Big Burger Showdown: The McDonald's Angus vs. Burger King's XT

Or: The McDonald's Angus vs. Burger King's XT, for the Heavyweight Championship of the World!

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[Photographs: top, McDonald's, Damon Gambuto; bottom, Burger King, Robyn Lee]

Okay, so it wasn't a Tyson fight. But it my head, it sure felt like one. As if the phenom himself were going to challenge Holyfield in a special ring in Boston's City-Center brickyard. This would be a fast-food showdown for the ages.

After my first fast-food foray, the Mac Snack Wrap, Serious Eats asked me to compare Burger King's new XT sandwich and McDonald's Angus Burger. I was ecstatic about a second chance to review products from two of our nation's iconic chains. (Yes, products; I think that's the appropriate term.)

There was one problem with the showdown, though. How do you taste a freshly, um, manufactured Burger King burger next to a McDonald's Angus and not have the contest be biased towards the home restaurant? Solution: home and away games, Champion's League-style.

For those of you that don't follow European Soccer, Champion's League is a multi-national pan-European competition between the best teams from each national league in Europe; they play in an elimination tournament, but each leg of the tournament has a home match and an away match. In my mind, the two would have to face off against each other twice in order to make a fair comparison.

Round One: Burger King Home Match

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Cross-section of the Burger King XT. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Buying the Angus was an experience in and of itself—after I ordered the Mushroom and Swiss, the guy behind me, wearing a sweatshirt decorated with parrots made of sequins, haggled over the price of a 4-piece McNuggets. Auspicious start.

I threw the Mickey D's bag under my coat, and hustled to Burger King. Sadly, the first location I stopped by was already closed; the dejection lasted only a moment, though, as I remembered that this was America, damn it. After pulling out my iPhone, plugging in the zip code, I found a Burger King only 400 yards from where I was standing. (God bless the USA.)

As I walked into the King, a homeless guy, seeing my McDonald's bag, asked me if I had a sandwich to spare. I was caught; how could I not share? So I told the guy I'd help him out. He sat at a table and waited while I ordered an A1 XT Steakhouse burger with fries and a Dr. Pepper.

I settled down with my new friend, and much to the surprise of everyone in the BK, took out all of my food and camera. "Why do you have that camera?" the homeless guy asked me. "I'm a writer," I responded, handing him half of each burger. As he walked away, food in hand, he turned back and asked me, "Can I get some fries?"

The Angus burger from McDonald's wasn't terrible, as fast food meat goes; the meat was no worse than a college barbecue with cheap frozen patties. The bun was the better of the two, and the cheese was solid. But I didn't really taste the mushrooms, as there weren't that many; and to make matters worse, the mayo really dominated the flavor. I didn't feel like I had a Mushroom and Swiss burger, so much as a MayoBurger.

The A1 XT was better-balanced. The meat was comparable to the Angus burger from McDonald's; in its way, it was a bit warmer and juicier, meatier than the normal burgers. The lettuce and tomato were tasteless and pink, sadly—but A1 steak sauce really pulled it all together, giving the whole bite a nice tang. If you can't deal with an excess of smoke flavor, it's not the burger for you. However, the total package was marginally better than the Angus.

Round 1: BK, winner at home.

Round 2: McDonald's Home Match

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Cross-section of the Angus Third-Pounder. [Photograph: Damon Gambuto]

Round 2 occurred off of Route 28 in Stoneham, Massachusetts. (The Showdown in Stoneham, if you will.) I stopped by Burger King for a drive-thru experience, and this time I tried the Smoky Cheddar XT I waited a long time at the window for my order, and they apologized profusely: "They're fresh broiling the burger." Hey, in the interest of freshness, I'd wait.

I drove around the corner for an Angus Bacon and Cheese at McDonald's. Even at 9:20 p.m. on a Wednesday, there was a line at the drive-thru. I wasn't expecting much out of the McDonald's Angus burger after the let-down of the Mushroom and Swiss, so I treated myself to a Shamrock Shake (a great call).

I bit into the Bacon and Cheese Angus first—not much of an improvement over the Mushroom and Swiss. The meat was bland, but that's no news; the cheese had the consistency of plastic, and the red onion, while crisp, was overpowering. I couldn't taste much else.

Next up: the Smoky Cheddar XT.. The bun, meat, and veggies were the same as the A1, but the melted cheese, bacon, and sauce combo was far superior. The meat stayed smoky-juicy, even 10 minutes after pickup, and was also a little burnt, giving it a slight backyard-burger taste. It tasted not unlike a regular hamburger (though one that's super-smoky). It almost took me back to a restaurant my family used to go to, Max and Erma's, and their BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger. It certainly wasn't better than Max and Erma's, but for Burger King it surprised the hell out of me.

The Winner

Both burgers show an improvement over their respective chains' regular burger lines—but in this head-to-head taste-off, I'd call Burger King's XT the winner. Winner at home, and clear winner on the road. But like in soccer, the match winner might not have the coolest play of the game, or the sickest goal; in this competition, having the Shamrock Shake sign on with the team in the middle of the competition made for a very memorable showdown.

Style points to Mickey D's for the Shamrock. Now, if only I could get one with a McRib...

Related

Reality Check: McDonald's Angus Third Pounder
Reality Check: Burger King's A.1. Steakhouse XT

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