It's an interesting time for fast food burgers. In the first two months of 2014, we've already seen Hardee's/Carl's Jr. up their bread game with fresh-baked buns, and, following the success of their burgers on pretzel and brioche buns, Wendy's recently rolled-out a Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger.
Not to be outdone, Jack in the Box is getting in the premium bun game with a burger on "gourmet brioche bun," but that's just the beginning. Dubbed the Bacon Insider, it features a beef and bacon patty, six half slices of hickory smoked bacon, and creamy bacon mayo sauce (in addition to American cheese, lettuce, and tomato).
It wasn't much of a surprise that the real-life burger didn't quite live up to the glossy publicity shot (above), but what did surprise me was what an improvement the Bacon Insider ($4.99) is over Jack's standard cheeseburger.
Most of the credit goes to the bacon. The crunchy bits mixed into the beef do a lot to improve the patty's flavor, bringing the smoky, salty notes bacon can be counted on to deliver, while the six "half slices" of bacon stacked on top (roughly the same amount as three regular-sized strips) finish the job.
On most JITB burgers, the dominant flavor comes from the toppings, but the Bacon Insider has enough oomph to taste like something other than American cheese and mayo.
The new brioche bun—or "brie-oh-CHEE", according to the cashier at the location near me*—is an improvement over Jack's standard burger buns. It's dense and squishy, with a subtle sweetness that contrasts nicely with the salty, smoky flavors of the patty and toppings.
*I'm pointing that out only because I thought it was hilarious, and she was totally joking.
Speaking of which, I didn't quite grasp the bacon flavor in the creamy bacon mayo sauce, even when I tasted it all by itself. A quick glance at the ingredients list confirms that it does have actual bacon in it (along with natural bacon flavor and smoke flavoring) so your experience may vary. To my taste buds, it was an improvement over Jack's de-facto mayo-onion sauce and marginally better than plain mayo, so I'm rounding that up to a success, too.
The other toppings were tasty by fast food standards, including the melted American cheese and the shockingly flavorful tomato, but the two giant hunks of iceberg lettuce (complete with a distractingly crunchy rib) threw off the balance. Once removed, the burger was much better.
In addition to the fully assembled burger, I also ordered a plain Bacon Insider to take a closer look at the patty itself. It looked pretty great when I initially popped the lid. The little bits of bacon mixed in with the beef are immediately noticeable, and there's even a decent amount of browning on the beef. Taken all by itself, the patty still has that greasy, under-seasoned flavor I've come to expect from JITB beef, but the bacon bits do make a noticeable difference.
The underside of the patty wasn't quite as charred, which deflated my happy balloon a bit, but wasn't too unexpected, given its fast-food origin.
Bottom line? If you have strong, positive feelings about bacon on your burger, this one's worth trying, but only if you go all the way with the toppings and can accept the nutritional implications (729 calories, 44 grams of fat). The patty is a step in the right direction, but it depends on the flavor from the bacon strips, melted cheese, and the rich, fatty mayo to complete the picture and stand out.
If you're intrigued by Jack's new burger, it's expected to stick around for eight weeks, so get your "bork" while you can.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax