On a recent episode of the Armchair Expert podcast, the conversation turned, as it sometimes does, to McDonald’s. Comedian Dax Shepard, who co-hosts the show with Monica Padman, touted his special McDonald’s order: two Big Macs with extra sauce and extra cheese, accompanied by supersized fries and an “enormous” Diet Coke.
“You wanna get mad at me?” asked guest Ike Barinholtz. “I take a Big Mac and pull off that middle piece of bread, dawg... Try it sometime. It’s interesting.”
Barinholtz was referring to the extra layer of bun that sits at the center of each Big Mac, separating the special sauce, pickles, and onions from the lower burger patty. Shepard ribbed Barinholtz, insisting that if you’re going to get a Big Mac you should go all-in.
“I don’t get eating two-thirds of the bread on a Big Mac,” said Shepard. You’re in, man. You’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound.”
Barinholtz insisted it’s not a carb-conscious thing. “It’s because the meat on the meat with the sauce—it hits nice.”
Padman suggested the extra bread is inserted midway through the sandwich as a “paste-maker.” Shepard agreed to try a no-middle-bread Big Mac one time, but said it needed to be a tit for tat, urging Barinholtz to try the extra sauce/extra cheese modification. “It is a game-changer,” Shepard assured his guest.
The whole conversation got me thinking about the act of customizing fast food orders to perfection. Could it be that one of these celebrities—or both—had engineered the perfect sandwich? I decided to dip my toe into the wide waters of Big Mac customization and give both versions a shot.
My husband, Garret, accompanied me on this journey down Big Mac Lane, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I must note that we split the Big Macs. But bites were taken from the rounded outer edge of the burger instead of the straight-sliced center area, so as to better mimic the typical experience of taking that first bite of a fast food sandwich, lifted straight from the box to one’s mouth. This is science, folks—we need to take it seriously.
Big Mac modification #1: No middle bread
I tried the no-middle-bread Big Mac first. Taking out that center slice immediately transformed McDonald’s signature offering into a much more meat-forward sandwich. I was surprised at how much the meat-on-meat aspect of this changed the entire experience for me. There was more…chewing? Maybe that goes to Padman’s point about the bread being a paste-maker.
Garret felt like the lack of bread highlighted the fact that the burger patties themselves aren’t the best. I never had any impression that McDonald’s burgers were spectacular, only fine—so I wasn’t taken aback by that. Still, I’m not sure I liked the beef being the star of the Big Mac. It’s also inevitable that by removing the center bread, you lose some of the special sauce that’s clinging to it; the reduced volume of sauce also may have heightened the burger patties’ presence.
I think Barinholtz’s description of this Big Mac as “interesting” is the right one. It was interesting. I’m glad I tried it once.
Big Mac modification #2: Extra sauce, extra cheese
I live in a house divided: Garret felt this condiment-to-burger ratio was too much, declaring that McDonald’s had it right in the first place. I think he’s done with Big Mac alterations in general. I, meanwhile, really liked the edging-on-overwhelm that the extra sauce provided. It was an experience.
The sauce was, by design, the headliner here, to the point that I’m not sure you even need the extra cheese. It’s possible what I was experiencing was the magical combination of the sauce plus the cheese, but it’s just as possible the cheese was overpowered by the sauce and was therefore unnecessary. It was hard to parse out.
If you’re into the flavor of McDonald’s special sauce, then you should definitely give this a try. I say “if” because my brother told me he orders a Big Mac without any special sauce, which makes no sense to me—but he explained that he liked the lettuce and overall construction of the sandwich, just not the sauce.
This Big Mac modification does cost more, starting with an extra $0.59 for the additional slice of cheese. (The McDonald’s app gives you the option to add up to five extra slices, which costs $2.36 and is so much cheese that I’m now tempted to try it.) The extra sauce, meanwhile, costs $0.60, which brings the total price of the sandwich to $6.78 on its own or $10.98 in a medium value meal (compared to $5.59 for the sandwich or $9.79 for the meal). These prices will vary by region and location, but know that you’ll be paying extra for this custom order, whereas removing the center bread à la Barinholtz is free.
Other ways to customize a Big Mac
I have to admit I never really thought about changing a Big Mac before its classic formulation was debated on Armchair Expert, and now I’m wondering what else might make it amazing.
The McDonald’s app lets you add extra diced onions, shredded lettuce, pickles, and salt to your Big Mac at no extra cost, and you can add extra meat for $1. It also gives you the option to add certain non–Big Mac ingredients: tomato for $.75, or mayonnaise for free. Ordering in person likely means you don’t even have to limit yourself to what the app lets you do. (Just don’t make it too complicated, for the sake of the people who have to ring up and assemble your order.)
Do you have your own custom Big Mac you like to order? Please let me know about it so I can absolutely try it for myself.