Hey, bud, want a burrito? For real. I appreciate you: For the way you talk, the way you walk, the way you’re statistically unlikely to be the shrieky dude who lives upstairs. But mostly for the way you click. Damn, you click so good. So I would like to give you a burrito. Or more specifically, I would like to transfer unto you the free-burrito coupon currently defiling the exterior of my refrigerator.
Did you also get a Chipotle coupon? It’s possible. I don’t know if this was a nationwide stunt or just a regionally targeted apology for making half of Boston College shit its face off last fall. Either way, I’ve got a free burrito coupon I’m not going to use, and I’ll ship it off to the first address that pops up in the comments, because I’m a prince of a fellow, plus I never go to Chipotle.
I don’t specifically avoid America’s favorite purveyor of carnitas and norovirus, but my travels just never seem to take me there. For one thing, the Chipotle location closest to my house replaced a Wendy’s, and while I’m not the sort of guy to hold a grudge, give me a goddamn break (and a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger). And although I’ve been happy with the couple of Chipotle products I’ve eaten, they don’t change the menu often enough to be of professional use to me. Furthermore, I’m sick and tired of bullshit fake-healthy fast food.
Chipotle is careful to avoid any specific claims about pinto beans improving your eyesight or guacamole forestalling your lonely death, but their marketing is a bit holier-than-thou (especially if thou is McDonald’s), and the website is littered with slogans such as “Food With Integrity,” “Responsibly Raised Meat,” and “Putting the Food Back in Fast Food.” We get it: You don’t go out of your way to torture the livestock any more than convenience and cost-effectiveness demand, and there’s no Dorito dust on your taco shells. Bravo.
But there’s a pretty wide gulf between being “not as nutritionally calamitous as a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, all things considered” and “good for you.” At 1,335 calories, a Chipotle chicken burrito with black beans, brown rice, sour cream, guacamole, corn salsa, and cheese falls somewhere in the big, fat middle ground. (Sure, I goosed that burrito toward the lardier end, but you’re 480 calories deep as soon as you put the chicken in the tortilla; once you’ve waddled that far, there’s no point dancing around the edges.)
Chipotle’s the most egregious offender, but everyone’s in on the scam. Wendy’s sells a goddamn Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad, Subway touts their Fresh Fit Choices, and McDonald’s has been threatening us with kale for nearly a year now. Burger King’s hands aren’t clean—they’ll sell you a Garden Grilled Chicken Salad, if you’re the type of delusionist who wants a salad grilled in Burger King’s garden—but they are to be lauded for aggressively lashing back against this health-stunt trend by finally introducing the most perfect, obvious fast-food item: the hot dog.
Hot dogs are a star-crossed delicacy. They are undoubtedly delightful, but they also have the misfortune of being objectively repulsive. Everyone knows hot dogs are made from the odds and ends of pigs and cows, the snouts and ears and other unmentionables that we would rather not think about swallowing into our precious flesh temples. But while there’s no denying their ghastly provenance, hot dogs are disproportionately shunned relative to all the other shit we eat, especially at fast fooderies. Christ only knows what part of the cow goes into Burger King’s 100-percent-beef dogs, but it’s not as if Whoppers are individually carved out of the primest rib, you dig?
Hot dogs aren’t even that much grosser than basic, Subway-level cold cuts. Anyone who’s worked at a pizza-and-sandwich shop knows that Monday afternoons are devoted to slicing and portioning the week’s ham, turkey, roast beef, salami, and various salami derivatives. And here’s a peek behind the counter for all you jerks who were lifeguards or astronauts or some shit in high school: You don’t actually have to slaughter your own prey! The food-service company sends you a 30-pound orb of turkey shrapnel held together by advanced meat glues and polymers. You don’t slice a turkey breast so much as you slice a birdloaf comprised of fibers that were once attached to the breasts of dozens of different turkeys.
Now, none of this makes hot dogs any less fraught, but they’re not a ton worse than the most common alternatives, and we the people love them. A lot of the initial reaction to Burger King’s big announcement was feigned disgust, because the whole reason we bothered to assemble a civil society in the first place was to compete over which of us gets to be the most righteously indignant over the pettiest matter. But there was also some logical, if misdirected, cause for real concern.
I can sympathize with a calculus that predicts doom when one of our scuzziest foodstuffs is produced by one of our most, hmm, efficient restaurants. But I took the more optimistic side of the same logical coin: If fast-food quality is generally torpedoed by the impossibility of replicating a decent hamburger when you can only charge a few bucks for it, then wouldn’t Burger King’s beef-assembly technicians have an easier path when aiming even lower on the food chain? A Whopper bears no practical resemblance to a decent $9 barroom hamburger, never mind one of the $32 truffle-fucked monstrosities created solely to impress food bloggers. But there isn’t a damn thing fancy about a hot dog, so why can’t the King produce one every bit as unbad as those we enjoy in backyards, ballparks, and bus stations all across this great land?
He can, and he does! Burger King hot dogs are good, you guys. And not just “good for Burger King,” but “good for a hot dog,” because those two concepts are so perfectly compatible. When writing fast-food reviews, I often have to give caveats along the lines of “I mean, provided you have reasonable expectations for just how good a Dunkin Donuts Angus Steak and Egg Sandwich can plausibly be,” but this time, there’s no need for qualifiers.
Burger King offers two different dogs, both grilled: the Classic and the Chili Cheese. They’re about 5.5 inches long and regulation hot-dog width, which is to say they’re the size you expect them to be. The buns are soft and fluffy, a rare treat in a field overflowing with bread that is either gummy, stale, or haphazardly toasted.
The Classic features ketchup, mustard, sweet relish, and chopped onions. Individual results will surely vary based on your dog-dresser’s whims; my Classic seemed assembled by a very enthusiastic 5-year-old, albeit one with above-average manual dexterity for his age. There was way too much stuff on there, but it wasn’t messy or impractical—just very intense. The meat of the matter was pretty nice, with authentic grill marks, adequate but not ostentatious snap, and a quintessentially smoky-sweet-mysterious hot dog flavor.
The Chili Cheese version was a hot dog with chili and cheese on it; I recommend sticking with the Classic. The chili is of a fair-to-middling Hormel-type quality, but it’s bean-heavy, which isn’t necessarily a problem but for the disconcertingly tumorous way the beans lurk beneath the overcooked layer of cheese shreds. A chili cheeser’s never gonna be pretty, but this one wasn’t good enough to justify its aesthetic shortcomings, and it was also too salty. You have to be careful about what you put on a hot dog. Say what you will about ketchup’s place on a frank, but at least it doesn’t add as much sodium as discount chili and cheese do.
Burger King hot dogs are a bit pricier than ideal, with the Classic going for $1.99 and the Chili Cheese $2.29. It feels ridiculous to call a perfectly good two-buck sandwich overpriced, but they aren’t cheap in the context of the ridiculous price wars currently being waged by the major fast-food outlets, with their various iterations of the “this many things for the same number of dollars” promotion. But if you have a hot dog craving, or if you just want to support the back-to-basics fast-food movement, I heartily recommend the King’s wieners.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Art by Sam Woolley.