Strategy We tried McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King's signature burgers — and the winner is unmistakable

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Every self-respecting fast-food chain has a flagship burger — we tested them at McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King to find out which one is the best.

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(Hollis Johnson)
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In terms of menu choices, fast-food chains are a lot like car brands — there's something for everyone.

Five-piece chicken nuggets for the on-the-go soccer mom. A quarter pounder with cheese for the erudite lovers of the classics. A salad for ... someone.

And for the person who enjoys the finer things in life, there are the flagships: the signature burgers. Without these, fast food would lose all meaning.

I decided to contrast the signature sandwiches of the fast-food "big three" — the Whopper at Burger King, the Big Mac at McDonald's, and the Dave's Single at Wendy's — with one question in mind: Which chain truly makes the best flagship burger?

Here is the storied and gloried lineup: the Whopper from Burger King, the Dave's Single from Wendy's, and the Big Mac from McDonald's.

Here is the storied and gloried lineup: the Whopper from Burger King, the Dave's Single from Wendy's, and the Big Mac from McDonald's. play

Here is the storied and gloried lineup: the Whopper from Burger King, the Dave's Single from Wendy's, and the Big Mac from McDonald's.

(Hollis Johnson)


Unwrapping them is like driving off the lot — once it's done, there's no going back. The Whopper and Big Mac held up well, but the Dave's Single looks like a flat tire.

Unwrapping them is like driving off the lot — once it's done, there's no going back. The Whopper and Big Mac held up well, but the Dave's Single looks like a flat tire. play

Unwrapping them is like driving off the lot — once it's done, there's no going back. The Whopper and Big Mac held up well, but the Dave's Single looks like a flat tire.

(Hollis Johnson)


Let's start with the Whopper. There is simply no Burger King without the Whopper. It's as entwined with the chain as the croissant is with France. It is indeed the "Home of the Whopper."

Let's start with the Whopper. There is simply no Burger King without the Whopper. It's as entwined with the chain as the croissant is with France. It is indeed the "Home of the Whopper." play

Let's start with the Whopper. There is simply no Burger King without the Whopper. It's as entwined with the chain as the croissant is with France. It is indeed the "Home of the Whopper."

(Hollis Johnson)


The Whopper is a delightfully simple item: a flame-grilled, quarter-pound beef patty topped with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, onion slices, mayonnaise, and ketchup, all tucked under a sesame-seed bun. Technically, the Whopper doesn't have cheese, but since every cashier asks "With cheese?" and every customer should say yes — because no one should say no to cheese — I'm including a slice of American as part of the classic burger.

The Whopper is a delightfully simple item: a flame-grilled, quarter-pound beef patty topped with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, onion slices, mayonnaise, and ketchup, all tucked under a sesame-seed bun. Technically, the Whopper doesn't have cheese, but since every cashier asks "With cheese?" and every customer should say yes — because no one should say no to cheese — I'm including a slice of American as part of the classic burger. play

The Whopper is a delightfully simple item: a flame-grilled, quarter-pound beef patty topped with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, onion slices, mayonnaise, and ketchup, all tucked under a sesame-seed bun. Technically, the Whopper doesn't have cheese, but since every cashier asks "With cheese?" and every customer should say yes — because no one should say no to cheese — I'm including a slice of American as part of the classic burger.

(Hollis Johnson)


In past reviews, Burger King typically has scored pretty low on the quality metric. Its sandwiches are rather consistently slapdash, soggy, and oversauced. But this Whopper has bucked the trend. The wide, flat sandwich has a good burger-to-condiment ratio, and the bun envelopes it all without becoming waterlogged.

In past reviews, Burger King typically has scored pretty low on the quality metric. Its sandwiches are rather consistently slapdash, soggy, and oversauced. But this Whopper has bucked the trend. The wide, flat sandwich has a good burger-to-condiment ratio, and the bun envelopes it all without becoming waterlogged. play

In past reviews, Burger King typically has scored pretty low on the quality metric. Its sandwiches are rather consistently slapdash, soggy, and oversauced. But this Whopper has bucked the trend. The wide, flat sandwich has a good burger-to-condiment ratio, and the bun envelopes it all without becoming waterlogged.

(Hollis Johnson)


The pickles are surprisingly tart, adding a much more satisfying crunch than the onions. The big, beautiful, sesame-seed-dotted mesa of a bun is wide, translating into a lot of bread. It almost overwhelms the thin patty at times. The meat itself is so-so, but the cheese adds a bit of richness to each bite. Burger King is known for its brash stunt items as of late, but the Whopper is a sedate and steadfast anchor on the menu.

The pickles are surprisingly tart, adding a much more satisfying crunch than the onions. The big, beautiful, sesame-seed-dotted mesa of a bun is wide, translating into a lot of bread. It almost overwhelms the thin patty at times. The meat itself is so-so, but the cheese adds a bit of richness to each bite. Burger King is known for its brash stunt items as of late, but the Whopper is a sedate and steadfast anchor on the menu. play

The pickles are surprisingly tart, adding a much more satisfying crunch than the onions. The big, beautiful, sesame-seed-dotted mesa of a bun is wide, translating into a lot of bread. It almost overwhelms the thin patty at times. The meat itself is so-so, but the cheese adds a bit of richness to each bite. Burger King is known for its brash stunt items as of late, but the Whopper is a sedate and steadfast anchor on the menu.

(Hollis Johnson)


The Big Mac is snugly between blue jeans and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" on the scale of international symbols for America. How many burgers can say they have an economic index named after them? This double-decker burger is more iconic than London's double-decker buses, and, I would assume, a more satisfying meal experience.

The Big Mac is snugly between blue jeans and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" on the scale of international symbols for America. How many burgers can say they have an economic index named after them? This double-decker burger is more iconic than London's double-decker buses, and, I would assume, a more satisfying meal experience. play

The Big Mac is snugly between blue jeans and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" on the scale of international symbols for America. How many burgers can say they have an economic index named after them? This double-decker burger is more iconic than London's double-decker buses, and, I would assume, a more satisfying meal experience.

(Hollis Johnson)

Yeah, it's true — the Big Mac Index is a thing.



Two thin patties, shredded lettuce, onions, American cheese, pickles, the instantly recognizable three-piece bun, and, of course, the sacred secret sauce all come together to create this burger.

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(Hollis Johnson)

Of course, by now we all know the secret sauce is far from secret. In 2012, McDonald's executive chef Dan Coudreaut let slip the magic behind the legendary concoction in a public-relations video.



There's something about the Big Mac that just clicks. Sure, the bun is suspiciously sweet — I'm sure a large amount of sugar is to blame — and the patties are thin. Yet the sandwich is balanced. Every bite has the right amount of bun, beef, condiments, and toppings. The tart pickles perfectly play off the velvety sauce, and the sandwich has a satisfying heft but is not overwhelming.

There's something about the Big Mac that just clicks. Sure, the bun is suspiciously sweet — I'm sure a large amount of sugar is to blame — and the patties are thin. Yet the sandwich is balanced. Every bite has the right amount of bun, beef, condiments, and toppings. The tart pickles perfectly play off the velvety sauce, and the sandwich has a satisfying heft but is not overwhelming. play

There's something about the Big Mac that just clicks. Sure, the bun is suspiciously sweet — I'm sure a large amount of sugar is to blame — and the patties are thin. Yet the sandwich is balanced. Every bite has the right amount of bun, beef, condiments, and toppings. The tart pickles perfectly play off the velvety sauce, and the sandwich has a satisfying heft but is not overwhelming.

(Hollis Johnson)


Now to the burger from Wendy's, the Dave's Single. The flagship Wendy's burger line has been reworked several times throughout the chain's 46-year history, most recently in 2011. The enduring Wendy's Single (and Double, etc.) was revamped and christened the Dave's Hot 'N Juicy, shortened to the Dave's Single in 2016. We went for the Single for this test for simplicity's sake, as the Whopper is comparable to a single-patty burger.

Now to the burger from Wendy's, the Dave's Single. The flagship Wendy's burger line has been reworked several times throughout the chain's 46-year history, most recently in 2011. The enduring Wendy's Single (and Double, etc.) was revamped and christened the Dave's Hot 'N Juicy, shortened to the Dave's Single in 2016. We went for the Single for this test for simplicity's sake, as the Whopper is comparable to a single-patty burger. play

Now to the burger from Wendy's, the Dave's Single. The flagship Wendy's burger line has been reworked several times throughout the chain's 46-year history, most recently in 2011. The enduring Wendy's Single (and Double, etc.) was revamped and christened the Dave's Hot 'N Juicy, shortened to the Dave's Single in 2016. We went for the Single for this test for simplicity's sake, as the Whopper is comparable to a single-patty burger.

(Hollis Johnson)


The Single consists of the iconic Wendy's quarter-pound square patty sandwiched between two slices of American cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, red onions, ketchup, and mayonnaise, all cradled within the recently revamped premium bun.

The Single consists of the iconic Wendy's quarter-pound square patty sandwiched between two slices of American cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, red onions, ketchup, and mayonnaise, all cradled within the recently revamped premium bun. play

The Single consists of the iconic Wendy's quarter-pound square patty sandwiched between two slices of American cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, red onions, ketchup, and mayonnaise, all cradled within the recently revamped premium bun.

(Hollis Johnson)


But something is afoot. Among the ghosts of reviews past are many sloppy, soggy, saucy burgers — almost consistently from Burger King. But here, Wendy's is the culprit. This burger is smushed, swampy, and slathered, and I'm shocked. It was ordered during the lunchtime rush, and a similar burger from the same order came out beautifully, so I'll give Wendy's the benefit of the doubt. But it's nonetheless troubling.

But something is afoot. Among the ghosts of reviews past are many sloppy, soggy, saucy burgers — almost consistently from Burger King. But here, Wendy's is the culprit. This burger is smushed, swampy, and slathered, and I'm shocked. It was ordered during the lunchtime rush, and a similar burger from the same order came out beautifully, so I'll give Wendy's the benefit of the doubt. But it's nonetheless troubling. play

But something is afoot. Among the ghosts of reviews past are many sloppy, soggy, saucy burgers — almost consistently from Burger King. But here, Wendy's is the culprit. This burger is smushed, swampy, and slathered, and I'm shocked. It was ordered during the lunchtime rush, and a similar burger from the same order came out beautifully, so I'll give Wendy's the benefit of the doubt. But it's nonetheless troubling.

(Hollis Johnson)


It's soggy. So, so soggy. But let's look at the positives. The square beef patty is thick and juicy, and the red onion slices add a lot more bite and zest than the white onions from the competition. But in bites lacking the crunchy onion, the sandwich quickly devolves into a bland, mayo-logged mess.

It's soggy. So, so soggy. But let's look at the positives. The square beef patty is thick and juicy, and the red onion slices add a lot more bite and zest than the white onions from the competition. But in bites lacking the crunchy onion, the sandwich quickly devolves into a bland, mayo-logged mess. play

It's soggy. So, so soggy. But let's look at the positives. The square beef patty is thick and juicy, and the red onion slices add a lot more bite and zest than the white onions from the competition. But in bites lacking the crunchy onion, the sandwich quickly devolves into a bland, mayo-logged mess.

(Hollis Johnson)

It almost seems as if Burger King and Wendy's have gone through a "Freaky Friday"-style transformation here. As to which is Jamie Lee Curtis as Lindsay Lohan and which is Lindsay Lohan as Jamie Lee Curtis, I cannot say.



The winner of the signature-burger showdown has to be the inimitable Big Mac. The Whopper comes in at a solid second place, as a rather dignified yet somewhat humdrum flagship. And in a shocking third comes the Dave's Single. Wendy's usually competes with the best of burgers, but the haphazard prep dragged down the tasting experience.

The winner of the signature-burger showdown has to be the inimitable Big Mac. The Whopper comes in at a solid second place, as a rather dignified yet somewhat humdrum flagship. And in a shocking third comes the Dave's Single. Wendy's usually competes with the best of burgers, but the haphazard prep dragged down the tasting experience. play

The winner of the signature-burger showdown has to be the inimitable Big Mac. The Whopper comes in at a solid second place, as a rather dignified yet somewhat humdrum flagship. And in a shocking third comes the Dave's Single. Wendy's usually competes with the best of burgers, but the haphazard prep dragged down the tasting experience.

(Hollis Johnson)


Just look at it: The Big Mac is the shining standard of signature burgers. An instantly recognizable profile, a "secret" sauce, and a name synonymous with American cuisine — it has it all. This is a sandwich that holds the heart and soul of fast food within its three-piece bun.

Just look at it: The Big Mac is the shining standard of signature burgers. An instantly recognizable profile, a "secret" sauce, and a name synonymous with American cuisine — it has it all. This is a sandwich that holds the heart and soul of fast food within its three-piece bun. play

Just look at it: The Big Mac is the shining standard of signature burgers. An instantly recognizable profile, a "secret" sauce, and a name synonymous with American cuisine — it has it all. This is a sandwich that holds the heart and soul of fast food within its three-piece bun.

(Hollis Johnson)