Burger King's new menu items | Taste test

Burger King vs. McDonald's

Burger King vs. McDonald's Photograph: Martha Williams

Time for Burger King to play some ketchup. (Zing!) This fast-food giant, once comfortable with the silver medal of inexpensive, immediate dining, has recently been bumped down by Wendy’s to third place on that podium. The chain's solution? Well, to think like the enemy, of course.

On Monday, Burger King released 10 new, “health”-inspired items for its ailing menu. What's strange about these items? Most can also be found in similar form under those Golden Arches. From specialty salads to snack wraps and fruit smoothies to “premium” chicken tenders, can Burger King’s most recent facelift catapult it back into the big leagues? And more important, how does this food taste?

I sat down with Time Out Chicago’s food editor, David Tamarkin, and associate food editor, Julia Kramer, to find out. We put five of Burger King’s newest choices head-to-head against their nearly identical McDonald’s counterparts. Read on to find out whether Burger King stands a chance.

ITEM #1: Chicken strips
Burger King: Homestyle Chicken Strips three pieces; 360 calories per serving; $3.49
McDonald’s: Chicken Selects Premium Chicken Breast Strips three pieces; 380 calories per serving; $3.85
Tasting notes: Upon taking an initial bite of each strip, Kramer quietly muttered, “This is not going well so far.” Tamarkin was a little more blunt. “This is not food,” he said, with what can only be described as a grimace. Between the two, our team of three found McDonald’s option to be “much better seasoned” (as Kramer remarked), with a crunchier outer layer and more comprehensible meat. (By comprehensible, I mean that it tasted vaguely like chicken.) Burger King’s attempt was generally more tough, plastic-y and less digestible. But both, according to Tamarkin, were “truly disgusting.”
Time Out Chicago’s choice: McDonald’s

ITEM #2: Snack wrap
Burger King: Honey Mustard Crispy Chicken Snack Wrap 370 calories per serving; $1.59
McDonald’s: Honey Mustard Snack Wrap (Crispy Chicken) 330 calories per serving; $1.60
Tasting notes: Both wraps, supposedly to be eaten as a snack between meals, were essentially identical, with a flour tortilla, various shredded cheeses, crispy chicken and—somewhat incomprehensibly—a slather of honey mustard. McDonald’s trumped Burger King again in the second round, with the same crispier and more discernable chicken. Besides the differing versions of chicken, the wraps could not have been more similar. Quotes and remarks to note during this test, all from Tamarkin: “I’m so unhappy.” “How is this a food?” And my personal favorite: “I truly believe this explains every societal problem which the world is facing, of which there are many and growing.”
Time Out Chicago’s choice: McDonald’s

ITEM #3: Chicken caesar salad
Burger King: Garden Fresh Chicken Caesar Salad with TENDERGRILL and dressing 490 calories per serving; $4.89
McDonald’s: Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken 190 calories per serving (sans dressing); $5.15
Tasting notes: McDonald’s trumped Burger King once again with its more plentiful salad and Newman’s Own dressing. This round proved to be “noticeably sad for Burger King,” Kramer said: The chicken in BK's salad was coated in a gooey mystery glaze, and the croutons were hyperseasoned. The McDonald's salad, in contrast, had carrots and somewhat credible garlic croutons. Kramer even conceded that she would "eat it in an airport."
Time Out Chicago’s choice: McDonald’s

ITEM #4: Smoothie
Burger King: Strawberry Banana Smoothie 12 fl. oz. cup; 200 calories per serving; $2.29
McDonald’s: Strawberry Banana Smoothie 12 fl. oz. cup; 210 calories per serving; $2.39 
Tasting notes: After Tamarkin violently refused both smoothies (he doesn’t eat bananas), it was up to the ladies to judge this round. Unlike previous items, there were actually some discernable differences between these two products. McDonald’s version was noticeably milkier, with the definite yogurt taste trumping any fruit in the beverage. Burger King, however, had an undeniable banana flavor, and was less “icy” (as Kramer noted) than McDonald’s smoothie. Well done, Burger King!
Time Out Chicago’s choice: Burger King

ITEM #5: Caramel frappe
Burger King: Caramel Frappe 12 fl. oz. cup; 410 calories per serving; $2.29
McDonald’s: Frappe Caramel 12 fl. oz. cup; 450 calories per serving; $2.39
Tasting notes: “I almost couldn’t swallow that,” said Tamarkin immediately after tasting both. “That was so disgusting.” Needless to say, this was not our favorite of the five overlapping items. Kramer picked up on a low-quality cream in both, while Tamarkin remarked on a so-called “fat slick” that was left in his mouth after a straw-full of each drink. The general consensus? That the McDonald’s frappe tasted much more like coffee than its Burger King counterpart. “Burger King seems like it’s trying to mask the flavor of coffee, while McDonald’s is working with it,” Tamarkin concluded, before cleansing his palate with a remaining bite of the Honey Mustard Crispy Chicken Snack Wrap.
Time Out Chicago’s choice: McDonald’s

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)