REVIEW: McDonald’s Sweet N’ Spicy Honey BBQ Glazed Tenders

McDonald s Sweet N Spicy Honey BBQ Glazed Tenders

I love the insolence of Honey BBQ.

Think about it. In an oversaturated food landscape where barbeque has become hyper-regionalized, all about the smoke, and increasingly shaped by other cuisines, Honey BBQ announces itself as unapologetically one-note.

Where other barbecue sauces hit you with a variety of flavors from fruity to tangy to smoky to hot, Honey BBQ essentially announces itself as the potluck contribution of Winnie the Pooh.

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At the risk of glancing over the “Spicy” in McDonald’s new Sweet N’ Spicy Honey BBQ Glazed Tenders, that’s basically the story with the latest LTO from the Golden Arches. Sure, there’s a slight kick of cayenne on the backend of the tenders, but it’s more “hmm” than anything else.

Heatseekers be warned, these are not a reincarnation of Chick-fil-A’s unicornish Spicy Chicken Nuggets. If you’re looking for genuine heat, these are not the tenders you’re looking for.

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The thing is, they don’t have to be. The first bite of the first tender was chicken tender heaven. Suddenly, marketing buzzwords like “crispy,” “juicy,” and even the highly suspect, if not potentially reprehensible, “finger licking” carry meaning beyond a 30-second radio spot cliché.

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For chicken tender aficionados, that first bite is less a taste sensation and more a moment, as if the combined flavors of every horrible-for-you food came together and created a slow-motion music video of you chomping away.

The glaze, meanwhile, is a double-edged sword, one that invites you to lick the sticky-sweet goo as you would a popsicle, but at the cost of precious crispiness on the part of the tender’s breading. While excellent as far as Honey BBQ goes, the sauce was inconsistently applied.

While I’d avoid sticking the c-word label on the tenders, I’ll be the first to admit that to some taste buds they may seem cloying. Such is the biological reductionism of Honey BBQ, which functions at its best when paired with crispy, fatty foods like those $1 Wise Honey BBQ potato chips it sells at Dollar General, or, as I’ve found, boneless all-white meat chicken strips at McDonald’s.

If you can make peace with this, you will like these tenders. If not, well, there’s always a petition to get Chick-fil-A’s spicy nuggets to go national.

(Nutrition Facts – 4 pieces – 640 calories, 27 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 gram of trans fat, 105 milligrams of cholesterol, 1780 milligrams of sodium, 63 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 35 grams of sugar, and 39 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.19
Size: 4-piece
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Nails the Honey BBQ flavor. Addictively saucy. Tenders stay fairly crispy despite excess moisture. Gives “all-white meat” a good name.
Cons: Spice is modest and not exactly caliente. Inconsistent saucing. Terribly, terribly messy to eat.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Signature Crafted Recipe Bacon Smokehouse

McDonald s Signature Crafted Recipe Bacon Smokehouse

McDonald’s newest Signature Crafted Recipe features a slice of white cheddar, in-house fried onion strings, Applewood-smoked bacon, a layer of bacon onion sauce, and a layer of sweet mustard sauce on an artisan bun with your choice of a beef patty, buttermilk crispy chicken, or grilled chicken.

Here on this rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we don’t have fresh beef at our McDonald’s locations like most of the country does. Since that’s case, I thought it would be best to eat it with the buttermilk crispy chicken to experience what everyone else can order.

Before stuffing my mouth, I thought the two different sauces would clash with each other, but they work well. The combo is like an original barbecue sauce. However, as I ate my sandwich, I was also tasting something familiar. It took me awhile to put my finger on it, but I finally realized it reminds me of Van Camp’s Pork and Beans with hot dogs.

I know it sounds strange, but if I break it down, it might make sense. Pork and beans are sweet and savory, and there’s a little bit of vinegar and onion mixed in. The bacon onion sauce is porky, onion-y, and a little sweet, while the sweet mustard sauce is vinegar-y and sweet.

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With the sauces and slightly sweet artisan bun, there’s a noticeable sweetness with every bite. The not crispy Applewood-smoked bacon and the bacon in the sauce help cut through that sweetness with a bit of smokiness. The buttermilk crispy chicken adds a slight tang to complement the mustard’s tang, which is something the other two protein choices can’t provide. As for the fried onion strings, I’m not sure they bring much to the party. When eaten separately, they don’t have much of an onion flavor. But they do provide some crunch, much like the chicken’s breading.

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Some folks might find the two sauces weird, but I love the combo, and in turn I very much enjoyed this sandwich. I think it’s one of the better and more unique tasting Signature Crafted Recipes.

(Nutrition Facts – 920 calories, 45 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 120 milligrams of cholesterol, 1980 milligrams of sodium, 81 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 46 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Two sauces give this recipe a different flavor from the McDonald’s kitchens. Flavor reminds me of Van Camp’s Pork and Beans, which might be a good thing. Fried onions strings and chicken breading provide some crunch. Buttermilk coating enhances flavor in ways that the beef patty and grilled chicken can’t.
Cons: Bacon not crisp, which was not a surprise. Fried onions strings were bland. Sauces might be weird for some.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Cold Brew Frozen Coffee

McDonald s Cold Brew Frozen Coffee

Superman is Clark Kent without glasses and a suit.

McDonald’s Cold Brew Frozen Coffee is the Golden Arches’ Cold Brew Frappe without the whipped cream and chocolate drizzle.

While it’s hard to believe no one realizes Mr. Kent is the Man of Steel, it’s easy to see the Cold Brew Frozen Coffee is a Cup of Slush.

The fast food behemoth’s newest attempt to cool and caffeinate you at the same time is a combo of the chain’s new cold brew coffee Frappe base and ice that ends up looking like a chocolate shake. Sadly, McDonald’s isn’t offering a non-frozen version of the beverage. Although, if you wanted a less crystalline drink, you could buy this and let it melt in the summer sun.

With McDonald’s Frappe, the whipped topping, drizzle, and syrup in and on it create a coffee camouflage that does a great job at hiding from your taste buds the fact you’re drinking java.

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This blended beverage is still sweet and creamy, like a Frappe, but without the added sugary ingredients, the coffee flavor stands out a bit more. The cold brew process creates a sweeter and smoother cup of joe than hot brewed, but it’s impossible to tell in this since it comes with a bunch of sugar and cream.

Although I didn’t try the Frappe version, this has the right level of dairy and sweetness for me. Whenever I order a Frappe or a Starbucks Frappuccino, there’s almost always a point when it gets too cloying and I don’t want to finish it (but I somehow find the strength to muscle through it). But with this, I sucked the whole thing through a straw without hesitation.

Okay, not completely without hesitation. There were moments when I had to pause due to brain freeze.

Because I like my McDonald’s java drinks to be sugary, creamy, and made with a proprietary coffee base, this is right up my caffeinated alley. So if you enjoy McDonald’s Frappe beverages, but wished there was something that tastes and looks less like a dessert, the Cold Brew Frozen Coffee might be for you.

Of course, if you have coffee running through your veins from a country I can’t find on a map, you will probably shun this delicious combo of cold, coffee, caffeine, cream, and sweet crystals.

(Nutrition Facts – small – 290 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 120 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 34 grams of sugar, 0 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: Small
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: A delicious combo of cold, coffee, caffeine, cream, and sweet crystals. Tasty way to get caffeinated. No whipped cream, syrup, or drizzle to mask the coffee’s flavor. Not cloying like a Frappe (but still sweet).
Cons: Hard to notice the nuances of cold brew coffee. Was so easy to drink that I got brain freeze. Unknown amount of caffeine. McDonald’s cold brew should also come in a non-frozen form.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Signature Crafted Garlic White Cheddar Burger

McDonald s Signature Recipe Garlic White Cheddar

Less than a football field away from the closest McDonald’s to my apartment is a Wendy’s. Said Wendy’s has a sign touting fresher is better. Said sign corresponds to a commercial Wendy’s runs about their fresh never frozen beef. Said frozen beef is a reference to the McDonald’s 90 yards away.

Correction: Was.

In case you haven’t heard, McDonald’s is making the great leap forward. And, apparently, that leap to fresh beef starts with the rollout of the Signature Crafted Garlic White Cheddar Burger.

Which is convenient because if the moon is made out of cheese, and the cow jumps over the moon, it really is one small leap for mookind. But I digress.

Say what you will about fast food burgers in general, but McDonald’s burgers have (had?) a specific taste and texture that some people happened to like in a kind of lowbrow comfort fast food sort of way.

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The new patties are definitely a step away from that. With visible surface browning and what appeared to be sea salt on the patty, the beef looked like something I could have made at home. And the taste is altogether beefy —- more nuanced, rounded, and meaty than I remember. But the patty, aside from tasting drier than the average Quarter Pounder I’ve had in the past, didn’t taste well-seasoned or particularly succulent. As someone who grills a lot of burgers myself, I’d compare it to ground sirloin. Beefier, yes, but noticeably leaner and less flavorful.

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The good news is the burger construction is engineered for what my friend calls the executive bight. Carefully placed lettuce and tomato, as well as the slightly sweet bun, do wonders to round out the taste. Meanwhile, the garlic chips and aioli leave a distinct and savory garlic flavor that brings together all the flavors and makes your breath smell like the equivalent of three roasted heads of garlic.

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While I wanted to love (and I mean LOVE) the sharp white cheddar cheese, its flavor on the burger is less impressive than its flavor on its own. Unlike past McDonald’s “cheddar” cheeses, the slice actually has a bit of funk, but within the burger it gets lost amidst the beef and the garlic aioli and chips. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s sort of a waste of an otherwise perfectly good slice of cheese.

There was a time when I might have said $5.19 is too much for a burger. Well, that time was in college and considering I’m about to be 30 and no longer use “adult” as a verb, I’m willing to pay $5.19 for a good fast food burger. And make no mistake about it, the Signature Crafted Garlic White Cheddar Burger is a good burger by fast food standards.

Just be prepared to eat a Tic-Tac afterwards.

(Nutrition Facts – 620 calories, 300 calories from fat, 33 grams of total fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 95 milligrams of sodium, 49 grams of total carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugars, and 31 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.19
Size: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Beefier fresh beef patty than traditional McDonald’s burgers. Excellent double whammy of garlic taste. High quality ingredients make $5.19 price tag a bargain.
Cons: Leaner-tasting patty lacks juiciness and richness. Quality of cheese is lost against garlic flavor.

REVIEW: Mix by Sprite: Tropic Berry

McDonald s Mix by Sprite Tropic Berry

Like many surly teenagers in the 90s with nothing better to do than loiter, I hung out way too many hours for my own good at the Target up the block from my house. The electronics department was a social hub for most of the boys in the neighborhood due to the fact that they had every current gaming system out in the open and set on free play. None of that demo nonsense that Sears did.

This was all well and good until the one of the managers would let us know in no uncertain terms that we had to buy something or leave. Squeezing every last minute of gameplay we could, those of us with a few spare quarters would pool together about 75 cents to buy a bottle of this new beverage that was seemingly only available at Target: Clearly Canadian.

With its sticky sweet, syrupy “clear” taste that mingled deliriously with a decidedly crisp berry sensation, we passed the bottle around like grade school hoboes warming themselves around an 8-bit barrel fire. Looking back, it was a flavor out of and ahead of it time, especially during the crystal cola wars of the 1990-somethings. Sure, after pounding three or four at a time, it gave us the worst headaches and a little bit of nausea on the way home to dinner, but for that price to stay and play, who gave a good gosh-darn.

It’s been a flavor sensation that I have been nostalgically chasing for almost 20 years and, while I always knew it would be those flavor wizards at Sprite that would probably be the ones to resuscitate that drinkable emotion, I had no idea it would be found on accident while I was looking for the Hi-C Orange Lava Burst cold filtered water button on a McDonald’s drink fountain.

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Going by the fake corporate DJ nom de plume of Mix by Sprite: Tropic Berry, this is most definitely the second coming of that Mountain Berry or Western Loganberry Clearly Canadian if there ever was one, right down to the high-fructose headache after excitedly slurping two large-sized cups of the carbonated beverage when, as an adult, you should really know better.

The typical lemon-lime zest of Sprite that we’ve come to expect is pushed down the taste scale pretty low to point of being barely noticeable as the artificially-flavored tropical (which tropic though?) berry (which berry though?) dominates proudly. It also comes complete with a tongue-coating aftertaste that will definitely call for at least a full cup of PowerAde Mountain Berry Blast cold filtered water to swig around as you leave the restaurant. Or Wal-Mart, if you’re in nasty and/or in Oklahoma.

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Mix by Sprite: Tropic Berry is definitely worth tracking down and most definitely worth the taste, if only for curiosity’s sake. While it is far too sickly sucrosed-up to be an everyday thing, it’ll make for a delightful once a week treat as you nosh on a Big Mac and fries. Just keep that bottle of aspirin on the ready. ¡Cómpralo ya!

(Nutrition Facts – (small only) – 100 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 27 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.00
Size: Large
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Great berry taste. Surprisingly crisp. Extremely refreshing.
Cons: Can be too much of a sweet thing. Bad aftertaste.