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Reviews of fast food burgers and a look at how the real life version compares to the advertised beauty shot.

Reality Check: Wendy's New Hot 'N Juicy

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[Image: Wendy's; all others, Jessica Leibowitz]

Change is tough. When I learned that Wendy's intended to introduce new burgers, I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. "It seems like they're trying to make thicker burgers to compete with Five Guys," someone said to me. Wendy's has struggled with new products like their breakfast, so I was very interested in trying their new Hot 'N Juicy burgers.

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What's new? First, and most importantly, the new burgers are thicker. They still have a square shape, but with rounder edges. Their toppings have changed as well, with sweet red onions replacing white onions, crinkle cut pickles, whole-fat mayo, and the removal of mustard from the burger. They've also scaled back on the amount of toppings. As for procedural changes, the buns are now buttered and toasted, and the cheese is stored at a warmer temperature, to make it melt faster over the burgers. Many of these changes were implemented to emphasize the flavor of their beef.

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So how did it taste? As someone that really hates red onion, that was my primary focus on the first bite (call me odd, picky, and unfocused). I liked these: they were mostly innocuous, but they added a little sting to the burger. Similarly, the crinkle cut pickles were more textural than taste. The lettuce and tomato were almost in the background. Overall, the toppings were an accent, as opposed to something bold.

The bigger changes, in my opinion, are the bun, cheese, and beef. As advertised, the american cheese had melted all over my patties, which Wendy's struggled with in the past. Coming to the bun, it did taste bready and soft, like a Five Guys bun, as opposed to the dry, spongy Kaiser role of the past. Mine wasn't toasted well—I could barely see any carbon, but they're still in the first few weeks. I could taste the butter, which felt heavy, but not greasy—more like a layer of glaze. It mixed well with the whole fat mayo—and did make the burger feel rich and round, as opposed to dry and flat.

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As for the piece de resistance, I didn't notice too much change. The meat tasted slightly different: much less salty than in the past. There is more crust on the outside of the burger than before, and they are about 33 percent larger. Most importantly, though, they aren't very juicy. I had drops of liquid dripping onto the wrapping paper, but they were a mix of butter and mayo. In the meat department, it's not a huge change, in my opinion.

Ultimately, the "Juicy" didn't come from the beef—it came from everything else. Don't get me wrong, the burgers are good. I really enjoyed mine, and would go back for more. But it feels like they tweaked things more than they overhauled. Since I've been working at a software company, I've learned the meaning of the word "iterate": to improve something consistently over time rather than big sweeping changes all at once. The Hot 'N Juicy feels like an iteration on the burger, as opposed to a huge sweeping overhaul.

About the author: John M. Edwards, the fast-food bureau chief at Serious Eats, also writes about fast food and regional chains at fastfoodr.com. His day job relates to personal training and nutrition. (Seriously.) Follow him at @johnmedwards.

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