This week, Arby dipped a hoof in the burger game, launching a menu item he claims is bigger and more upscale than many of his competitors, a $5.99 steakhouse-style concoction that mixes 52% Waygu beef with its more pedestrian ground beef.
At first glance, Arby’s burger is a thing of beauty.
Meet the man who ate a Big Mac a day for 50 years
The deluxe version (there’s no usual, but there’s a bacon one) is my Platonic ideal of a well-made cheeseburger: in addition to the meat, it has substantial slices of pickles and cheeseburgers. red onions, a slice of reddish tomato, shredded iceberg lettuce, melted American cheese and a rose-tinted “burger sauce” that appears to be mayonnaise-based. The shiny brioche bun is big enough to confuse the content without overwhelming it. And the thick, muscular patty itself wowed, with an attractive char ring hinting that it’d had a spin on a grill.
I felt optimistic about this handsome guy. But biting into it, I got mixed signals. The combination was what I was hoping for, with the flavor of the pickles and onions that didn’t go away but played a backup, the sprigs of green providing crunch and a nicely seasoned patty that actually tasted like something that came from the meat aisle of the market. Inside was the promised pink of a medium-rare burger, a rarity in the world of grey-brown fast food patties.
But as much as I loved its flavor, there was something off-putting about the texture of Arby’s patty. It was a little gummy. Too compact. It didn’t separate to the tooth like other ground beef discs. And here’s where Arby’s aspirations, while admirable – hey, we should all dream big and ignore anyone telling us to “stay in our lane!” – went wrong.
The chain just isn’t built for burgers. Unlike most other fast-food vendors, Arby’s kitchens don’t have the griddles or grills often used for burgers, so the chain has developed a workaround. It uses sous vide preparation for the burger, it said in a statement. This technique, in which food is placed in a vacuum-sealed bag and heated to precise temperatures in a double boiler, is used by high-end chefs, fast-food chains and airlines. I guess Arby toasts the patties before sealing them, and in the shops they are finished with a dip in the air fryer (I witnessed the last step).
McDonald’s and Wendy’s accused of inflating burgers in ads
Perhaps this process is what resulted in the unappealing consistency? I tried the burger at a second location, as I had neglected on my first outing to notice and try the ranch bacon version. The patty was a bit crispier on the outside which probably meant it stayed in the fryer a bit longer. But the result still couldn’t mask the rubbery feel of the puck.
And the bacon ranch? The crispy, overly smoky bacon strips helped distract from the disconcerting texture of the patty, but the combination and an extra layer of ranch added to an overall messier sandwich – both literally and in terms of too-all-at-once flavor profile.
What’s the best ranch dressing you can buy? We tried 11 popular brands to find out.
On the way out, having finished neither version of the burger, I ordered the chain’s classic offering, a simple sliced roast beef sandwich, with a few packets of its horseradish sauce thrown into the bag. Later, I took a bite and came to two conclusions. One was that it was a very satisfying sandwich and a refreshing change of pace from the usual fast food burger fare.
The second was a little more existential: not all dogs need to learn new tricks.