This week, McDonald's shifted the goal posts of fast food, introducing a wagyu burger to its menus in Australia and making international food news in the process. The fast-food chain has never shied away from reinventing itself. We've seen its take on smashed avo come and go, we've lived through the Angus burger and, as of two years ago, you can order a McMuffin at any time of day.
But when we heard the fast food chain had added a wagyu burger to its Gourmet Creations menu, our brows immediately furrowed. How could a fast-food chain possibly afford to use prime beef in its burgers at a price customers have come to expect? Could it really be wagyu beef or are there inverted commas at work here? And, more importantly, what's the provenance of the meat?
We put these questions to McDonald's (more on that below), but one concern still lingered: how did the Wagyu Beef Burger actually taste? Was it measurably better than the other beef used in McDonald's patties? There was only one way to find out: a Gourmet Traveller taste test.
But first, some facts. The beef used in the new burger comes entirely from Australian-bred wagyu cattle from two sites in Queensland: Chinchilla and Texas. We asked questions about the marbling score of the beef but a McDonald's spokesperson declined to answer. The new burger consists of the wagyu patty, bacon, caramelised onion, lettuce, tomato, Coon cheese and a "special sauce" layered on one of the chain's Gourmet Soft Buns. The McDonald's website lists the ingredients of the special sauce, which include tomatoes, gherkins, mustard and "spice extracts".
The burger, introduced on 21 March, is available at all stores in Australia, but only while stocks last.
"We estimate that while this burger is on the menu, we'll purchase more than 280 metric tonnes of Wagyu beef," a McDonald's spokesperson says.
You can do the maths to see how long it's likely to be on the menu, or you can roll up to McDonald's quick-smart if you're someone who gets FOMO about limited-edition menu items.
On to the taste test. Our trusty reviewers trotted down to the McDonald's store at 600 George St, Sydney, on a weekday at lunchtime and tasted the Wagyu Beef Burger as well as a Quarter Pounder for comparison. Here's what they had to say.
David Matthews, Deputy Chief Subeditor
Looks a bit like a "gourmet" burger, as in it doesn't present as a McDonald's burger at first glance. That's from the large leaves of lettuce, the thick slices of tomato, the colour of the bun (it's a deeper brown than their standard). The wagyu patty has that McDonald's greyness to it, and is grey when bitten into, meaning it's been cooked all the way through.
The patty seems drier than you'd expect with wagyu. Perhaps it's a little beefier than their usual patties, but otherwise it's hard to tell a major difference. You can sort of taste beef fat, though, but it's as if the patty had been cooked hard and sizzled in its own rendered fat, absorbing some and leaving the rest behind. The tomato is bright and fresh, but firm, the lettuce collapsed from the heat (I ate mine as takeaway, so this is to expected), the bun – apparently this is the "Gourmet Soft Bun" – bready. The cheese is melted into the patty; unfortunately, one slice is not enough. The bacon, which is streaky and crisp, is the best bit, but for a burger that's meant to be all about the wagyu, that feels like a problem. Apparently there are caramelised onions, and I notice a chunk or two. The "tangy signature sauce" is on par with other McDonald's sauces, but I could do with more to help the beef and the bun along.
A solid burger that's easy to handle and not dripping grease or sauce all over the place. And, as usual, McDonald's get the layering right.
This is a burger that feels like it doesn't know quite what it wants to be. A high-end burger to go toe-to-toe with the rest of them? It falls short, but then it's also cheaper. A slightly more decadent McDonald's item that's the best of McDonald's made better? It feels too fancy and expensive. Somewhere there's a sweet spot, but this burger isn't it.
Mahalia Chang, Digital Features Editor
Fairly impressive appearance! The bun is very even and glossy, giving it a more up-market feel. The presence of plenty of leafy greens is a pleasant surprise compared with the soggy chopped lettuce you usually find in McDonald's burgers.
The wagyu version has a taste similar to a cheeseburger, but the caramelised bacon and the premium cheese elevate it. The bun is very soft and sweet, while the special sauce gives it a pleasant tang.
For ease of eating, I cut mine in two and it held up very well.
I'm a purist when it comes to McDonald's, so cheeseburgers are my go-to. The new gourmet variant is a nice change, but not too nice that if feels like I'm not eating Maccas.
Matthew Hirsch, intern
The bun is golden brown with a nice glossy sheen. The cos is quite a bright green and looks fresh enough, but the tomatoes are a different story, with a firm white centre and a notable lack of pulp and redness. The patty itself looks a little burnt and is hard to the touch. The advertised bacon and caramelised onions are missing in action.
The first thing I notice is that the bun is very sweet, as sweet as you might expect a bun from Breadtop to be. It was the only part of the burger that really lingered and it lingered quite unpleasantly. The wagyu was, sadly, tough but tasted very beefy in that iron-rich way. The tomatoes tasted as awful as they looked. I have to say I'm a fan of the special sauce.
I was really disappointed that there's no onion or pickle on this burger. But, moving on to what was there, the burger sort of fell apart as you ate it and each bite seemed to be a burst of different tastes depending on which components managed to make it to your mouth.
The beef didn't seem altogether different from the beef in the Quarter Pounder, save for that degree of beefiness. There was no noticeable marbling or round, buttery umami fullness that people look to wagyu for. I think that in trying to be altogether more "sophisticated" or "gourmet" than the rest of the burgers in the range, some trademark characteristics you want in a burger – onion, pickle, tomato sauce, mustard, for example – have been sacrificed, and the flavour of the burger suffered as a result.