In an era when McDonald’s “back-to-basics” approach finally seems to be reversing years of slumping sales, the launch of the new “Signature Crafted Recipe” line of sandwiches comes as somewhat of a surprise.
The new mix-and-match options use premium ingredients, and arrive at a price point to match. The new lineup features three topping choices: “Maple Bacon Dijon” (featuring grilled onions, bacon, lettuce, and Dijon sauce), “Sweet BBQ Bacon” (with barbecue sauce, bacon, caramelized onions, AND crispy onions), and “Pico Guacamole” (avocado, pico de gallo, lettuce and inexplicably, ranch dressing.) All three options also include a slice of white cheddar cheese.
Toppings are just the beginning, in these new semi-customizable offerings. Next, you choose your protein option, which includes either a 1/4 pound beef patty, a grilled chicken breast, or a crispy fried chicken breast. Finally, customers get to decide whether their creation will rest on either a traditional sesame seed bun, or a new artisan-style bun.
After carefully studying the poster and educating ourselves on the process, we did what any reasonable person would do: We ate all three.
Sweet BBQ Bacon Burger
We couldn’t help but be impressed by the way this burger (and all of these burgers, really) look: The premium branding, package design, and efforts to increase the quality of the ingredients really show, and these flavor combinations really are reminiscent, overall, of what you would expect to find at a higher-end burger restaurant.
We opted for a quarter pound burger for this iteration, which is topped with sweet barbecue sauce, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, crispy fried onions, and white cheddar cheese.
The burger is pretty standard-issue McDonald’s stuff: underseasoned, cooked-through to an even gray, and pressed thin. The burger on the “Sweet BBQ Bacon” burger serves as a base for the sheer chaos of sugary sweetness going on above. The bacon, a welcome thicker-cut and more recognizable slice then we’re accustomed to in fast food burgers, gets completely obliterated by a slurry of crispy onions (a burger addition we are normally big fans of) and cloyingly sweet, throat-closing barbecue sauce that completely overpowers all of the other flavors of the burger. The overall effect is that of eating a burger that has been somehow candied, and it’s not terribly tasty or, now that we reflect on it, even very pleasant.
Maple Bacon Dijon Burger
This is the one we were the most optimistic about, because the flavor combination seems, at least on paper, like a can’t-miss situation. Our quarter pound burger was topped with grilled onions, more high-quality, thick-cut bacon, and a very healthy pour of McDonald’s new dijon sauce, served on an artisan-style bun.
Once again, the beef is fairly nondescript, but the toppings elevate the burger to near-premium status, with lots of flavor from the sautéed onions and a dijon sauce that is carefully balanced between sweet and tart. While not our favorite of the three, it was surprising to see how subtle the flavors of a fast-food burger can be.
Pico Guacamole Crispy Chicken Sandwich
This was the flavor combination we were least excited to try, mostly because the notion of “fast food guacamole” just isn’t very appealing. As everyone knows, once the sensitive flesh of the avocado has been exposed to our cruel world for even a moment, it begins to immediately brown and decay. A fast food chain like McDonald’s must be using some spooky-ass additives to make guacamole shelf-stable, and that kind of chemistry flies in the face of the “fresh” qualities that make guacamole great.
We opted for the “Crispy Chicken” variety of this sandwich, since guacamole and pico de gallo rarely enhance a cheeseburger experience.
Our apprehension could not have been more misguided, and in fact, the “Pico Guacamole” variety of Signature Crafted Sandwich ended up being not just our favorite of the bunch, but the sandwich with the biggest pendulum swing between “expectations” and “reality.”
It was a total surprise. The crispy chicken stood up well to the assertively spicy pico de gallo, and the guacamole, while clearly scooped from some giant plastic corporate vat, lent a creamy texture to the chicken that only got kind of sketchy if you thought about it too long.
This sandwich also came served with a wedge of lime, which our local McDonald’s couldn’t quite seem to figure out how to incorporate, so it arrived resting on top of the sandwich. It was a great addition; a squeeze of lime brightened up the whole sandwich and really made it feel like a premium offering. The ranch dressing, whose inclusion in this concept we don’t remotely understand, was thankfully a non-player, flavor-wise.
In general, the three new “Signature Recipe Sandwiches” greatly exceeded our expectations. Some flavors are more well suited for some proteins; in fact, in general, each one of these combinations seems like it would work better on crispy or grilled chicken, then on a burger. At around five dollars each, when purchased not as part of a combo meal, the ratio of quality-to-price really seems to be working in the customers’ favor. Overall, we were impressed.
But is any of this going to matter? McDonald’s has tried its hand at “premium” burgers many, many times in the past, from the Arch Deluxe to the Sirloin Burger to the whole “Create Your Taste” debacle, only to be met with a collective yawn and the sound of pocketbooks snapping shut by consumers. The reality seems to be that for McDonald’s customers, any move away from the Dollar Menu (even to the similarly budget, but still pricier “McPick2” menu) results in a drop in sales.
Still, CEO Steve Easterbrook claims to be confident that consumers are ready for more grown-up versions of their classic burgers, which will also include fresh, never-frozen beef by next year.
Will McDonald’s find the right balance between these new semi-customizable “Signature Recipes” sandwiches, and their core business of selling cheap food and all-day McMuffins to stoned teenagers? Time will tell, but we applaud McDonald’s efforts to bring better, higher-quality ingredients and more sophisticated flavor combinations to the masses.