I do say so myself). The patties are juicier than any fast food burger I’ve ever seen, and the ratio of sauce to cheese and lettuce can’t be beat. It’s like if a Big Mac went to grad school.
But if you’re trying to re-create that feeling of fast food indulgence, where the juiciness of the patty and the piquant nature of the sauce isn’t more important than the atmosphere of the moment (either late at night or, ahem, the morning after), I recommend a trip down to your local fast food joint accompanied by your favorite people. In those cases, a greasy, albeit rather lackluster burger, is just what you need.