If you tried to picture the most iconic fast-food burgers of all time, McDonald's Big Mac and Burger King's Whopper would probably be some of the first to come to mind. After all, McDonald's and Burger King are the first and third-largest burger chains in the country in terms of sales, respectively, according to data compiled by QSR Magazine. And if you perused the menu at both chains, you'd be hard-pressed to find two burgers with more name recognition than the Big Mac and Whopper (though McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese certainly isn't lacking in fame, either).
Over the past couple of years, both McDonald's and Burger King have been working to make these famous burgers better than ever. Burger King is currently in the midst of a massive $400 million campaign aimed at reinvigorating its brand, and that includes treating the Whopper with the importance it deserves. The chain has been introducing interesting new Whopper flavor extensions and enhancing its kitchens so that employees can execute at a higher level.
Meanwhile, McDonald's has also been rolling out several major upgrades for its signature burgers, including the Big Mac. These changes include using softer brioche-style buns toasted to a perfect golden brown, cooking onions directly on the burger patties, and ensuring that all cheese is perfectly melted. The Big Mac will also come with more Big Mac Sauce.
I've tried both burgers separately in the past but never put them head to head—until now. I recently sampled both options to figure out which one is superior in 2024, following McDonald's and Burger King's big upgrade efforts.
I started this experiment, quite expectedly, by heading over to my local McDonald's and then Burger King to pick up a Big Mac and a Whopper. I ordered the burgers with almost no customizations so I could try both exactly as the chains themselves intended it. The only thing I did change was adding a slice of cheese to the Whopper since it doesn't come with one already. Since the Big Mac does come with cheese, I wanted to level the playing field.
I took both burgers home and tried them side by side, judging them on the taste and texture of their meat, toppings, and buns. While neither was perfect, one undoubtedly blew the other right out of the water.
Read on for my thoughts on each burger followed by my verdict on which is superior in 2024!
Burger King's Whopper
Burger King's classic Whopper features a quarter pound of flame-grilled beef topped with tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, and sliced white onions on a toasted sesame seed bun. I chose to add cheese to the burger since the Big Mac also comes with cheese. The sandwich cost me $8.52.
The look: Pretty tempting, especially for a fast-food burger. The cheese was perfectly melted and the charred beef patty fit the bun perfectly. The bread did look a little dry and cracked, but the sandwich was nicely assembled and dripping with juices. Overall, this didn't look super different from the Whoppers I tried before Burger King began its $400 million campaign, but it did look neat and well executed.
The taste: The beef was the standout flavor in this burger thanks to the grills Burger King uses to cook its patties. It was smoky, savory, slightly charred, and not dry in the slightest, just like the type of burger you might eat at a backyard barbecue.
But, even though the beef was the most prominent part of the sandwich, the Whopper was still very well balanced. It had thick, juicy slices of tomato that tasted surprisingly fresh, crunchy pickles, and the perfect amount of sliced onions. My only real complaints were that I could have done with a little more lettuce and a little less ketchup and mayonnaise, but that just comes down to personal preference.
McDonald's Big Mac
McDonald's Big Mac features two beef patties, Big Mac sauce, pickles, shredded lettuce, chopped onion, and a slice of American cheese on a sesame seed bun. As always, the iconic fast-food burger also comes with an extra bun in the middle of the two beef patties. The sandwich cost me $5.45.
The look: The first thing that popped out to me when I beheld this burger was the new-and-improved bun. It had a deep golden brown color that was much darker than anything I've gotten from McDonald's before.
The other thing that stuck out to me with this burger was how messy it looked. Globs of Big Mac sauce and shredded lettuce were already oozing out the sides when I opened the box. I usually enjoy saucy, loaded burgers, but I wish my local McDonald's had been more restrained with the toppings—or at least assembled my Big Mac with more care.
The taste: Big Mac Sauce, Big Mac Sauce, and more Big Mac Sauce. There was so much of the signature condiment globbed onto the burger that I could barely detect anything else. I do enjoy the creamy, tangy, and slightly sweet flavor that Big Mac Sauce adds, but the sheer amount of it threw the whole burger out of balance. I want the sauce to work in harmony with the beef, cheese, onions, and pickles rather than overwhelm everything.
My other major complaint about this burger was with the beef. Not only did the Big Mac Sauce overshadow the flavor of the beef, but the patties themselves were too small for the bun and sort of dry. While this burger is probably a dream come true for Big Mac Sauce fanatics, it just wasn't for me.
If it wasn't obvious from my wildly contrasting reviews, the Whopper won this tasting showdown by a landslide. It was well balanced, filling, and packed great flavor from the combination of beef, veggies, condiments, and cheese. The Big Mac was at a major disadvantage in this taste test because of the overpowering amount of special sauce. But even if there was less sauce on my Big Mac, it still wouldn't have won.
McDonald's dry, small patties are simply no match for the flavorful and juicy grilled patties that Burger King uses. There's no mistaking the Big Mac for something other than fast-food, but I could almost picture myself kicking back at a summer barbecue when I bit into that smoky, charred Whopper.
The Whopper was more expensive than the Big Mac by a few dollars. But as you can probably glean from the side-by-side photo above, it was also significantly bigger. So, I didn't feel like there was a huge difference in terms of value between the two options.