What most restaurants label a BBQ hamburger is generally a normal hamburger with some sort of barbecue sauce added, maybe some crispy onion straws. Hardee's (or Carl's Jr. on the west coast) breaks from this formula with the Memphis BBQ Thickburger, a black angus burger with barbecue sauce, crispy fried onion straws and actual BBQ pork.
This was an incredibly bad idea.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must mention that Hardee's and I have not always been on the best of terms. There was a time I would go out of my way to visit the nation's fifth most popular fast food chain. Back in 2006 the company had a location right down the street from my work. Sometimes I would eat there twice a day.
Then came the day the water got turned off. After I recovered from feeling horribly ill the entire week following that unfortunate incident, I found myself with the sudden urge to avoid Hardee's at all cost. I missed my beloved Polish sausage biscuit, but the free coupons sent to me from corporate went unredeemed. It wasn't until last year that I finally returned to the realm of the yellow star, and only then sparingly.
Nonetheless, when the PR email (yes, I get food PR emails now) announcing the Memphis BBQ Thickburger came through, I couldn't help but be intrigued. Why had I not tried the combination of BBQ pork and hamburger before? Why wasn't something like this on every menu in every restaurant in the southeastern United States? Why does Hardee's still use the label "Thickburger" when it's been scientifically proven that those are two words do not sound appetizing smashed together?
I have questions. Fortunately I also have answers, but first, I have images.
The official image for the Memphis BBQ Thickburger does not look at all unappetizing, though that's often the case with professional product shots. Strip away the photo studio and place this monster in the hands of a food service worker, and you get this:
This was not the fault of the food worker in question; he only had so much to work with. The obvious answer to the problem of food appearance — placing a photo studio in every Hardee's location — would open up hundreds of jobs across the country and I think it's a brilliant idea with no downsides that should be implemented immediately.
Until that beautiful day, this is what we get. More specifically...
Be sure to zoom in on that pic, I'm quite proud.
Being a professional snackologist, I look at that last picture and think "Sure, why the hell not?" Others might be more inclined to flee, or throw up a little in their mouth. I can understand that. The image, however, is completely necessary to explaining why the Memphis BBQ Thickburger fails.
Let's break it down. We've got the bun, which is perfectly fine, soft and delicious. Crispy onion straws should be placed on and in everything, so they win. The cheese is nothing to write home about, but then if I really wanted spectacular cheese I would have that and that alone. The barbecue sauce is sweet and tangy with a hint of smoke, the sort of sauce I look for at a standalone BBQ joint. The pork is soft and tender. The black angus beef is savory and just a tad juicy.
These components combine to create a flavor that's actually rather pleasant, but as I often say, sometimes to myself over and over again while staring in the mirror and crying, flavor isn't everything. It's texture that kills the Memphis BBQ Thickburger.
A hamburger, especially a fast food hamburger, is a solid thing. Not rigid and unforgiving, but one certainly doesn't expect it to give up massive chunks to your teeth without putting up a little fight. This firmness is reassuring. It lets us know that we are eating something that's been cooked to the point where any microscopic thing that might have been living in it is now dead.
BBQ pork has an almost creamy texture. The meat has been cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection and then combined with a thick, rich sauce. It's almost — and I apologize for this statement beforehand — a meat pudding.
When I bite into a hamburger and my teeth come to something both meaty and soft, what's the first thought that comes to my mind? "Raw hamburger". It's not raw at all, of course, but those two textures together suggest uncooked meat, which is not something you want to be thinking about when eating something from a restaurant that once served you food without running water on the premises.
Hardee's seems to think this is a fabulous combination, so much so that they created a commercial for the sandwich featuring a pair of "hot" women getting so excited about a BBQ pork hamburger they nearly have sex with it. It's just as unappetizing as the Memphis BBQ Thickburger itself.
Incidentally I was offered the opportunity to potentially interview one of the women in the commercial, but declined due to the sheer absurdity of it all. Besides, what would I ask her? "So, did you ever find that self-respect?" And then I'd feel horrible, because in the course of writing this review I ate not one, but two of these beasts, and I did so without having them fed to me by an attractive woman.