Having lived in test markets for both Wendy’s (Salt Lake City) and McDonald’s (Baltimore), I’ve come to develop something of an ambivalent attitude towards newly developed menu items. On one hand, the intrepid explorer within me loves the idea of being one of the first people to experience what might be the next great innovation in fast food. On the other hand, there’s nothing worse than falling in love with a new burger or sandwich concept, only to see it disappear and never go national.
Whoever said, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” clearly didn’t eat fast food.
With that being the case, I’ve let my heart and stomach fall for the newest McDonald’s sandwich concept, the Jalapeño Kicker. With pickled jalapeño slices, crunchy jalapeño strips, and pepper jack cheese, the Jalapeño Kicker packs a triple threat of the piquant pepper, relying on a new cream cheese sauce for cooling relief. The toppings are currently being tested on Quarter Pounder and Premium Chicken sandwiches in Baltimore and Colorado, but if McDonald’s website is any indicator, they will be going national real soon. At least I hope so, because canceling the roll out of these now would push my jaded fast food love for test menu items into Taylor Swift album territory.
That’s a pretty significant statement coming from a guy who doesn’t exactly consider himself a heat-seeker. I think that’s why I like the new concept so much. For those of you worrying about this sandwich wimping out and providing the kind of kick from, say, your three year old sister, be not afraid. This thing kicks you like Adam Vinatieri from 52 yards out, but rather than being some mindless atomic heat without flavor or texture, the kick comes in multiple layers.
The dominant heat comes from the pickled jalapeños, which build in intensity and leave a lasting but flavorful burn after each bite. The crispy jalapeños provide an initial crunch and zesty French fry like flavor right off the bat, while the pepper jack cheese gives a slightly milky note and additional spice before getting to the meat.
I realize there are some people who hate the taste of McDonald’s burgers, and while I’ll concede that they’re far from juicy, I find their seasoning and ‘meaty’ taste to be more enjoyable than Wendy’s and even Burger King’s burgers. It’s that meaty and slightly sweet taste which provides a good counterpoint to the acidic heat of the jalapeño, benefitting in turn from the cream cheese sauce.
Speaking of which, let me just say it’s about damn time a fast food chain put cream cheese on a burger. With a subtle sweetness and milky freshness that just tastes right on a burger, the sauce transforms the prerequisite tomato and lettuce into tasteful components, and helps to bind all the flavors of the burger together. The sauce is a bit looser than regular cream cheese but not nearly as gloopy as mayo, and amazingly, it doesn’t drown the crispy jalapeños.
The jalapeños have this zesty and fried corn flavor that reminded me a lot of one of my favorite snacks, Corn Nut Chips, while also having a strong aftertaste of French fries. I don’t know how they’re made or why it’s taken McDonald’s so long to develop them, but if you’re not adding them to every McDonald’s sandwich you buy from now on, there is something seriously wrong with your brain.
Unless you absolutely hate jalapeño, it should be apparent that this is a pretty good fast food burger. I can’t quite give it the ultimate score, however, mostly on account of the lack of baconage. Likewise, I found myself wanting something beneath to burger patty to distribute some of the flavor and heat. Already top-heavy, I have to wonder if moving the cream cheese and crispy jalapeños beneath the patty wouldn’t be a better construct. Finally, McDonald’s two main burger flaws, a dense bun and cheese that takes upwards of a century to melt, bring it back down to Earth and reminds you of the main differences between fast food and fast casual burgers.
These quips aside, this is my favorite Quarter Pounder. The crispy jalapeño strips and cream cheese sauce are great new additions and give the burger just the right combination of texture and flavor contrast to make it something work seeking out. I’m just hoping that the research and development powers that be see it the same way, and don’t take away another great test menu item from my grasp.
(Nutrition Facts – Not available on McDonald’s website. Menu board lists 550 calories.)
Item: McDonald’s Jalapeño Kicker Quarter Pounder
Purchased Price: $4.19
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Crispy jalapeño strips might just be the best add-on McDonald’s has ever developed for a sandwich. Strong, but not kill-you-strong triple jalapeño kick. Cream cheese sauce has smooth and creamy taste which helps to cool the heat. New Quarter Pounder variety that’s not just repackaging other ingredients.
Cons: Burger is top-heavy. McDonald’s premium burger buns suck. Cheese that doesn’t melt unless you stick it against the heater in your car for an hour. Could seriously use bacon. Risking test menu item disillusionment.