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Photograph: Time Out/Big Mac
Photograph: Time Out/Big Mac

Meat, Reviewed: It’s Big Mac week for our resident ex-veggie

He’s going processed and he’s going in sober

Huw Oliver

Huw Oliver was a life-long vegetarian until lockdown – not by choice, but out of hippyish family custom. Twenty-five years of no meat. Then he got stuck in a house with a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore. Desperate to inject some sort of excitement into his life, he has decided to cook and eat every available meat for the very first time. To his intestines (and his dad): sorry. This is Meat, Reviewed.

Week six: A Big Mac

A drunken rite of passage. The American dream, packaged in a triple-bun, double-patty basilica of factory-perfected flavours. Globalisation, hamburgerified.

The Big Mac is a cultural mainstay like no other, up there with The Beatles or David Beckham in universality. You can find it in Suriname. You can find it in Kazakhstan. (You can’t find it in North Korea, but Kim Jong-un does allegedly fly them in from China.) So conclusive is its hold on humanity that The Economist uses it to compare the value of currencies and cost of living around the world. In Pittsburgh, there’s a whole friggin’ Big Mac Museum.

My usual McDonald’s, the Vegetable Deluxe, is a stiff, starchy reminder of why being a vegetarian is often so very underwhelming. Surely – surely – this Sunday-evening Big Mac will prove a glorious, lockdown-defining affirmation of why I’ve turned fully fledged carnivore?

The prep I never experienced the cherished pre-adolescent milestones of graduating from Happy Meal to standard cheeseburger to Big Mac. That’s when proper manhood kicks in, right? For that reason, I’m going in sober. Twelve-years-old vibes: burger, large fries, and, to drink, a massive Coke.

The guilt factor This is the pinnacle of processed meat. Chunks of cow, slurped off the bone by a machine, minced and compressed into floppy discs so dense that, with the right tech research, they could probably actually store hundreds of MP3s. Most of the meat I’ve tried so far has been as well sourced as you might expect from a first-timer. But what part of the animal this is, no one knows. It’s all of them averaged out into greyish-brown anonymity. I don’t feel guilty so much as uneasy.

First impressions It looks a mess. The bun’s deflated, and salad spills everywhere. Sauce – or is it cheese? – leaks. I feel a little tipsy just trying to hold it all together in my hands. And shite, the meat is dry. It’s drab. It’s just as poor as you’d expect from a burger that costs £3.50. Yet happily, there’s so much else going on that I hardly notice. The light crunch of shredded lettuce and tomato, the semi-liquid cheese, and the sauce. Oh, the sauce. It’s sweet, tart and very complex: a mayonnaise, mustard and spice dressing in one.

The meat of the matter I can sort of sympathise with Don Gorske, one of the more compelling characters in ‘Super Size Me’: a man who’s dedicated 95 percent of his solid-food intake since 1972 solely to Big Macs. There’s something strangely harmonious about its structure, anchored around the middle ‘club’ of bread. The richness of the beef and cheese, offset by the levity of the surroundings. The veneer of healthiness in the salad and onion. The astonishing blend of textures. And did I mention I was a pickle guy? That tang is exquisite.

The aftertaste It gets pretty chaotic towards the end, layers slipping and sliding over each other in an Escher-like tangle. The patties are bland and a little plasticky through to the last bite. But they do slip down. And then, to round off, the last of that ambiguous sauce soaked up in the remaining tear of bun. I’d take this over a Vegetable Deluxe any day.

Verdict? The meat was shit, but the sum of the Big Mac’s other incredibly average parts was messily, impressively delicious. The fillings were generous. The sauce really was special. And for that price, fair play. Just imagine if I’d tried it smashed... 8/10.

Next week: Sausage and mash

Read the whole Meat, Reviewed series. 

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