Friday, October 5, 2012

An Upstart Crow Tries Burger King's Rodeo BBQ Extra Long Beef

“And you know what they call a… a… a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Paris?”
“They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?”
“No, man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.”
“Then what do they call it?”
“They call it a Royale with cheese.”
“A Royale with cheese. What do they call a Big Mac?”
“Well, a Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it le Big Mac.”
“Le Big Mac. Ha ha ha ha. What do they call a Whopper?”
“I dunno, I didn’t go into Burger King.”
-Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction

It’s no secret that the United States as a country has a bit of what you might call a “weight problem.” On various lists of fattest countries made over the last five years or so, the U.S. tends to fall in the 7-10 range, while the U.K. is somewhere in the 26-30 area. So, with that stereotype in mind, imagine my surprise when I passed a Burger King here in the United Kingdom to see this advertisement:

I feel like I'm gaining weight just looking at it.

In case you can’t make it out (my camera doesn’t do well with glass), that is a poster for Burger King’s Rodeo BBQ line of products, available for a limited time only and, as far as I can make out, only in the United Kingdom. And, while one of the sandwiches looks like a standard Burger King Chicken Sandwich that someone plopped some onion rings and barbecue sauce on, the other looks like something out of a fast food exec’s fever dreams. It’s the same bun as a chicken sandwich, but with three burger patties, cheese, barbecue sauce, and onion rings on it. To top it all off, thanks to stricter laws in this country concerning the display of nutritional information, the poster proudly proclaims that the whole affair contains a modest 734 calories. As soon as I saw that sign, my first thought was “I must try that.” And today, deciding to take a day off from my diet, I finally did.

Why Don’t You Put Bacon On It?
So, I ordered the Rodeo BBQ Extra Long Beef as well as four chili cheese bites which make up the side dish aspect of this product line (I could have gotten six for a half quid more, but that would’ve just been unhealthy) and deeply hoped that the order combined with my accent would not be taken by the man behind the counter as a confirmation of all of Europe’s stereotypes about Americans. Upon arriving back at the flat with this bounty, I immediately laid it out to compare it to the promotional image.

Fast food is like nightclubs: exciting and fun in theory, but lonely and depressing in practice. 

As always, the poster had greatly exaggerated the size of the sandwich, which for once was probably a good thing. The sandwich on the poster looked absolutely terrifying. It was certainly comforting to note that the patties were not, in fact, the size used on the ordinary burgers but instead the ones used for sliders. So, picture taken, I took a deep breath and took a bite.

It wasn’t that bad. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the numbers don’t lie and this is certainly not something I would recommend anyone make a staple of their diet, but at over 700 calories I was anticipating it to be absolutely dripping with grease. It was incredibly salty, but the meat was definitely of a higher quality than at a Burger King back in the states. However, something was definitely off, and I didn’t realize quite what it was until I had finished eating it.

The sandwich is intended as a longer version of the barbeque burger, which is my regular if I have the calories to spare when I go to a burger joint. It generally consists of all of the ingredients in the Extra Long, except for one thing. It usually includes bacon.

I’m still not sure why they didn’t put bacon on this sandwich. Many of the other burgers available in UK Burger Kings include bacon, so it’s not an issue of availability. I highly doubt that a person who is okay with eating a 734 calorie sandwich is going to not eat a 900 calorie sandwich with bacon on it, so it’s not an issue of health. The standard barbecue burger formula of bun, patty, bacon, fried onions, and barbecue sauce is time honored and delicious, so it’s not an issue of taste. A few weeks ago I had a meal at a Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a chain of sit-down burger joints here in London that, incidentally, make one of the best barbecue burgers I’ve ever tasted, use bacon, so it’s not an issue of regional preference. The only conclusion I can reach is that someone at BK’s headquarters royally dropped the ball.

Come on, guys. If you’re going to make unhealthy food, at least do it right.

Why Bother?
That’s all I have to say about the chili-cheese bites. First off, are “jalapeño poppers” not a thing in the UK? Because that’s what they are.

And not only that, they aren’t particularly good ones. While taking a bite out of one for the purposes of taking a picture of the inside (which ended up not turning out for various reasons related to my inability to work a camera effectively), half of the filling went spurting out the other end, usually the mark of an inferior fried food. Not only that but they taste incredibly bland. There is neither a strong flavor of cheese, nor of pepper. After my first one, I had resorted to dunking them in ketchup just so there would be a flavor.

I’m still at a loss as to why they didn’t release this product in America. It seems like something we’d be all about as a culture. The only thing I can think of is the consumer watchdog backlash concerning health, but that’s the name of the game in the fast food industry.

Based on this and a few other experiences, I’ve come to the conclusion that while fewer preservatives and higher food quality standards may play a part in the UK’s lower obesity rating, the difference is the attitude the British have towards unhealthy food. A sandwich with two meals worth of calories can be released in the UK because the British consumer is less likely to eat at Burger King on a regular basis. The street that I live on has both a Burger King and a McDonald’s, but there’s hardly ever anyone in there except for after midnight, which makes sense because if your late-night drunk food is a salad, I’m sorry, but you are a strange individual. In contrast, I was at this place right at dinnertime and there were maybe three people eating and no one but me in line for food. This is why a British person can be trusted with the option of ordering the Rodeo BBQ Extra Long Beef: he’s not going to do it as often.

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