Photo: Steak n Shake

Gluttonous fast food is not perverse or wrong. Triple cheeseburgers are perverse and wrong. Where KFC’s Cheetos sandwich succeeds, for example—in its thoughtful combination of ingredients, its successful ratios, its varied textures—a fast-food triple cheeseburger fails with a greasy splat. It is more only for more’s sake, and in this case, more is less.

The double cheeseburger is a fast-food stalwart, a welcome beefy boost from the standard single patty for the times you’re just that much hungrier than usual. But with a triple cheeseburger, the proportions are wrong, the ratios off—no matter who thin the patty. It’s like looking at a good cheeseburger in a fun-house mirror. You’re staring down a short stack of beef, which is not a unit we should use to measure fast-food meat. Its patties lurch to one side like a sinking ship, the bun helpless to contain the slippery carnage. I’d rather eat two double cheeseburgers than one triple cheeseburger.

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Photo: Kate Bernot

I recently stood at the Wendy’s register to test my working theory that these sandwiches are, simply, bad. My order arrived, and I hefted the foil-clad, terrier-sized sandwich to unwrap it. Like some sort of newly discovered lunar rock, it weighed much more than it seemed it should. Unwrapped, I could barely see its suffocated bottom bun under the massive crush of beef and melted cheese, which rather than adhering the patties to the bun, only served as lubrication for the meaty Slip ‘N Slide.

Any motion I’d previously used to eat a burger failed me. I bit beef chunks off the edges, missing any bun entirely. I tried to bite off portions of the bun and then separately bite off the meat. I turned my head to the side until I looked like I should be haunting Hill House. There was no way to take a bite that contained satisfying amounts of beef, bun, and toppings. A third of the way through the burger, beef and ketchup overwhelmed the bun’s defenses, listing the burger even more to one side as the lettuce slid limply off the sandwich to save itself. Go on without me, the lettuce seemed to say from atop the plastic tray, try and go on.

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I fought the good fight, but it was in vain. Half of all three patties now stuck out the back end of what was, at this point, only the sad memory of buns. More cheese and lettuce covered my tray than the sandwich itself. Every bite tasted only of salted beef and defeat.

My hypothesis held, even if the bun did not: The grotesqueness of triple cheeseburgers is not intrinsically linked to their size. Big sandwiches can be delicious: triple-decker ruebens, footlong subs. Triple cheeseburgers are unappealing because they’re structurally flawed, designed wrong. Too much patty, not enough bread. All frosting and no cake. All rhinestone and no denim. Some American institutions may be too big to fail, but triple cheeseburgers are not.

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