By Mike Thayer
Slowly but surely, fast food/fast casual restaurants are responding to customer demand for more upscale choices, better burgers, sandwiches and other fare, specifically, smokehouse/chophouse style options of meat on bread.
We're talking the smokey flavors of hickory, oak and fruit woods. We're going to see bolder sauces, more varieties of meats, cheeses, buns, toppings like crispy fried onion rings, and of course - more bacon! Expect to see a lot more brisket in a variety of meat on bread offerings in 2019, it's predicted to be THE meat for the year.
Arby's pretty much lead the way in breaking out better sandwiches in 2018 and look for that trend to continue. They gave us several limited time offerings of what they called "Signature Sandwiches" like their Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich featuring smoked brisket, smoked gouda, crispy onions, mayo and BBQ sauce, served on an artisan-style roll. Now that's kicking it up a notch! And have you ever combined Arby's Sauce AND Horsey Sauce on a sandwich? It's a great combo of the two sauces and offered on their "Arbynator." Their Beef Short Rib sandwich was mighty tasty too!
McDonald's isn't far behind Arby's in upping its game and crafting better offerings. The top dog of fast food rolled out Quarter Pounders using fresh beef in early 2018 and added a Bacon Smokehouse Burger featuring that fresh beef to their menu in July. It's a nice burger that includes crispy apple wood smoked bacon, smoky bacon-onion sauce, real white cheddar, mild sweet mustard sauce and in-house fried onion strings. Look for McDonald's to add a few more "Smokehouse" style items to its menu in 2019.
Sonic is now offering a Steakhouse Bacon Cheeseburger which I have yet to sample. It's a quarter pound burger served on a Brioche bun layered with natural cheddar cheese, crispy bacon, grilled onions and topped with a smokey black pepper mayo. It sounds like a great deal along with medium tots for only $4.99. I'm looking forward to trying it!
Wendy's introduced what they called The Smoky Mushroom Bacon Cheeseburger back in February 2018. Here's the description from the press release: The Smoky Mushroom Bacon Cheeseburger features smoky, sautéed portabella mushrooms, melted asiago cheese, crispy Applewood smoked bacon, and crunchy fried onions atop of juicy, fresh never frozen beef. But in a look at the Wendy's menu on this date, the burger is NOT listed. It appears to have been dropped. I don't know if Wendy's can afford to sit on the sidelines on this one. Competition demands that they don't.
Burger King has an interesting sandwich with a smokehouse theme but surprisingly, they're not hyping it up much since its unveil clear back in 2017. The Rodeo King sandwich features two flame grilled patties, three strips of thick cut bacon, crispy onion rings, bbq sauce, American cheese and mayo on a sesame seed bun. I've become a bit tainted against Burger King though and haven't yet tried this burger..... Well, if I did and don't remember it, then it's unremarkable. There's not a well run Burger King restaurant in my neck of the woods and the chain seems to be in some kind of decline funk overall. Perhaps that's why the marketing of this sandwich, which was introduced ahead of the smokehouse eats curve, hasn't taken off.
Chick-fil-A has a nice alternative to burgers with their Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich. Here's another company that was ahead of the grilled/smokehouse curve. Around since 2014, the Grilled Chicken Club is a grilled boneless breast of chicken, marinated first with a special blend of seasonings and served on a toasted multigrain bun with Colby-Jack cheese, applewood smoked bacon, green leaf lettuce and tomato. Served with honey roasted BBQ sauce, it's elevating the chicken sandwich up a couple notches. As fast as Chick-fil-A is growing in popularity - expanding big time into the Northeast part of the country - don't be surprised to see a few more "grilled chicken" options appear on the menu.
Hardees has the Memphis BBQ Thickburger which I have yet to try and look forward to. Here's the description: The Memphis BBQ Thickburger features a 1/3 lb. charbroiled 100% Black Angus beef patty, smoked pulled pork, Memphis BBQ sauce, crispy fried onions and American cheese on a premium bun. Hardees has a habit of putting burgers on the menu, taking if off, putting it back on.... This is one of those burgers, first introduced way back in 2012.
That's just a sampling of what's to come, I'll also be exploring sub shops, deli's, pizza joints and more to evaluate their take on smokehouse style eats. The new year looks promising for a continued trend of more upscale burgers, sandwiches and other meat on bread offerings from fast food and fast casual. Hopefully, new offerings won't be limited to what has been so far, mostly burger offerings. There's also the possibility that one or more of the mainstream fast food/fast casual joints may offer a smokehouse style veggie sandwich or side. That's the direction Taco Bell seems to be taking, they're downsizing their Value Meal options and adding more vegetarian fare. I'm looking forward to sampling new menu items and finding new favorites!
Happy New Year!