12 March, 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr Vending Machine Sandwiches

So, having neglected to bring lunch to work last week, I was forced to venture out to the lunchroom and survey the offerings in the vending machine. I found a few cans of Chef Boy R Dee (seriously) and some Kellogg's cereal cups, and multiple instances of microwaveable sandwiches bearing the "Dale Jr." trademark so familiar to NASCAR fans.

You just know that with Dale Jr.'s name and likeness on the wrapper, millions of them are going to sell regardless of the quality. And, to tell the truth, they didn't look all that appetizing sitting in the dark little pockets of the machine.  Some testing and reviewing was obviously in order here.

There were three varieties of DaleChow available for purchase, so I bought one of each and resigned myself to vending machine food for the next few days.

I found all of the sandwiches I bought to at least meet minimum standards of flavor and edibility. To be honest, I didn't have very high expectations for any of the three, so it was easy for them not to disappoint. I was, however, surprised that they actually tasted fairly decent considering what they were. 

We'll start with the appropriately-named "Double-Dog Dare," twin hot dogs in buns, topped with chili and mustard.

Chili dogs are one of my favorite lunches when they are made with high-quality natural casing franks and slow-cooked beef chili sauce. But vending machine food is more about maximizing profits than providing an optimal dining experience.

The hot dogs are really low-grade skinless franks mostly made of mechanically-separated chicken with some beef, and they taste like the cheapest generic bologna - even Vienna sausages have a better taste profile. The dogs are dressed with a line of standard yellow mustard and then covered with a thick layer of chili sauce made from spiced beef and TVP.

They actually look better in the package (above) than they do after heating (right.) The buns get really soft and squishy after they're heated, and unfortunately the hot dogs don't heat up quite enough by the time the buns are almost mushy.

Surprisingly enough, though, the chili sauce has a fairly decent flavor. While spicy, it isn't too hot and on it's own (or on a better quality hot do) it wouldn't be too bad. Luckily, this halfway decent chili sauce masks the nasty bologna flavor of the hot dogs. The mustard is hardly noticeable, although I guess it's applied unevenly, because every now and then a bit of a hot dog provides a blast of mustard flavor, which isn't really compatible with the chili.

I just can't resist showing you this cross-section. That mustard really looks sick, but the part that really concerned me was the hot dog. I never did figure out what all those little white bits were.

Overall, I give the Double-Dog Dare a grade of 5 on a 1-to-10 scale: Not entirely horrible, but not my first choice for lunch.

Next up is the Dale Jr. Cheeseburger.

This is a big and substantial lunch, weighing in at over nine ounces (which is big for a vending machine sandwich.)  It seems to be pretty standard - sesame seed bun, a patty which is advertised to be "made with 100% BEEF," cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles.  The ingredient panel, though, reveals that the 100% beef is "seasoned" with hydrolyzed soy protein - a source of filler as well as MSG - and is flavored with beef broth.

Freshly out of the microwave, lifting the lid on the burger reveals just what kind of lunchtime nightmare it really is. The processed cheese turns into a viscous pool which collects in the artificial "grill lines" which have been etched into the surface of the pale grey burger. What I didn't show was that the bottom surface of the sandwich was coated in a thin, sticky film of ketchup and mustard; it must have spilled or been misapplied during manfacture, and it resulted in a messy, hard-to-hold product.  It was icky enough that I decided to cut the burger in half to make it easier to hold and eat.

That proved to be very entertaining. The pickles, which were hidden under the patty between the burger and the bun, were highly resistant to cutting. As I sliced through the sandwich, the blade (which was gliding effortlessly through the meat and bread) "caught" on the pickles and dragged them out against the blade. I popped one into my mouth and found that it seemed to be made of pale green plastic with a tougher, thicker green plastic rim. I could barely chew it

As you might imagine, this sandwich, like the hot dogs, was less than ideal. The cheese was lowest-common-denominator cheap American, and the burger tasted more like salt and cheap beef bouillon than it did like real beef. The complete flavor profile was something like what a food additive corporation would come up with if asked to make "cheeseburger flavor" for addition to other things. This product gets a 4 on a 1-to-ten scale. Edible, but it will never be a first choice.

Since I seem to be arranging these things in decending order of goodness, I suppose it's fitting that I finish off by describing the Dale Jr. BBQ Pork Sandwich.

It's basically a NASCAR-themed version of McDonald's McRib sandwich: a pork patty formed into a crude representation of a tiny rack of spare ribs, dressed with BBQ sauce and served on a club roll.

The sauce is thick and sweet and wet and makes the sandwich a little harder to handle than it might be, but it had a fairly good flavor which is similar to many inexpensive bottled barbecue sauces.

The patty is very mild with any pork flavor very efficiently subsumed by the sauce. I could handle that. It was harder to handle the texture - chewy, gristly, kind of lumpy, with a lot of what I earnestly hoped was cartilage. This pork patty was so inferior to anything I'd ever had under any other brand that I was surprised that any actual person would put their real name on the packaging. Dale, dude, talk to these guys. That's your [highly stylized and probably trademarked] signature on the cellophane - have you no pride?

If you're hungry - really hungry - the BBQ Pork Sandwich will probably score a 4 on a 1-to10 scale. But since I have some standards (and a stash of Cup-A-Soup in my desk drawer for emergency lunchtime hunger) I can't give it more than a 3.


Leeanne said...

The burger reminds me of those "MicroMagic" things from the 80s.

Dr. Fart said...

Dale Jr. Diarrhea Dog

icecycle66 said...

Thanks for the nightmare fuel.

edjunkie said...

First time visitor but I would totally eat those dogs. Look like the ones I used to get at 7 11 back in the early 80's