FAST FOOD FLASHBACK: McDonald’s McDLT

McDLT

With hot burger vegetables being an issue in the 1980s, McDonald’s rolled out the McDLT, a burger that promised to keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool.

It came in a white styrofoam container with two compartments. The bottom bun and the quarter pound beef patty were in one compartment and the lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, cheese, and top bun were in the other. The L in its name stood for lettuce, T stood for tomato, and I can only assume the D stood for dumb idea.

Its commercials claimed it could be the best lettuce and tomato hamburger ever. Well, it’s not around anymore, so I guess that’s a sign it’s not.

Even though I had it more than once, I don’t think I was ever enamored with it. Maybe it was the extra work I had to do to bring together the two sides. Or maybe I still didn’t like vegetables then. Or maybe the McDLT could pull me away from my beloved Chicken McNuggets, which debuted a couple of years earlier and was part of the McDonaldland universe.

Maybe if the McDLT had its own McDonaldland character, I would’ve liked it more. But I think it was developed for grown up palates.

Besides its container, another interesting thing about the McDLT was one of its commercials. It starred a guy many of you older folks know as George Constanza on Seinfeld and some of you younger folks know as George Constanza on Seinfeld reruns. Before Jason Alexander was George Constanza, he was singing and dancing his way through a McDLT commercial.

Oh, that jingle will be stuck in your head all day.

You’re welcome!

7 thoughts on “FAST FOOD FLASHBACK: McDonald’s McDLT

  1. they had to discontinue it when they got flack for using styrofoam. couldn’t replicate keeping the cold side cold with the other packaging they used.

    1. Urban myth. It was discontinued because sales dropped and not because of styrofoam. They still use styrofoam packaging today, 30 years later, at McDonalds for their hotcakes and Big Breakfast items.

  2. I feel like a period of no longer than 3 months has gone by since the advent of social media where I haven’t encountered a reference to this sandwich.

    Is it the novelty of a pre-fame Jason Alexander having served as spokesperson that’s dragged the sandwich back into notoriety, or do people actually remember this sandwich fondly?

    I think I recall Jason Alexander himself, on a recent episode of the Nerdist Podcast, describing the sandwich as something of an abomination.

    1. It was my absolute favorite fast-food burger ever. It’s possible that I wouldn’t enjoy it now, but yeah, some of us have monstrous nostalgia for it.

  3. I actually worked the grill at a McDonald’s during the time when this was introduced. It wasn’t hugely popular, but it did see an initial surge like most new products. I believe two of the things that really did it in were both tied to the actual burger patty itself. In a bid to be able to bill it as being more healthy than the standard quarter-pounder burger, they drastically reduced the fat content of the patty, which sucks most of the taste out of meat. Secondly, the patty was _almost_ exactly the same size as the quarter-pounder before cooking, so they needed a way for the grill team to be able to quickly tell the difference between the two by sight alone. The McDLT patty, being a much more lean burger, didn’t shrink as much during the cooking process (less fat to burn off), so it was a little bit thinner (maybe 1/16″ to 3/32″) and a slightly smaller diameter (about 1/8″). It was still impossible to just pick up a single patty and say with absolute certainty that it was one or the other, without something to compare it to. So they salted the patties. If you order a hamburger, cheeseburger, Big Mac, or Quarter-Pounder, the person who cooks the patties dashes them with salt once they’re ready to take off the grill. If you ordered a McDLT, the salt was encapsulated within the surface of the patty. If you needed to, or simply wanted to, avoid eating lots of sodium, you can ask for any other burger to be served without salt, and they will cook you a fresh patty, _not_salt_it_, put it on a bun with all the garnishments, and serve it up to you as a custom order. If you wanted a McDLT without salt, too bad. Now, if you’re the type to choose to eat a flavorless burger because you want to reduce your fat intake, you might want it to be unsalted as well. If you’re the type who actually freaks out about getting warm garnishments on your burger, but not enough to skip eating at a fast food restaurant, you might want to put on a show of caring about eating healthy (whether you’re trying to fool friends/family, or yourself, is a different matter), and you might also want to be able to order your slab of cardboard without salt. And so, anyone who cared more about salt intake than any of the advertising points associated with the McDLT had to switch back to one of the regular burgers. And at some point, people realized that if all you really cared about was getting a burger that hadn’t been parked in a warming bin with wilted lettuce and such, you could just order any other burger and ask for something to be left off (like salt!), and they’d have to make one fresh for you. Or you could also just ask them to make you a fresh burger instead of pulling one out of the warming bin, and avoid having to fumble around with a little salt packet to replace the salt you told them to leave off your burger.

    One other major factor in this is that shortly after the McDLT was brought to market, McDonald’s made a drastic shift in how their food prep happened. In the past, you’d put a pattern of burgers on the grill (4×3 for 1/10 patties, 3×2 for 1/4 patties, unless the manager called for a reduced quantity due to business being slow). You’d separate a set of buns and put them in the bun toaster. You’d pull the buns out when they were finished toasting, at which point the burgers should be just about done cooking. Burgers go on the bottom slice of bun, then any cheese, then garnishments, and finally the top of the bun is added before wrapping the result. In the then-new system, you’d cook the meat and put it on trays in a warming cabinet. You’d cook the buns and put them in a room-temperature cabinet. When someone called up a set of burgers, you’d take the pre-cooked meat and buns out, prep the garnishments like before, and then you’d put the result in a 10,000 watt microwave that was intended to reheat the bun and meat while not doing the same to any lettuce or tomatoes. I still don’t like tomatoes and was years away from being able to tolerate lettuce on a sandwich of any sort, so I can’t say how well it worked. I suspect it didn’t work as intended, because I was told that shortly after I left for college they completely overhauled the entire system yet again, but the point is they were trying to find ways to be able to serve up Big Macs and Quarter-Pounders with lettuce and tomatoes that weren’t all hot and wilted, which was the main selling point of the McDLT in the first place. So, if you could get the same effect with a tasty burger, why would you order a cardboard patty?

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