This has been a really good year for burgers if by burgers you mean chicken. From Chicken McBites, Popcorn Chicken and Chicken Dippers to the Mozzarella Chicken Supreme, McBistro Chicken, 20-piece McNuggets and shareable Chicken Box, burgers often seemed consigned to a back seat. McDonald’s new Cheddar Bacon Onion was offered with choice of an Angus or chicken patty. No respect.
It wasn’t all that bad, however. Independent burger joints kept the spirit of innovation alive, as always, as chains struggled to balance proteins, prices and menu mix. The burger business is never dull, as evidenced by this year’s award winners.
Burgers of the Year (Chain): Burger King’s Carolina/Texas BBQ Whoppers
Burger King’s ambitious, eight-item “Summer Menu” announced that it was back as a serious burger-category competitor and innovator. Yes, the Fall Menu was a bit chicken-heavy, but there was a lot of that this year. The reemergence of BK as a marketplace power changed the business more than anything else in 2012.
Burger of the Year (Independent): Slater’s 50/50 ’merica Burger
I’m not usually a fan of over-the-top burgers but this was an exception. Anaheim Hills, Calif.-based Slater’s shifted its usual 50/50 beef/bacon patty blend to 100% ground bacon for a July special. On top? Bacon, a sunny-side-up egg, “Bacon Island” dressing and bacon Cheddar cheese. This was the whole bacon-obsessed year in burgers distilled into one winner.
Best Burger Trend of the Year: Pulled Pork as a Condiment
A gimmick? Maybe, but darned tasty. And better’n chicken any day. BK’s Memphis Pulled Pork, Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr.’s Memphis BBQ Burger (left), White Castle’s BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders, Canadian chain Triple O’s Beef, Bacon and Pulled Pork Burger and others all helped make 2012 interesting.
Worst Burger Trend of the Year: Black Buns
Burger King in Japan (above), McDonald’s in China and Quick in France all showed that it’s possible to do it, using bamboo charcoal, black pepper sauce or whatever. OK, so now let’s move on.
Overseas Burger of the Year: McDonald’s/New Zealand’s Moroccan Lamb Burger
Like neighbor Australia, New Zealand first offered a Serious Lamb Burger, but then it went one better with this version, which added cucumber and “a tongue-tingling Moroccan sauce made with aromatic spices.” The U.S. is overdue for a good lamb burger from a chain. Bring it here!
Best Commercial of the Year: Pal’s Bar-B-Dogs
From burger chain Pal’s Sudden Service (via agency Creative Energy) though not promoting a burger, this offbeat commercial is funny, charming and disarming. You’ll watch it again. As Ma says, “Oh man, they be so good!”
Worst Commercial of the Year: Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s “BBQ’s Best Pair”
The Memphis BBQ Burger was so good it didn’t really need the immature pandering of this TV spot (right) to sell it, did it? “Best pair”? Get it? Snicker. Anyway, we said next year would be the year of buns.
Smartest Burger Idea of the Year (Domestic): Red Robin’s Topping “Styles”
The “styles” topping packages (right) freed Red Robin to keep marketing its new $6.99 Tavern Double without adding new LTOs. And charging $1 for each style makes toppings a profit center.
Best Burger Idea of the Year (International): McDonald’s/Austria’s McRibster
Why not put new rims and a fresh paint job on an old favorite? This snappy Austrian redo fried the pork and topped it with bacon, pepper-Jack cheese, iceberg lettuce, red onion, honey-mustard sauce and spicy sweet chili sauce.
Worst Burger Idea of the Year: Pizza Hut Crown Crust Burger
It’s not like Dubai has ever been known for great burger or pizza ideas, so perhaps the Hut’s MidEast franchisee can be forgiven for the silly idea of putting mini cheeseburgers in a pizza crust. On second though, no. No forgiveness.