In October, Burger King unveiled its BK Chef's Choice Burger, a sandwich created to, according to the original press release, "reinforce the... brand's commitment to flavorful menu items made with premium ingredients" and bring "a whole new level of excitement" to the menu. (Wow.) Well, just when you thought you couldn't possibly handle any more excitement from a fast-food burger run, BK has rolled out two additional Chef's Choice varieties this month "to surprise and delight taste buds across the country." Will your taste buds be surprised and delighted? It may have a lot to do with how good your local King staff is.
The Original BK Chef's Choice Burger starts with a 5.5-ounce flame-grilled patty of seasoned ground chuck. It's topped with thick-cut bacon, American cheese, red onions, tomatoes, Romaine leaf lettuce, and the chain's Griller sauce (garlic mayo, we're thinking), all on an "artisan-style" bun. (We'll come back to that.) Mine felt nice and hefty coming out the bag, and even looked like a step up from typical fast food offerings. (Not quite as stacked and sexy as the PR shot, but is it ever?)
Taste-wise, it went downhill in a hurry. The beef was dry and overcooked, even blackened around the edges.The bacon seemed strangely torn at the ends. And amazingly, I found a hollow pocket in the patty, a problem I had run into with one of the BK Toppers I tried recently. "Surprised?" Yep. "Delighted?" No way. With two other Chef's Choice burgers waiting, I wasn't motivated to eat more than two bites of the Original.
You know the chain has high hopes for the Bacon & Bleu BK Chef's Choice Burger since they use French spelling. I had high hopes, too, with actual bleu cheese crumbles falling off my burger just like in the promo pic. But the hardwood-smoked bacon—while a genuinely meaty upgrade from most fast-food bacon—seemed to suffer from the same torn-ends syndrome as the Original. Mine had one pathetic-looking leaf of lettuce, not the thick layer advertised, and the supposedly-standard red onions were M.I.A. (No crunch for you!) The creamy cheese combined with the standard mayo did help lubricate the otherwise dried-out meat disc, but not enough to interest me past a third bite.
I am admittedly not a fan of barbecue sauce on burgers. The Bacon & Cheddar BBQ BK Chef's Choice Burger didn't convert me. This one slaps on a slice of cheddar and adds Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet 'n Spicy sauce to the party, along with the same bacon, red onion, tomato, and Romaine found on all the Chef's Choices. Again, an arid and unpleasantly burnt patty was the centerpiece here, especially after most of the barbecue sauce and mayo went squirting out the back of the sandwich upon my first (and not coincidentally, next-to-last) bite. This was a seriously messy sandwich, and I pity the commuter downing one behind the wheel while navigating traffic.
Perhaps the most striking element of the Chef's Choice Burger lineup are those buns with their prominent splits in the top. Mine were prominent only when viewed from overhead. Furthermore, I take issue with the phrase artisan-style. The word artisan is way overused in the food biz these days. And while here it's meant to evoke images of a flour-dusted chef with a big floppy hat pulling painstakingly-crafted buns by the dozen out of a handmade brick oven, tacking on -style afterward simply admits to anyone paying attention that you're just faking it and hoping they neither notice nor care. Despite questionable terminology, the bun itself is good. Similar in texture and taste to a potato roll, it has a hint of sweetness, and can also be found on BK's Big Fish and Tendercrisp Chicken sandwiches (at least according to the video menu boards I saw).
Apart from non-cardinal sins like the torn bacon strips and the weird pocket in the center of one patty, what really burned me—literally—was how scorched this beef was. Way beyond nicely charred, these burgers were flat-out burnt. All three already-too-salty fast-food patties were hopelessly overcooked and actually left that sandpapery raw-tongue feeling in my mouth for the rest of the day.
Exactly like all three of my BK Toppers.
From the same BK store.
Hey, wait a minute...
A few days later, I hit a Burger King on the other side of town and ordered an Original. Now, that's the way it's supposed to look. And what do you know? It tasted exponentially better. A noticeable crunch from the veggies, smoky and meaty bacon with curled up ends, beautifully-melted cheese, that tasty-although-faux-artisan bun...and finally, beef NOT blackened to a crisp. I was all too happy to eat the whole thing.
Based on that do-over, I'm ready to call the Original a pretty tasty fast-food burger, provided your local BK crew knows what they're doing and has properly-calibrated equipment to work with. (I'm looking right at you, Store 3692.) I'm also willing to say that if you find a decent location, they'll be able to make the Bacon & Bleu a much better-than-average option. I'm not sold on the Bacon & Cheddar BBQ, but I think that's my own BBQ-burger bias. Chalk it all up as a valuable reminder: Even in the world of fast-food, where consistency from store to store is the ultimate goal, sometimes it's still about location, location, location.
About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.