Al Bernardin, the inventor of the Quarter Pounder, died of a stroke earlier this week at the age of 81. Aside from the good he did as a philanthropist, Bernardin will largely be remembered as the man who launched one of the first salvos in fast-food burger excess.
Bernardin said he created the Quarter Pounder for consumers who “wanted a higher ratio of beef to bun.” That's a noble gesture to be sure, but one that finds its conclusion in monstrosities like the Carl’s Jr. Double Six Dollar Burger, weighing in at 1500 calories.
I couldn’t remember the last time I ate a Quarter Pounder, so in honor of Mr. Bernardin I headed to McDonald's to try one... Again... Maybe for the first time.
Purchasing the thing, I realized I may have never eaten a Quarter Pounder before. Back in high school, as a teen with disposable income attempting to escape the horrors of the lunchroom, I usually opted for the Big Mac, or two cheeseburgers with extra pickles that I’d cram with French fries. I can’t remember ever ordering the ol’ classic QP. Also, I was under the misconception that a Quarter Pounder had two patties, for some reason.
Returning from the Drive-Thru, I unpacked my bounty at my desk. Sarah Mirk noted the smell and, her interest piqued, began to hover about. She pointed out the depiction of the ingredients on the side of the box, meant to make the burger look like a simple matter of throwing some “pure beef” on the grill with a bit of cheese, some onions, pickles, and “a pinch of seasoning.” If only it were so.
I opened the box and there was Mr. Bernardin’s creation:
The Quarter Pounder was unleashed on the unsuspecting populace of Fremont, California in 1971. It went national in 1973. In the nearly forty years the burger has been around, the Quarter Pounder has come to look downright diminutive compared to the mounds of meat shoveled into fast food bags every day around the nation.
I wonder what Mr. Bernardin thought about the trend of bigger and more calorie-laden fast food? After all, he also invented an all-turkey burger and a 1/5th pounder low-fat burger that were never adopted by McDonald's. As it stands, the Quarter Pounder is packed with 510 calories and 26 grams of fat—neither of which I need after a gluttonous Holiday season.
Picking it up, it felt light in my hand, almost delicate. The smell was unmistakably McDonald's: a lot of onion, something minerally about the bun, and that blunt grilled meat smell below tangy wisps of ketchup and pickle.
The taste? Pretty much the same as the smell, save for the distinct paste flavor common to McDonald's processed cheese. Essentially, the Quarter Pounder comes off like an adult version of the smaller cheeseburger, which for all intents and purposes, it is. I wonder if it tasted any different back in the '70's?
As I ate, I considered the 27 million people who, according to McDonald's, were sold a Quarter Pounder last year. Apparently, Mr. Bernardin’s creation continues to strike a chord with a certain section of the population. I guess I can see why: It’s inexpensive, filling, and as constant as the Northern star. You can go almost anywhere in America and find one that tastes just like it does back home.
Me? I’ll stick with the high end crap like elk tartar.
Rest in peace, Mr. Bernardin.
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