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2013: The best (and worst) in fast food

wendys-pretzel

Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger: Yes, please.

It was a fun year for fast-food, if quirky new menu items are your idea of fun. In their never-ending quest to outdo each other, the big chains kept customers guessing with a steady raft of new concoctions, some better than others.

I sometimes get asked why I write about fast-food, since technology is my main purview. I generally give one of three reasons. For one, it’s something of a holdover from Sex, Bombs and Burgers, the book I wrote about how the military, pornography and fast-food industries are technology leaders. I don’t write as much about the other two businesses these days, but fast-food has strangely proven to be a popular topic with readers. I can also justify it with the notion that all these new products come through similar research and development pipelines as smartphones, tablets and other gadgets. Mostly, though, I write about fast-food as the occasional diversion – it’s nice to take a break from the routine every one in a while. As such, I’ve made it my mission to try the big new releases. I’m happy to report that I got to most of them this year.

McDonald’s had a busy year, especially here in Canada. The company finally gave vegetarian Canadians something to eat this summer with two veggie wraps. Coming in two flavours – spicy Santa Fe or garlicky Mediterranean – the wraps are sizable and pretty tasty (my vegetarian wife, normally a harsh critic of such things, approves). Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Burger King, burgers, food, mcdonald's, taco bell, wendy's

 

McBurgers don’t go bad; neither does a lot of food

McDonald's_HamburgerIt seems like every couple of weeks, the internet generates a new meme designed to make fast food look bad. Don’t get me wrong, fast food does indeed come up with a lot of that itself, but the unfortunate part of many of these viral things is that they’re either outright wrong or based on bad science.

The latest is the McDonald’s hamburger that didn’t go bad, even after 14 years. David Whipple, a Utah man, made news this week after going public with his relatively ancient burger, which showed no signs of mold or rot even after being placed in a coat pocket – where it was forgotten about – for a few years.

“My wife didn’t discover it until at least a year or two after that. And we pulled it out and said, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe it looks the same way,'” according to the UK’s Daily Mail. “It’s great for my grand-kids to see. To see what happens with fast food.”

The Daily Mail, being the bastion of correctness that it is, breathlessly reported about how the burger had no discernible change in colour or odor, and that the only noticeable difference – shock of shocks! – was that its pickle had disintegrated. A bunch of other news outlets followed the lead, with the general implication always being that such McBurgers don’t go bad because they’re full of chemicals, so of course they’re not good for you. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2013 in burgers, mcdonald's

 

Review: Boston Pizza’s Pizzaburger is a mouthful

boston-pizza-pizzaburger

A burger and pizza in one? What’s not to love?

It’s always risky to release a new product on April 1, given all of the April Fool’s fake news that inevitably circulates on the web that day, but Boston Pizza went there anyway.

The Edmonton-based yet Americanly-named chain on Monday launched its new Pizzaburger, which is… well, exactly what it sounds: It’s a burger baked inside of a wrapped-up pizza… a burger panzerotti of sorts. Here’s the promo video:

Regular readers know I’m not one to miss out on such new concoctions, so I went down to the local BP to give it a try. And given that I love both burgers and pizza, how could I possibly go wrong with something that combines both? Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2013 in burgers, food, pizza

 

Edible burger wrappers get it wrong

Paper? Mmm... paper.

Paper? Mmm… paper.

Brazilian burger chain Bob’s recently got a lot of press for introducing edible wrappers made of rice paper. With the tagline of “there’s no need to control yourself” emblazoned on the wrappers, the chain said it was testing them for environmental reasons.

Bob’s proclaimed the test a success, with less packaging waste as a result. Here’s a video of customers chowing down on the wrapper/burgers:

If there was a bigger food gimmick in 2012 – and there were many, from bacon sundaes to burgers with black buns – I certainly didn’t see it. What Bob’s and pretty much all the reports on the stunt failed to mention is just how important human senses are when it comes to eating food. The edible wrapper counters several of them.

The brain and senses are hardwired to enjoy certain foods, with our eyes and noses generally acting as the first line of defense. If something looks or smells off, we won’t eat it, which is why there are so few black-coloured foods (black usually means rotten to the brain). It’s how early humans were able to survive long enough for all of us to get here.

It’s also why some of the people in Bob’s video – who were doubtlessly given free burgers if they promised to eat them with wrapper on camera – looked confused before taking a bite. Humans have to consciously trick their brains into eating something sight (or scent) unseen.

One last problem is the texture of the packaging – there’s just no way to track the human brain into thinking that eating paper is fun or desirable.

Harvard professor David Edwards might be on the better track, with his invention last year of WikiCells, a sort of see-through edible packaging made from natural materials. This type of packaging allows consumers to see what they’re eating and it can also be naturally scented, so it can actually add to the desirability. It also doesn’t have a weird texture.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2013 in burgers, food, packaging

 

The robot burger apocalypse is nigh: rejoice!

Apple store? Nope, it’s a burger joint.

I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been calling for the fast-food industry to ditch their low-paid, often-teenaged labour and go with robots instead.

The list of reasons to do so is long: with fast-food being assembly-line work more than it is cooking, automation would be cheaper in the long run and more efficient. Customers orders would be screwed up less frequently (if ever) and the robots certainly wouldn’t be taking baths in sinks where food is washed or sticking boogers in the orders. Those out-of-work teens, meanwhile, would be forced to use their time more productively. Like maybe starting up a company that designs robots.

It was with pleasure then, that I read about Momentum Machines the other day. It’s a San Francisco-based startup that has created a robot that can pump out 360 gourmet hamburgers (as in those with high-quality ingredients), but takes up only 24 square feet.

The company is now planning a chain of automated restaurants armed with these robots. With the cooks taking up so little space, the restaurants will be able to offer more spacious and luxurious sitting. If the concept art above is any indicator, such restaurants would more closely resemble Apple stores than Burger King outlets.

The machines apparently produce high-quality burgers because everything is made to order. The tomatoes and pickles are sliced just before they go on the burger, ensuring their freshness, while customers will soon be able to order custom meat grinds. As the company’s literature puts it: “Want a patty with 1/3 pork and 2/3 bison ground after you place your order? No problem.”

We already have robots cooking and serving pizzas and hot dogs, so why not hamburgers? Mmm… robot burgers…

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2012 in burgers, robots

 

Burgers with black buns? No thanks

McDonald’s is selling black and white burgers in China.

In their ongoing efforts to get media attention, fast-food chains are turning from crazy concoctions – like bacon sundaes – to something a little more simplistic: different coloured foods.

Burger King will this week begin selling a new burger in Japan with a black bun. The Kuro burger (kuro means “black”) gets its colour from the bamboo charcoal mixed into its bun. Mmm… bamboo charcoal. It also features black ketchup, which is coloured by squid ink. Mmm… squid ink.

Burger King isn’t the first to try this. Earlier this month, McDonald’s rolled out a pair of burgers in China – one with a black bun, another with a white bun, with each being topped by sesame seeds of the opposite contrasting colour.

This is probably not something either company is likely to try in North America, where fast-food chains of all stripes are under considerable pressure to prove their products are natural. McDonald’s in particular has of late embarked on a PR campaign that seeks to remove the mystery from its food production process, while Taco Bell last year fought charges that its taco meat isn’t really meat.

As such, nothing says “unnatural” better than a coloured bun. There’s also the fact that humans are hard-wired to avoid foods of certain colours – especially black.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Burger King, burgers, food, mcdonald's

 

Finally, some Auto-Tune to sink your teeth into

Regular readers know of my absolute disdain for Auto-Tune, the technological filter applied to so much modern music that confers otherwise talentless individuals with the illusion of being able to sing. Similarly, I’m also pretty upfront about my love for fast food, horrible bacon sundaes and all.

On those rare occasions when someone is able to apply that latter love to the former, I can’t help but soften on my hatred for technologically enhanced vocals. The video below, is a case in point.

The original video was posted by YouTube user Daym Drops, who reviews fast food as a hobby (sounds familiar). It turns out his rant about how much he loves Five Guys Burgers (also sounds familiar) was remixed by the Gregory Brothers, the musical group perhaps most famous for creating Auto-Tune the News, and it’s now turned into a viral hit. It’s easy to see why:

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2012 in burgers, food