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McDonald's get fresh with a familiar fast-food staple: How does it stack up to the competition?

McDonald's get fresh with a familiar fast-food staple

McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese
Ken Hoffman digs into a quarter-pound fast food staple.  Courtesy photo

This week I reached out for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, made with fresh beef, at America's No. 1 purveyor of burgers, McDonald's, with 14,000 restaurants coast-to-coast.

It's true, McDonald's buys (sells, too) more beef — and pork and potatoes and lettuce and tomatoes — than any company in the U.S. But the big news now and forever is, McDonald's is cooking its iconic Quarter Pounders and Signature Crafted burgers with fresh, not frozen, beef.

Here's the Quarter Pounder with Cheese breakdown: a 4-ounce patty of fresh, 100-percent beef with no fillers or extenders, processed American cheese, onions, pickles, ketchup and mustard on a sesame seed bun.

Total calories: 770. Fat grams: 45. Sodium: 1,290 mg. Carbs: 42 g. Dietary fiber: 3 g. Protein: 51 g. Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $3.79.

If you've been groomed on Quarter Pounders with Cheese since McDonald's introduced them nationally in 1972, not to worry. Almost everything remains the same: same salt and pepper seasoning, same price and nutritionals, same size slab of beef and fixins. Oh, and the same this-can-only-be-McDonald's smell when you open the bag.

Except now the beef patties are fresh instead of those frozen, hard-as-a-rock hockey pucks McDonald's workers have been flipping on grills since the beginning.

Bottom line, and all we really care about: what's this mean for consumers? Most people, when they taste-test fresh vs. frozen McDonald's patties, swear by fresh. They say the new burgers are juicier and more tender, the flavor more vibrant.

Surprisingly fresh
They say the old Quarter Pounder patties had a cardboard consistency bland taste and a gritty texture. Like, yuck. We've been eating those for how many years?

McDonald's cooks each Quarter Pounder, start to finish, to order now. They're not grilling frozen Quarter Pounders in advance for holding trays. That sounds pretty good right there.

Important to know, McDonald's is only switching to fresh beef for Quarter Pounders and Signature Crafted burgers. It should push the profit line big time. In cities where fresh beef was test-marketed the past 12 months, sales of Quarter Pounders jumped 35 percent. When you talk McDonalds, 35 percent of anything on the menu rocks the fast food balance sheet.

McDonald's is still, and will continue, using "flash frozen" beef in most of its burger arsenal, including Big Macs, regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers, McDoubles and Bacon McDoubles, Triple Cheeseburgers and kids' meals.

McDonald's doesn't rush to change. The switch to fresh beef is the biggest thing to happen to McDonald's core menu since the introduction of All-Day Breakfast in 2015. McDonald's says it will move to cage-free eggs...target date 2025.

McDonald's change to fresh beef in Quarter Pounders has already rattled the drive-through marketplace. Wendy's, which hangs its hat on "fresh, never frozen beef," has released several commercials savaging McDonald's for sticking with ice age beef in most of its burgers. You can count on Burger King feeling pressure to up its fresh beef game.

The taste test
As an experiment, I brought some Quarter Pounders made with fresh meat, and McDoubles made with frozen patties to the office. I had a few people try one of each.

The verdict: Four co-workers preferred Quarter Pounders with fresh beef. One liked the McDouble with frozen beef.

And all five said the best thing in the bag was the fries.