Attack of the clones

Stacking Carl’s Jr. and Jack in the Box’s copies against the original Big Mac

Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese and some other stuff. From left: Carl, Mac and Jack.

Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese and some other stuff. From left: Carl, Mac and Jack.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Big Mac is a cheeseburger that has earned more opulent praise than Mayor McCheese himself.

McDonalds’ signature sandwich has always held a blocked-carotid place in America’s hearts—it may not be the backyard-grilled or food-truck monstrosity that we say we want, but the Big Mac is often the burger we need. In the middle of a long road trip or after a night of closing down the bars, there’s no substitute for the mass-produced reliability buried within a paper treasure chest arriving at the car window.

However, in a move that is sure to complicate your diet-breaking efforts, both Carl’s Jr. and Jack in the Box have come up with Big Mac-inspired burgers—the Big Carl and the Bonus Jack, respectively—in an effort to win you over with what they believe are improvements upon the original’s winning formula.

But stacking these three late-night guilty pleasures next to each other proves one thing: Not all fast-food burgers are created equal.

Since none of the three cheeseburgers in question contains bacon, the first priority must be the requisite two beef patties. The combined, pre-cooked weight of the meat in the Big Mac ($3.99) and the Bonus Jack ($2.99) is close—3.2 and 4 ounces, respectively—but the Big Carl ($3.59) dwarfs both with a combined cooked weight of 4.72 ounces. The thicker patties prevent the subtly seasoned meat from getting lost in the chaos, and each bite is full of the red meat and sweet fat necessary to negate that last round of drinks.

Of course, all that meat is also one of the reasons the Big Carl is 930 calories and 58 grams of fat—almost double the number of the other two sandwiches.

As the famous jingle reminds us, the Big Mac is more than just its meat. The special sauce is sweet and tangy and helps give the sandwich its iconic flavor, which neither the Big Carl nor the Bonus Jack duplicates. The latter comes close, while the Big Carl opts for a creamier sauce akin to Thousand Island dressing. And the Bonus Jack also looks to its inspiration and provides that slightly gummy processed cheese we love to eat off the wrapper.

Both the Big Carl and the Bonus Jack lack onions—a major error, as the Big Mac’s finely diced onions are underappreciated yet essential—and the Big Carl doesn’t include pickles, an area where the Bonus Jack overshadows the Big Mac’s limp offering.

The Big Mac’s revolutionary third bun makes its way to the Bonus Jack, though it lacks sesame seeds. However, that’s a tame offense next to the complete omission of a third bun in the Big Carl.

In the end, it comes down to lettuce. The Big Mac’s shredded lettuce is the most important ingredient on any of the three burgers. The shredded lettuce lends a crunch to a burger that is otherwise just four different kinds of squishy. Too often, leaf lettuce wilts and becomes soggy before you can tear away the greasy wrapper.

If for no other reason than shredded lettuce, Mac Tonight retains the belt following his Triple Threat match with Jack Box and Happy Star.

While the two competitors made some improvements on the classic, there’s a reason the Big Mac has reigned for years as the Burger King—The King, by the way, discontinued its own BK Big King a decade ago. Let’s take a moment of silence.

Although, if one were crazy, or just drunk enough, a Frankenstein creation could include the perfect elements of all three burgers. Sing along: Two all-beef Big Carl patties, Big Mac’s special sauce, onions, and lettuce, and Bonus Jack’s cheese and pickles all sandwiched between three Big Carl sesame-seed buns.

I think we should call it the Big Matt.