We Made A Fancy Big Mac To Appeal To People Raised On Cooking Shows


McDonald’s has certainly had some wins over the past few years. They brought breakfast to the masses 24/7. They dedicated themselves to serving cleaner products with better ethics. They even hopped on the waffle-fry train. But one place the arches still haven’t recovered is the lack of interest in Le Big Mac. They’ve tried reaching out to disinterested millennials (a huge section of their demo) with quirks like making the Big Mac bigger and smaller, or letting some of their secret sauce out into the public. But it’s all fallen a little flat.

Maybe it’s time for McDonald’s think about why millennials aren’t into the sandwich in the first place. I tried a Big Mac the other day for the first time in probably a decade or more. I gotta say, it’s bland. It’s a sandwich that doesn’t deliver taste-wise in a world where taste buds are evolving at lightening speed. Just a few years ago ketchup was the be-all-and-end-all of condiments, now salsa outsells ketchup.

Don’t you get it fast food places? These kids raised on the Food Network have complex palates! So I’ve set out to once again help McDonald’s — and you — by trying to turn that flaccid burger into something better.

The Recipe:

First and foremost the sauce is crucial to a Big Mac. McDonald’s secret sauce is basically Thousand Island, a pretty standard hamburger sauce variation. That is — mayo, ketchup, relish, and probably a splash of vinegar. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. Thousand Island is a fine sauce and has its place in the pantheon of condiments. I’m just going to tweak and bring it into the 21st century a little.

I use a nice dollop of deli mayo and low-sugar ketchup. Add in about a teaspoon each of garlic powder and apple cider vinegar. Then, in place of relish, I add half a diced jalapeño.

On the side I get my lettuce ready. I’m using a baby romaine here because, again, iceberg is just kinda boring.

I generally cut the from the stem side to get the crunchiest bits of the lettuce for the burger. Then I set it aside and generously salt the chopped leaves. This draws out excess water, amps up the crunch, and removes most bitterness.

Next comes the sandwich prep. I’m using a black and white sesame seed bun from my local baker. It was baked this morning. A fresh bun is a goddamn delight and cannot be understated, especially compared to the cardboard-y bun that often accompanies a Big Mac. Fast food buns are one of the places where you really taste/feel preservatives.

I grabbed a nice garlic and dill pickle from the same deli I bought my mayo. I love pickle so I slice it fairly thick. You get a nice soft crunch, salty, umami, slightly garlic spicy taste going on when you eat a solidly brined pickle made by a pickler who cares.

I also changed the cheese up to something with a lot more kick. I’m using a Tilsit cheese. It’s smear-ripened, which means it’s given a fungi and bacteria wash that amps up flavor as it ages. It has the hardness of a cheddar and the funk of Limburger.

The finely diced onion on the Big Mac is one of the main sources of flavor on the whole thing. I decided to switch out the white onion for red onion. Bringing the jalapeño and onion together is a very light nod to the Southwest — pure Americana, just like McD’s. Plus, red onion tastes better raw.

Lastly, the beef. I hit up my halal butcher for some well ground chuck with a little short rib thrown in for good, fatty measure. I make two 5-6 ounce meat balls. Then I use a small plate to smash the burgers into shape. Some people like doing this in the skillet, I find it doesn’t make that huge of difference either way. And with this method you get a little more uniformity in thickness and shape.

Cooking it Up!

I get a skillet pipping hot with a little olive oil. While that’s heating, I generously add sea salt and Tellicherry pepper to my pressed burger patties. Gently lay those in the pan and let sizzle for about two-ish minutes on each side. You’ll need to press down a little on the patties when you put them in the pan and flip. Personally, I like my burgers medium rare, so nice and pink in the middle, but still cooked through. So that’s what I did here.

While that’s happening I toast the buns on a grill top. This is pretty straight forward. I smear a little Irish butter on each bun and sprinkle with a generous amount of garlic salt. I also toast both sides of the middle bun and lightly press it with the spatula to compress that component into something manageable.

Once the meat is cooked through to your taste, take one patty out and set aside. The other patty is going to get some sexy cheese melted on it. I add folded over slice of the Tilsit cheese and a lid and turn off the heat.

Time to start putting the burger together. I follow the same recipe of assembly as the classic Big Mac. Bottom bun, secret sauce, onions, lettuce, slice of cheese, patty, middle bun, secret sauce, onions, lettuce, pickles, patty, top bun. My only variation here is the melted cheese on the top patty because what isn’t better with more cheese?

And that’s it! What we’re left with is goddamned delicious. The spiciness of the jalapeño really shines through the secret sauce. Again, I love pickles, so that brine-y and umami crunch adds a great kick as well.

Overall, the burger is kinda huge, which seems to be in fashion these days anyway. But you could easily just call this a “burger with a whole other burger put on top.” Which sounds like the most American thing ever.