It looks like a burger I would eat.
The end of August marks 20 years since I’ve bought or eaten anything from McDonald’s, a boycott stemming partly from politics, partly revulsion, and mostly by the lack of nutrition of the chain’s cheap foodstuffs that are marketed heavily to children.
That said, I do on rare occasion visit other fast-food chains, usually out of desperation or time mismanagement, and it’s most often instantly regretted. But when Carl’s Jr. released a new burger earlier this year, it caught my attention. Carl’s touts the All-Natural Burger as 100% beef, a disturbingly rare claim among fast-food giants. Better yet, they declare this burger grass fed and free of hormones, steroids, and antibiotics.
Is it possible this cartoon star looks smug?
After so many years railing against fast-food chains for serving trash wrapped in more trash, here was one stepping up to the plate with a burger designed to appeal to my progressive foodsnob principles. I’m not saying I jumped at the chance to try it, but when the time came, and I needed a quick lunch fix near a highway exit, Carl’s and its grass-fed burger fit the bill.
I opted for the $4.69 single patty burger because I wasn’t ready to commit to something larger. Also, since part of the point was supporting the idea of a quasi-healthy menu upgrade, I also opted for the $2.69 zucchini fries over potato. I’ve noticed this side dish in a few burger places recently, and it’s never good. So it was no surprise that I didn’t want to finish these zucchini fries, however much ranch dressing they threw at me.
But for the burger I had high hopes. It didn’t actually look too different from a regular Carl’s patty — thin. But it had some char marks and was dressed with fresh onions, tomatoes, and lettuce, plus some chunky pickles and a thick cut of cheddar. The bun looked slightly better than the standard fast-food bun.
The burger was also heavily slathered in mayo, mustard, and ketchup. These proved its downfall.
The patty had a nice enough char-grilled flavor, and going for that second patty might have improved things. But the condiments were so sugary sweet that I literally had to eat the beef separately to get an idea of its (relative) quality. I can only see this as a sort of tone deafness on Carl’s Jr.’s part. Here they are trying to appeal to idiots like me who would love nothing more than to find a reputable, responsibly sourced burger on the fly, and yet they load it up with exactly the kind of useless sugar intake customers drawn to a grass fed burger want to avoid.
Am I surprised? Of course not. I just hope that when their sales figures tell them this heavily marketed burger is a disappointment, they don’t blame it on grass-fed beef. Worse, if it succeeds I hope they don’t give all the credit to sugar.