An ode to the Big Mac: America’s most legendary burger – Business Insider

 In Business


Fast Food Signature Burgers 8
Look at that. How can you top such triple-tiered
extravagance?

Hollis
Johnson


Jim Delligatti, the inventor of the iconic Big Mac burger,

died
 Monday at age 98.

But his legacy — two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce,
cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun — lives on.

The Big Mac is truly America’s burger. There’s even a

museum dedicated
to it in Pennsylvania.


I recently pit
the signature burgers at Burger King,
McDonald’s, and Wendy’s against each other in an unwavering,
definitive, and entirely unscientific ranking.

Lo and behold, after the sesame seeds had settled, the glorious
Big Mac came out on top.

It caught me by surprise to learn that only one in five
millennials has even tried the Big Mac. That’s according
to a recent memo written by a McDonald’s
franchisee, cited by
The Wall Street Journal.

According to the WSJ, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said the
company is beginning to rethink “legacy beliefs” as it looks to
revitalize its stagnant share of the burger market.

Rethinking legacy beliefs? Is our savoriest national treasure in
danger of being phased out?


McDonald's Big Mac 6Hollis
Johnson

The Aristocrat

The Big Mac was once just a twinkle in the eye of
Pittsburgh, PA-area McDonald’s franchisee Jim Delligatti. After
seeing the success of the Fillet-O-Fish — invented by a
franchisee in Cincinnati, OH in 1962 — Delligatti decided to cook
up his own new item. On a warm summer night in 1967 in the
kitchen of a suburban Ross Township McDonald’s some six miles
outside of Pittsburgh,
the Big Mac was born
.

It was originally called “The Aristocrat” — a decidedly
un-American name. Thankfully, McDonald’s rejected the idea of
hereditary peerage and renamed it the Big Mac, debuting it
nationally one year later. It sold for 49¢. 

The sauce reportedly took Delligatti two years to perfect. The
mixture, long kept secret, is now pretty easy to find on the
internet. Pickle relish, paprika, and vinegar are all part of the
equation; that golden orange savory velvet is what ties the
whole sandwich together. It’s so revered that a McDonald’s
branded 25 oz bottle of it sold recently for nearly
$95,000
at auction. 

The triple bun approach is key to enjoying the burger and
its myriad flavors. The middle bun piece — called the “club” —
separates the two beef patties, avoiding the overwhelming
sensation of “beef overload” so often experienced with double
patty burgers. 

Of course, plenty of burgers have diced white onions, shredded
lettuce, neon yellow cheese, and average frozen
patties. But when it comes to the Big Mac, the whole is
greater than the sum of its parts. When those ingredients
are combined and sandwiched between a tailored three-piece
sesame bun with smear that treasured sauce, the Big Mac
becomes invincible. 


McDonald's Big Mac 2Hollis
Johnson

Dawn of the ‘better burger’

By the 1970s, McDonald’s had become nearly
invincible.
 The 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s were truly the
zenith of fast-food. But the early aughts brought stormy
seas with the release of the book “Fast Food Nation” in 2000, and
the movie “Supersize Me” in 2004. The health impact of the
beloved Big Mac was brought to the forefront of our collective
conscience. 

Around the same time, an even larger storm was brewing, with the
dawn of the “better burger.” In 2004, Danny Meyer’s Shake
Shack opened in New York City’s Madison Square Park, across from
a Wendy’s (now, funnily enough, a McDonald’s). Customers were
enthralled by the high quality approach to the fast-food
burger; four years later, the second location
opened
in the Upper West Side and the chain never looked
back.

Today, there are dozens of Shake Shack locations located
around the world, competing against similar “better burger”
chains like Smashburger,

Bareburger
,
Habit Burger
,
Elevation Burger
,
Five Guys
— the list goes on.

Millennials seem to prefer these higher quality chains, leaving
McDonald’s with a conundrum. 

“The world isn’t waiting for another burger from McDonald’s,” a
former senior McDonald’s executive lamented to the WSJ. “It’s
waiting for a better burger from McDonald’s.”


Fast Food Signature Burgers McDonald's Big Mac 7Hollis Johnson

Big Mac, USA

Few sandwiches have so strongly represented American
culture abroad. The hot dog is not a
sandwich
— end of discussion. You’d be hard pressed to find
an authentic cheesesteak in, say,
Sweden
— but you can get a Big Mac there for 45
krona. 

While there are competitors, they fail to reach the level of the
Big Mac. The Whopper is decent but ultimately wide, dull, and
ungainly. Big Macs are the Cadillacs of burgers: hefty,
questionable mileage, yet luxurious and satisfying without too
much glitz or flash. Whoppers are more like Oldsmobiles.

At Wendy’s, the Dave’s Single is formidable, certainly. An
eye-catching square patty grilled fresh makes many a fast-food
burger quiver, but the Big Mac is resolute. There’s no special
sauce to make Wendy’s stand out in the madding crowd.

McDonald’s flagship is woven so completely within the American
tapestry — its city of birth, Pittsburgh, was even temporarily
renamed “Big Mac, USA” in 1992 to honor the Big Mac’s 25th
anniversary. Believe it.


Fast Food Signature Burgers 9Hollis
Johnson

There’s no question the Big Mac is the king of all fast food
burgers. Paired with the golden french fry, it has spread like
wildfire to countries near and far —  along with blue jeans
and the iPhone, perhaps. For better or worse, it’s a symbol of
American culture. 

It’s filling, yet small enough to fit in one hand — the perfect
meal for the road in a country with a love affair with cars.
Its secret sauce is a melange of flavors. It’s stable and
consistent no matter where in the world you find yourself — a
dependable and innovative burger.

And while a handful of readers have floated the idea of me being
a McDonald’s shill, rest assured that I am not in the Golden
Arches’ pocket. I’ve simply compared the Big Mac with industry
corollaries and applied my subjective tastes and opinions: In
this particular taste test, the Big Mac simply came out on top.

We should be more respectful of the Big Mac — wary of its
nightmarish calorie count, but respectful. There are many things
wrong with fast-food and its pervasiveness, but let’s not throw
out the good with the bad. As McDonald’s rethinks legacies to
stoke growth, I hope they are mindful of one very special legacy
of theirs —  one that is as American as any of us, flaws and
all.

It is truly America’s signature burger. 

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