I’ll go to my grave, defending the humble McDonald’s cheeseburger. The simple, most basic offering at McDonald’s, the burger on which Ray Kroc’s entire empire was built, is much maligned by hamburger enthusiasts. Criticized for its tiny, well-done 1.6 ounce flat grey hamburger patties, topped with just ketchup, mustard, rehydrated onion chips, and a single thin slice of pickle, McDonald’s signature offering bears little resemblance to either bigger, pub-style burgers, or even more elaborate burgers from trendier chains.
They are not so much “food,” as they are the perfect product of nearly 60 years of automation, of the widespread proliferation of roadside food built on the back of our nation’s rapidly expanding highway system, of a company who pioneered the use of a disposable teenaged working population, who you could hire by the schoolbusload, pay minimum wage, and fire when they got too skilled and/or hard to look at. And where cheeseburgers, robots, road trips, and being mean to teenagers intersect: That’s where you’ll find me.
I didn’t eat many McDonald’s meals as a child; instead, my devotion to them began while I was in high school, when I would skip my afternoon classes with my friend Joel. We would ride in his burgundy-colored Ford Tempo to the McDonald’s in Rockland, Maine, where he would lend me the money to buy an endless stream of cheeseburgers. Those afternoons spent in McDonalds were made all the more delicious by the fact that our peers were all wasting their lives learning, while we were there counting how many bits of mustard-coated onion we could get to stick to the store’s windows.
These afternoon experiments are where I learned the first rule of McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and where I began to formulate a strategy for eating them that would last well, well into my adult life. It’s where I learned that if you add extra ketchup to one of these little wonders, they taste exactly the way they did when you were five years old, when you were getting rewarded for a very special trip to the dentist. It’s also where I learned my second rule for McDonald’s cheeseburger consumption: The burger always comes second. Unlike the fries, which begin immediately cooling into unappealing little rods of fluffy potato malfeasance, the classic McDonald’s burger can be eaten at room temperature and still be every bit as tasty.
My McDonald’s cheeseburger education continued in college. Our local McDonald’s briefly ran a Tuesday night promotion that offered the diminutive hamburger for just 39 cents each, with no limit on how many you could order. This, alone, wouldn’t have meant anything, since I never seemed to have two dollars to rub together, let alone a ride through the drive-thru.
However, in my Sophomore year, I also discovered that I could sell the textbooks I had bought for classes that I wasn’t bothering to attend back to the college bookstore, and receive enough money in exchange to buy a carton of cigarettes, three pints of Dubra vodka, and a sack of 20 hamburgers, which I would then eat over a period of several days.
Though I try not spend $22,000 in student loans each year, just to treat my body like the hard tile floor of a methadone clinic, I have recently discovered my third revelation, my third new rule for the consumption of two perfect McDonald’s cheeseburgers. It’s a technique best perfected in the safety of your own car. When eating in a McDonald’s dining room, you may find yourself a little embarrassed by what I am about to tell you, but follow along, and you will achieve a satisfaction deeper than that you have ever known. That’s right. Take your pants off.
Buy two McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Sit down with them. Lay your palm on them; think them over.
Here’s the trick. Buy two McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Sit down with them. Lay your palm on them; think them over. Then, unwrap the first. Keep your mind from straying to how delicious the second will taste. Using both hands, slowly take tiny nibbles around the perimeter of the sandwich. On your first pass, make an effort not to even bite any of the meat; nibble off the excess bun. Continue moving in concentric circles, all the way in. When you get your first bite of meat, think about how different that was than the dry bun you were chewing earlier. Keep spiraling inward with your tiny bites. If you time it right, and if your burger has been crafted carefully by a McDonald’s professional, your last bite will be the “pickle bite,” which represents the final, perfect bite of a McDonald’s cheeseburger.
If you never were to eat anything again for the rest of your life, this last pickle bite should be the last thing. It is the perfect assembly of everything that is good in the world, in one, solitary bite. You did it: take a moment to reflect. Ray Croc’s genius has resulted in this perfect, fleeting moment, and you owe him a debt of thanks.
Now, you have a second, steaming, piping-hot burger in front of you. Here is what I want you to do. I want you take that cheeseburger and make every effort in the world to take that cheesy, sweaty bastard down in one bite. That’s right. Fill your mouth with every last bit you can muster. If you’re like me, you’ll end up with about a third left over; don’t worry about that, for now. Think about how, in contrast to the first burger, where you teased yourself with tiny nibbles, where your mouth cried out in complete agony over how little of that McDonald’s cheeseburger was in it, you now have the amazing contrast of the opposite. You are now positively drowning in cheeseburger; indeed, you have barely room to chew, or for that matter, breathe. This cheeseburger is kicking your mouth’s ass, and you have no choice but to find a way to chew it over, to fit it in your mouth, to find a way to get it down.
You probably have about a third left. After you swallow the first two-thirds, you have that little half-moon left to go. Put the whole thing in your mouth, and chew it slowly. If you swallow, it is all over. Who knows how long it will be before you allow yourself another trip to McDonalds? Chew slowly. Swallow. Refrain from eating for the rest of the day, from allowing your tongue to taste anything better.
At this point in reading this post, you have either gotten in your car, and are awkwardly reading this last paragraph on your phone while driving one-handed, or you’re thinking, “Yeah, I don’t really like McDonald’s that much.” If it’s the latter, I’m afraid you’re incorrect. You DO like McDonald’s. Everybody does, and it’s time to take ownership of that. When you cross into your thirties, though, you need to drastically cut back your McDonald’s intake, because as you know, once you’re thirty, you gain an average of two pounds per day until you die.
Heed my words. Try my strategy, and you’ll find you can wrestle the maximum amount of hamburger-eating pleasure from each last, fleeting trip.