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REVIEW: McDonald’s Mac Jr., Big Mac, and Grand Mac

Your reaction will be directly proportionate to your love of both “Mac Sauce” and “Shredded Lettuce Anarchy.”

We’ve been hearing rumors for months about the numerous ways the McDonald’s corporation was going to try and reverse the trend of declining customer numbers, reaching back for the last several years. These ideas have been all over the map: First they were going to offer custom burger ordering via kiosk and table service. Then it was all-day breakfast that was going to move the needle (which has actually helped with sales numbers, in spite of declining overall numbers of customer visits). Then we heard they were going to be paring the menu down to the essentials, refocusing on the quality of a few nostalgic classics and reminding America why we fell in love with them in the first place.

It’s in this spirit, then, that McDonald’s seems to be trying to attract new attention to one of its flagship burgers: The venerable Big Mac, famously made with its two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun. This week, the company re-introduced the classic sandwich in three new permutations: The Big Mac “Classic,” which you’ve eaten hundreds of times, as well as a new downsized “Mac Jr.” version, and a new, enormous “Grand Mac,” for relentless appetites/gigantic people. But why take our word for it? Here’s how McDonald’s describes the trio on their website:

Big Mac: Craving a legend? There’s a Big Mac for that! You know the iconic Big Mac. Its mouthwatering perfection starts with two sear-sizzled 100% real beef patties and special sauce sandwiched between a sesame seed bun. American cheese, crisp lettuce, onions and pickles top it off.

Grand Mac: Craving something big? There’s a Big Mac for that! Introducing the double cheesy, extra beefy Grand Mac: for when that Big Mac craving calls for something more. Sink into 1/3 lb* of 100% real beef sandwiched between a sesame seed bun. All dressed with special sauce, crisp lettuce, onions, pickles and two slices of American cheese.

Mac Jr.: Big flavor, smaller size? There’s a Big Mac for That! The portable Mac Jr. has one sear-sizzled 100% real beef patty and special sauce sandwiched between a sesame seed bun. It’s topped off with American cheese, crisp lettuce, pickles, and diced onions.

Now, let’s back up for a minute, before we get too excited. Though we here at Spork & Barrel are regular McDonald’s customers, we don’t typically go for the classic Big Mac. Sure, it’s in the rotation, but if we’re craving nostalgia, we go for a Double Cheeseburger, and if we’re looking for maximum central nervous system-shocking calorie payload, we go for a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. The Big Mac occupies some kind of weird in-between space* between the familiar and the truly filling, while not really satisfying either urge. Sure, we’ll order one occasionally, when we want to explode shredded iceberg lettuce all over the inside of the car, but it’s just not a go-to item. This probably makes us the ideal demographic that McDonald’s is trying to reach, with this limited time offer.

*It’s just occurring to me that maybe this “in-betweenness” is a really widespread feeling which customers have about the Bic Mac, and the burger’s response is that weird interstitial third bun layer, to visually represent our feelings of lonely displacement and ennui. Maybe that burger is a metaphor, maaaaaaaaan.

The “Mac Jr.”

The Mac Jr. is the smallest of the three sandwiches, with a burger patty weighing in at roughly 2.5 ounces. The burger here is the McDonald’s standard issue: Salty, vaguely meaty, and pressed thin so the burgers are cooked to well-done. There’s a slice of yellow American cheese, pickles, onions, shredded lettuce, and Mac Sauce for days. In fact, without the extra bread layer and on the smaller sized burger patty, the Mac Sauce represents an overwhelmingly powerful taste, drowning out all of the other flavors of the sandwich. It’s unclear who this version of the Big Mac would be targeting; you’d have to really, really love tasting Mac Sauce for hours, not having your appetite remotely satiated, and again, of course, finding bits of shredded lettuce under your car seat for months.

The “Big Mac.”

It had been a while since we had a straight-up Big Mac, and the one we got today was damned near perfect. It’s a tall specimen, thanks to that third layer of bread, with double the meat (well, sort of…these “two all beef patties” weigh in at around 1.5 ounces apiece), American cheese, pickles, onions, and godammit YES, a veritable CAVALCADE of shredded lettuce that explodes all over creation the moment you take a bite. Thanks to all of the extra stuff on this burger, that tangy-sweet* Mac Sauce tends to be a bit better balanced by the other ingredients, with the sharpness of the pickles offsetting the other flavors nicely.

*This just got autocorrected to “tangry-sweet,” which I’ve realized perfectly summarizes how I feel about Mac Sauce.

So far, McDonald’s experiment has been working, reminding us what a perfectly lovely little hamburger the Big Mac can be, when it’s made as well as this one was, and all of the ingredients are in careful balance.

The “Grand Mac.”

The “Grand Mac” is the big mamma jamma of this limited time offering, boasting a larger bun (and bigger third-club-layer bun!) with larger beef patties weighing in at a combined 1/3 pound, TWO slices of yellow American cheese, pickles, onions, and for heaven’s sake ALL OF THE SHREDDED LETTUCE ON EARTH. It’s all there, waiting to explode in wet crunchy shards all over your lap, your plastic tray, and your face and/or the faces of your children. The larger format of the burger seemed to scale up proportionally, with all of the flavors remaining as in-balance as they are on the “Classic” version. Make no mistake: It’s a lot of food, weighing in at around 860 calories and 52 grams of fat, and it was enough to satisfy for the rest of the day.

This is where the “Grand Mac” really emerges as the only “must-try” of the group, by managing to solve a problem we didn’t even know we had. When the Big Mac was rolled out in the late 60s, it must have seemed like a real monster to the fast food landscape of the time. After all, it had more of EVERYTHING: Double meat, surprise bread layers, and for crying out loud, an entirely new condiment. This was food you could push your whole face into, food that was messy and excessive, food that would drip onto your anorak while you made your balsa wood airplanes, or whatever in the hell it was people did in the 1960s for fun.

Now, though, the classic Big Mac hardly seems like a big sandwich at all, compared to the other behemoth creations of the fast food business. It certainly doesn’t conjure up images of pushing your whole head into a burger that’s as tall as your face, getting Mac Sauce up your nose and sesame seeds in your teeth. If anything, these days the classic Big Mac almost doesn’t seem like enough food, and the more gluttinous among us have to order something else, or confront the awful shame of ordering a McNugget sidecar, just to get through the afternoon.

The “Grand Mac” is a reminder of how great the classics can be. It combines the familiar flavors that we’ve been enjoying from a Big Mac for almost fifty years, upsized to a larger format that makes sense for today’s heartier appetites, and delivers that satisfying feeling of messy Mac Sauce excess that many of us had forgotten. Though it may be a limited time offering from McDonald’s, upgrading the classic menu item to this new larger size just makes sense.

Written by Malcolm Bedell

Malcolm is the author of "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as a frequent contributor to Serious Eats, Brocavore.com, Eat Rockland, Down East Magazine, The L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and more. When not poisoning his body with garbage and then posting sardonic commentary about it on the Internet, he also owns and operates the 'Wich, Please food truck, named Eater.com's "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015.

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