11 July, 2009

McDonald's Angus Third Pounder

After extensive test marketing in California and New York, McDonald's has introduced their Angus Third Pounder burgers to the rest of the Northeast. I tried one today: the Bacon and Cheese variety. Here's a screencap of the official McDonald's Serving Suggestion burger on their website:

And here's an actual photo of the burger. As usual, it's a little less glamorous than the illustration - but unlike so many other fast food burgers I've reviewed - the real life burger does come close to the ideal picture, for a change.

McDonald's starts with what they advertise as a 100% Angus beef burger with a pre-cooked weight of one-third pound. The bacon-and-cheese version gets topped with thick slices of bacon, a slice of cheese, a few rings of red onions, and a generous layer of crinkle-cut pickles.

I liked the thick-cut bacon. There was a generous amount of it, too, more than one usually finds on fast-food burgers, and the combined flavors of burgers and bacon is always a winner, especially when paired with McDonald's cheese (which is a special mild cheddar made under contract for McD by Kraft.) I'm certain that they're crinkle-cutting the pickles to emphasize the difference between them and their standard pickles. This crinkle-cut ones taste almost like deli half-sours. And the red onion slices, sharper and more flavorful than standard yellow onions, were a good choice as well. The beef seems to be a slightly coarser grind and has a heartier mouthfeel than the familiar Quarter Pounder. It's a pretty decent burger - not decent enough to make McDonald's my first choice for a fast-food burger, but certainly better than almost anything else on their post-breakfast menu.

Unfortunately, there's more to the Angus Third Pounder than meets the eye.

Every other McDonald's burger sandwich starts with the same ingredient, listed in the McDonalds ingredients list as a "100% Beef Patty." The ingredients for said beef patty are "100% pure USDA inspected beef; no fillers, no extenders. Prepared with grill seasoning (salt, black pepper)." Beef, salt, pepper, that's it. But the Angus Patty is very different:
"100% Angus beef. Prepared with Grill Seasoning (salt, black pepper) and Angus Burger Seasoning: Salt, sugar, dextrose, onion powder, maltodextrin, natural butter flavor (dairy source), autolyzed yeast extract, spices, garlic powder, vegetable protein (hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat), natural (animal, plant and botanical source) and artificial flavors, dried beef broth, sunflower oil, caramel color, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oil, gum arabic, soy sauce solids (wheat, soybean, salt, maltodextrin, caramel color), palm oil, worcestershire sauce powder [distilled vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind, natural flavor (fruit source)], beef fat, annatto and turmeric (color), calcium silicate and soybean oil (prevent caking)."
Wow. Damn. That's quite a shopping list. How come McDonald's has to put all that stuff into their Angus patties?

Well, part of the reason is because they're using the term "Angus Beef" to coattail on the well-known and very familiar Certified Angus Beef® advertising by the American Angus Association. "Angus" is not a cut of meat, it's a breed of cattle which can be raised by anyone interested in keeping a beefer. Only a small percentage of beef from Angus cattle is selected by the American Angus Association to carry the Certified Angus Beef® brand. The Association has been almost too successful in their advertising campaign - it seems to have raised consumer awareness of all beef from Angus cattle, whether or not that beef is the Certified brand. So McDonald's - and Burger King, and the rest - buy generic Angus-derived beef, make a big deal of labeling it as "100% pure Angus beef" and trust that most consumers aren't going to notice the difference in taste or wording. I suspect that the extra seasoning cocktail Mickey D's dumps into the mix is to create a flavor difference between the "Angus" and the standard patties, helping reinforce their "special" status in the minds of consumers.

McDonald's Links:

McDonald's Angus Third Pounder website.

McDonald's USA website.

McDonald's USA Ingredients Listing for Popular Menu Items. This is a PDF file, so you'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to check it out.

Learn About Certified Angus Beef®:

The Certified Angus Beef® website explains what makes the brand special.

The American Angus Association website. More technical and business-related, but loaded with great resources about Angus cattle and beef.


Matt said...

I tried these twice, both quite a while ago. Two holiday seasons ago a McDonalds in Trumbull had them, and I was working in the area so gave one a shot. The other time was on a trip Spring 2008 in Orange County.

Both times I wasn't particularly impressed. I wish I had a more precise flavor memory but the whole thing came off as quite tasteless and bland. I was adding salt and eventually ketchup like crazy to both. Maybe the formula has changed now, that does look like an awful lot of stuff thrown in that patty.

Laura said...

wow that's quite a list to make their beef stand out-my 16 yo works there and had to get extensive training(16 yo standards)to make the burgers right-he thinks they are a pain in the rearend too but then also thinks they taste good-I have not had them as I try like heck to avoid fast food

Morris LeChat said...

I tried these when they first came out. I could tell right away that a cocktail of chemicals was used to create an "angus taste". To me, it tasted awful, and obviously fake. I suspected right away that there were things such as "autolyzed" or "hydrolyzed" something or other. It had the distinct flavor of canned beef stew or other such products. This item was a complete and total scam.