Reality Check

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

Reality Check: The Big America Burgers at McDonald's Japan Are Back (and Bad As Ever)

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

America may be the home of McDonald's, but Japan is where its hamburgers go to spread their wings and take off into flights of fancy, combining flavors that no American would dare combing, stacking to unusually great heights, dousing themselves in ever-more obscure sauces, and, of course, all coming with a side of genuine smiles and service. Seriously. You see those smiling faces on the tray liner under the burger in the photo above? That's really what every McDonald's employee in Japan looks like.

We've seen McDonald's Japan tackle Korean flavors with the KBQ—two beef patties topped with sweet & spicy bulgogi and gochujang. We've seen its mechanically-recovered meat tread where no mechanically-recovered meat has trod before with its double-stacked, Big Mac meet Little Tokyo Mega Teriyaki Burger. It's even put its stamp on the ol' U.S. of A. with it's Big America burger series last year and the year before.

Well hey, looks like Big America is back this year with four all-new burgers in their lineup, each one available for a few weeks at a time.

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  • Grand Canyon (no longer available) combines beef with a round Egg McMuffin-esque egg disk, cheddar and mozzarella cheese (two staples of Arizona cuisine... right?), crispy onion bits, and a smoked soy steak sauce, all stacked Big Mac style in a double sandwich.
  • Las Vegas (out now) comes with sliced beef and onion salsa (that looks remarkably like the beef mixture on their KBQ burger), lettuce, cheese, and a cream cheese sauce because nothing screams "Vegaaaaas!" like cream cheese...right?
  • Broadway (out in mid February) is bound to be a...er, hit...with mozzarella, bacon cured pastrami-style (why is nobody serving this here?), mixed vegetables, and a mustard and cream cheese sauce.
  • Beverly Hills (out in March) is perhaps the most geographically appropriate flavor-wise, though I can't imagine loving an egg-topped burger with guacamole, cheese, and Caesar Salad dressing (yes, you read that right). Remember that classic episode of 90210 when Dylan takes Brenda out for an avocado-Caesar burger? Neither do I.

The day I was there, the Grand Canyon burger was on the menu and it arrived looking better-constructed than your typical American McD's burger might, but it was still a far cry from the glistening seared beef in the photograph.

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Biting into the quarter-pound patty reconfirmed something that I've always felt about McDonald's burgers: Bigger is not better Clearly, the worst part of any McDonald's hamburger is the weird, pasty, flavorless beef patties, and the bigger they are, the more their bland weirdness overwhelms the other things in the sandwich.

Not that the Grand Canyon burger didn't put up a good fight. Lots of cheese and a smoky, sweet, and savory barbecue sauce are plenty flavorful; they're just not the kinds of flavors I want to actually be putting in my mouth.

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I suppose one can forgive the strangeness of the culinary mashups and the odd associations these burgers have with their monikers (I mean, just look at what we do to Japanese food over here!), but here's to hoping that the Big America burgers are not what comes to mind when the Japanese think of American food.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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