McDonald's has launched a Big Mac attack, and South Florida is on the frontline. The fast-food giant this week began selling two new variants of its iconic Big Mac sandwich: the Mac Jr., which is smaller than the original and only has a single hamburger patty, and the Grand Mac, which is bigger than the original and has two heftier patties.
Great, just what America needs: a bigger, more calorie-laden Big Mac. The Grand Mac has 890 calories, according to the menu board of the McDonald's drive-through where I scored one the other day (compared to 530 calories in the standard Big Mac, and 480 calories in the Mac Jr.).
The new line of Macs is meant to boost interest in the original, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017. The new Macs were tested in Dallas and Columbus, Ohio, earlier this year, and are being rolled out in Florida and Pittsburgh before going nationwide early next year. Call it a McReboot for a new millennium. In the interests of food journalism and criticism, I sampled both new varieties this week. My takeaway: These mutant Macs needlessly mess with a classic.
But first, a few words about the original Big Mac ($3.69, but prices fluctuate). There's a reason why it has endured, beyond the ingredient list turned advertising jingle that brainwashed my entire generation in the 1970s: "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun." The Big Mac, it pains me to say, is good. It is a double-hamburger rendered as seven-layer cake, and everything is in perfect balance. The smallish beef patties (totaling just 2 ounces) are merely part of a larger symphony. And although the towering stack goes high — perfectly embodying America's can-do, reach-for-the-stars spirit — it isn't too wide. The proportion is right.
But most everything about these new Mac offspring seems wrong. I tried the Mac Jr. ($2.39) with my daughter the other day, and we both shrugged. The whole point of a Big Mac is the skyscraper tower, with two patties and three pieces of bun (top, bottom and that weird but wonderful middle slice). The Mac Jr. seems just like any other burger, a patty with stuff ( including Thousand Island dressing) on it. It's a bit wider than the standard Big Mac, and the patty is a bit thicker and more substantial. Instead of Mac Jr., I'd name it the McMeh.
The Grand Mac ($4.99) is also wide and thick, with the two beef patties totaling a third of a pound (about 5.3 ounces). To me, it seems less Big Mac and more Double Whopper with cheese. The Big Mac flavor profile is in there, but the meat overwhelms the other elements.
You'd think that after New Coke, big brands would learn the lesson of not trying to reinvent the wheel. But McDonald's isn't ditching the original Big Mac, first introduced by Pennsylvania franchisee Jim Delligatti in 1967. The chain is merely trying to goose sales with novelty items. But the Mac Jr. changes the inherent nature of the Big Mac. And the Grand Mac just supersizes it, precisely what a nation with an obesity epidemic does not need.
McDonald's says the new Macs will be limited-time menu items that come and go, similar to the McRib sandwich. Or they could become permanent fixtures, if the masses embrace them. I say they should just go.