Poor Ronald McDonald: Like a party clown working with bored kids, he’s juggling as fast as he can to keep up with a fickle food market: Breakfast all day! A bargain menu with more options! Better burgers with fancier buns!
And now: No more frozen burgers! In a change announced a year ago, today is the rollout of McDonald’s promised fresh-meat patties, a move to lure consumers who want higher-quality ingredients in their fast food. Fighting competition from chains like Shake Shack (coming to Charlotte’s Park Road Shopping Center soon), Five Guys and California’s In-N-Out, McDonald’s is calling the change “the most significant equipment and process change since All Day Breakfast.”
Cooked when ordered instead of lounging under heat lamps, the new burgers debut today in 3,500 locations nationwide, including Charlotte and seven other cities – Atlanta, Memphis, Miami, Nashville, Orlando, Raleigh and Salt Lake City. The rest of the participating restaurants join in by May. (Since the change involves updated equipment, not all locations will do it the new way.)
For now, the fresh patties will only be available on Quarter Pounders and McDonald’s Signature Crafted Burgers, which come with better buns and a variety of flavors, including Sweet BBQ Bacon, Pico Guacamole and Sriracha. Eventually, McDonald’s plans to add it to other burgers, including the Big Mac.
How much difference does a fresh patty make? We went by the location at 1035 N. Wendover Road to take a taste in advance. But first, we stopped by a McDonald’s still serving the old version and picked up a Quarter Pounder from the drive-through line just to refresh our memory: The 1/2-inch-thick patty – brown on the outside, gray on the inside, a little chewy and a little salty – the bun sprinkled with white sesame seeds, the two slices of American cheese gluing it all together, the pile of onions, pickle slices and sweet ketchup oozing out the sides. Yep, we know that taste.
How does the new version stack up? When we opened the box, we got a whiff of actual beef and a patty that was hot and freshly cooked. Inside the cardboard box, the burger is tucked into a handy brown-paper wrapper, with a bun that was a little browner and fresher than the drive-through version. If you break off a morsel of meat and squeeze it, a little more juice rises to the surface. Like a grilled burger, it was juicier in the center than around the edges.
Otherwise, it’s still the same 1/2-inch patty you know and tolerate: Brown on the outside, gray on the inside, a little chewy, a little salty.
In early reports on the move to fresh beef last year, some franchise operators were concerned that the new patties, cooked to order, might slow down the drive-through service. The burgers we got came in about the same time. A company spokesperson says it’s faster to cook a fresh burger than a frozen one, which is why they can start cooking it when you order it without a big difference in wait times. Prices vary by location, so a McDonald’s spokesperson said she can’t tell whether the new burgers will cost you more. At the Wendover location, both the old and new versions cost $4.19.
One pro tip: If you’re interested in a better burger, go for one of the Signature Crafted Burgers. You get a shiny brown bun without seeds and a few more toppings. If you’re going fresh, you might as well give the clown a fighting chance.