Reality Check »

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

Reality Check: Cheese Krystal

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[This photo: Krystal; All others: Todd Brock]

Krystal occupies a special place in the culture of the South, having been a staple of late-night munchie runs and post-party hangover-rehab regimens since 1932. And while the Chattanooga-born chain has tried to class up its menu with mini-hot dogs and chicken wings and tiny breakfast sandwiches, the small, square, greasy gutbombs are still the ultimate guilty pleasure for many a Good Ol' Boy or Southern Grrrl. (They're often considered just the countryfied cousin to White Castle. And yes, the two are strikingly similar...but that's a whole 'nother post.)

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The Cheese Krystal I got recently was a decent match to the PR pic above—once you discount the impossibly tall and overfluffed buns from their official photo. But the truth is, nobody examines a Krystal all that closely before inhaling it. In fact, most order them in threes or fours. They're sold by the dozen (a Krystal Sackful) and even 24 at a time (a Steamer Pack). Clearly, quantity over quality is an unspoken part of the deal at Krystal.

The cardboard sleeve, open on one end, makes the Krystal superb road food. With no wrapper to futz with, you can reach into the bag, pull one out, and start eating without ever taking your other hand off the wheel. The size says snack food all the way—just three inches square. (How else could guys like Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut put away over 50 of them in less time than it takes to listen to "Stairway to Heaven?")

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Under the bun, it's kind of a thrown-together mess. Of the three Cheese Krystals I ordered, two had a lone pickle slice, and one had two. The dab of mustard is about the smallest amount one could apply and still have it count as being there.

There are other burgers on the menu, too. The original Krystal is cheeseless and rather pointless, if you ask me. There's a Bacon & Cheese Krystal that adds what appear to be tiny half-slices of bacon to the mix. You can get a Double version of either the Krystal or Cheese Krystal, if you're into the Mac-esque middle bun thing. (Personally, though, the last thing I think these sliders need is more bun.) And the chain even offers a full-size Angus burger in four different varieties, completely breaking away from the bite-sized calling card that made them famous. I've never heard of anyone going to Krystal for one of these, and while I've had one, I can't recommend that you do likewise.

Cheesed or not, all of the tastes and textures of a Krystal end up morphing together into an amalgamation, with almost no way to discern any single flavor. To me, it's mostly that super-squishy, slightly-sweet bun...with bits of chopped onion, some essence of dill pickle (even if you pick them off, the taste remains), familiar American cheese, and a touch of tang from the mustard. The beef, oddly enough, is all but an afterthought in this equation—very bland and built only to be part of the total package.

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Then again, no one goes to Krystal for a world-class burger. It's about steamy, sloppy junk food at an odd hour, greasy grub that goes down fast and costs next to nothing. Ultimately, I think Krystal is a classic case of getting what you pay for. A Cheese Krystal is about as good (in that really bad why-did-I-eat-that way) as one can expect a 95¢ burger to be. If you can live without the cheese, it's even more of a bargain. At the time of this writing, for example, they're running a promotion that gives you four Krystals for $2.84, or 71¢ each. If you're going to indulge your guilty pleasure every now and again, at least you won't have to break the bank to do it.

Cheese Krystal: serving size 73 grams, 160 calories, 70 fat calories, 8g fat, 4g saturated fat, 20mg cholesterol, 470mg sodium, 20g carbs, 1g dietary fiber, 2g sugar, 7g protein.

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.

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