If you're the kind of person who goes to McDonalds because you love the flavor of their 100 percent pure beef patties, well then the two of us might not see eye to eye on a lot of issues, culinarily speaking. For me, the beef has always been the worst part of the McDonald's burger, which is why I've been continuously baffled as they've introduced bigger and beefier burgers over the last decade and a half or so: Quarter Pounders, Big & Tasties, and the current fleet of third-pound pattied monstrosities. The reason the Big Mac is so successful? It's all because of the noble work the tangy sauce, the sweet crunchy lettuce, the pickles, the soft, squishy bun, and the melty cheese do in covering up all traces of bland beef pucks.
So when McDonald's first rolled out its Daily Double ($1.99, introduced in some markets in 2011, in New York in 2012), a new heavy-on-the-fresh-toppings cheeseburger, I was excited at the prospect that there might finally be something on the Burgers-Under-$2 section of the menu worth ordering.
Let's see what we're supposed to get, shall we?
From the bottom up we got toasted bottom bun, 1.6-ounce burger patty, a slice of American-ish cheese, a second 1.6-ounce patty, a "juicy" tomato, some crunchy shredded iceberg, slivered onions (the fresh kind like you'd get on a Quarter Pounder, not the reconstituted kind you get on a Big Mac), mayo, and top bun.
Really, what you get here condiment-wise is the antithesis of the $1 McDouble, which comes with the exact same two-patty-one-cheese-slice base, onto which is applied ketchup, reconstituted onions, pickles, and depending on the market, mustard. You take those toppings out of the McDonalds standard toppings roster, add what's leftover to a burger, and you've got yourself a Daily Double.
The question is, do those different toppings warrant the 99% price increase? It all depends on how you like your burger, and what degree of pseudo-human interaction you're willing to inflict upon yourself.
First off, the good news: Those slivered onions are far better than their reconstituted counterparts. While the recon onions give you the occasional whiff of that ineffable fast food aroma, the slivered onions get you some real sharpness and pungency, with a crisp crunch. Similarly, shredded iceberg is a good move on a McDonalds burger, its sweet mild crispness going a long way towards giving the sandwich a hint of freshness.
Mayo is my condiment of choice on a burger, so it suits me just fine to replace the ketchup, though truth be told, if I'm at McDonalds, I'd rather get a squirt of Big Mac sauce on there instead. The tomato, as expected, is wan, insipid, grainy, and all other sorts of terrible. But not as terrible as the beef, so it can stay.
Now the bad news: Without pickles, this burger loses its character, its essential McDonaldsness. Those dill chips are essential if you want to have a passably flavorful burger-eating experience at McDonald's. Luckily, pickles are free to add.
Which got me thinking: What's the cost of all the rest of those ingredients in a Daily Double in McDonald's Dollars? What makes it cost a buck more?
To figure it out, I went back to my McDonald's and placed the following order:
"One McDouble please, but hold the ketchup, pickles, and onions. Instead, can you add mayo, shredded lettuce, a tomato slice, and some slivered onions?"
I'm not sure the cashier or cook were keen to the fact that I'd basically just ordered a custom-built Daily Double, but it arrived a few moments later exactly as ordered: A Daily Double wrapped in a McDouble wrapper. Literally identical.
And the cost of this sandwich? The base: $1. Mayo: 15¢. Lettuce: 30¢. Tomato: 40¢. Slivered onions: free. For a grand total of $1.85. Prices of add-ons to burgers can vary by location, and I believe my McDonald's is pricier than most in the country, so there's a good chance your custom-built Daily Double will be even more inexpensive.
My god, think of all the things I could buy with the 14¢ I just saved myself!
So the fact of the matter is that if you're talking food costs alone, a Daily Double is not worth the extra 99¢, and McDonald's knows it. The question they're hoping you ask yourself is, "Is it worth saving 14¢ for me to not have to stand around, blocking the line, trying to explain a custom order to a cashier who is already annoyed at me?"
I remember when McDonald's started charging for extra Big Mac Sauce and shredded lettuce a few years ago (most likely due to the number of people gaming the system and ordering the $1 Poor Man's Big Mac), reading comments from folks on message boards and Facebook, and being shocked at how incensed they felt. Actually profanities being thrown around because McDonald's started charging for real food that it had once given away absolutely free.
Personally, I have no pity for those folks. You gamed the system, you got caught, but fuck it, in the end you're still getting 400 calories for under a couple bucks, so let's not get too entitled here, shall we?
All this is to say that while the $1.99 Daily Double might not be a deal of 99¢ McDouble proportions, it's still one of the best bets on the McDonald's menu if you feel the way I do about their beef. I'd gladly take the extra 14¢ hit for the convenience of being able to simply order "One Daily Double, add pickles, please." Perhaps next time I'll see if they can hold the patties.
What do you guys think? Would you customize your McDouble in order to save that dime and four pennies? Do you want your 11th burger on the house?
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer 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.