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May 26, 2009 05:12 AM

Chain burgers vs. "gourmet" burgers (split from Ontario)

Here's what I can't get my head around... everyone here is a foodie, yet people are choosing the processed, crappy burgers at fast food chains over the more "real" burgers at Hero. Fine, it may not be the best, and I can understand people's arguments about it not even being good. But I'm not sure that Wendy's and Hero are even in the same league.

Without actually knowing the ingredients that go into burgers (since they're "secret"), I have a hard time believing that Wendy's uses 100% beef. The beef they use is garbage and they add tons of filler and all kinds of crap in order to get flavour. Hero Burger, on the other hand, uses all natural meat. Granted, it's likely not comparable to what you'd get at a proper butcher, but it is 200% better than anything you'd find at other fast food places. And yes, Hero is still "processed", but I suspect it's processed far less than the others. If you are skeptical, then you tell me why a Wendy's burger has 9 grams of sugar in it!!

So talking about price. Regardless of whether you think the burgers are good or not, the ingredients that go in are far more expensive. They offer more upscale toppings. The buns are better. And the places is way nicer. It's less of a factory. All of this justifies the price difference.

Thus, I'd argue that you get far better value at Hero. Not to mention that you're putting less crap in your body.

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  1. Both Wendy's and McDonald's burgers contain real beef. Wendy's burgers contain salt; McDonald's adds salt and pepper on the grill.

    I doubt that the beef at either place is exactly top quality, but it doesn't come at a top quality price. Neither Wendy's nor McDonald's uses any kind of filler or flavouring in their burger patties. (Their chicken offerings, OTOH, have strange and unexpected ingredients - so much for health stereotypes.)

    We don't know what Hero puts in their burgers. Unlike Wendy's and McDonald's, who publish ingredient lists, Hero's ingredients and nutritional profiles are the secret ones. The sugar in a Wendy's burger comes from the condiments and the bun, just like the (undisclosed) sugar in a Hero burger.

    Hero is every bit a "factory", and does not sell a good quality burger. They are gristly, dry, and don't have much taste. The "Certified" burgers are certified by (cue trumpets) the Hero Certified Burgers company. It's interesting to know that the Hero company just bought an Angus breeding cow, but this hardly has any relevance to the food you eat there.

    The condiments at Hero are certainly more diverse, but the "upscale" toppings cost extra. Really good burgers don't NEED condiments. I can't speak for anyone else, but I prefer the low end burgers at McDonald's, which provide a reasonable value, over the ripoff burgers at Hero. I avoid the ripoff burgers at McDonald's also. YMMV, and obviously does.

    BTW, "prefer" hardly implies "like". None of these places would ever be my first choice for a meal.

    It's purely a hypothesis, of course, by I think the people behind Hero may have intended to do burgers well when they started out at Hazelton Lanes. Perhaps things grew too fast. More likely they simply went for higher margins. But whether by accident or by design, they don't serve especially good food.

    5 Replies
    1. re: embee

      I never had indulged at McD. But with small children, I needed a place to take them. So I tried a burger at McD , and at different locations. I was amazed by how inconsistent the burgers were for a place which is supposed to present no surprises. As for quality, it ranged from platable to unapalatable. As Peggy lee sang, is this all there is?

      1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

        Yeah - or isn't.

        They never have been particularly consistent and menus vary widely from place to place and sometimes even within a market.

      2. re: embee

        My "go to" at McD's is the double cheeseburger. No combo. $1.49, I think. Cheap snack; not really filling, but it'll tide me over for a few hours.

        1. re: Full tummy

          My goto is filet 'o fish, small fries and milk.
          They usually have to fry the fish, and it tastes good with the mayo and cheese slice they slap on while hot.

          1. re: jayt90

            Yeah... wow, that reminds me how much I used to love those things... I probably haven't had one in 20 years. Just typing that makes me feel old.

      3. Sure, I may be labelled a foodie, but that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy fast food. IMO, the definition of a foodie is one who's obsessed with good food. I have some low-brow tastes, some high-brow tastes, but what I really enjoy is good food, at least according to my definition of it... To say that a foodie cannot enjoy fast food and prefer it over something more upscale is incorrect. If you were to say that about a "gastronome", perhaps.... But anyone who calls themselves a gastronome probably wouldn't be caught dead under the Golden Arches, anyways...

        13 Replies
        1. re: redearth

          I would call myself someone who loves food.

          And I'd be caught very much alive and happy under the Golden Arches.

          1. re: redearth

            Interesting post. (At first, I laughed that people are discussing their favourites at McD's in a "Worst of" link.)

            Not to hijack this thread, but I agree with your interpretation of "foodie". I consider myself a foodie (or "food snob" as some like to think of me as). I'm not at all embarrassed about enjoying low-brow food once in a while. But I've found that the more I learn and the more I try truly good food, the more I really start to dislike the bad and cheap food. A fatty burger is great. But I no longer consider McD's to make "burgers". Pizza is amazing, but Pizza Pizza is not "pizza". I used to love KD as a kid, but now I find even the thought of it revolting.

            I'm by no means a gastronome. Maybe I really am just a snob then. But I just can't bring myself to enjoy the really cheap stuff. I'm not saying the flavour and texture is bad, but just knowing about the type of meat and processing that goes into the really cheap stuff really turns me off.

            1. re: SMOG

              Fair enough. As long as you are passionate about what you eat, and care enough to think about what you're putting into your mouth, that's all that really matters, isn't it? I know too many people who simply eat to live. I live to eat.

              1. re: SMOG

                Totally agree. But sometimes, you just want a Big Mac with fries and a coke. And I don't care how accomplished of a chef you are, it's virtually impossible to replicate those flavors.

                1. re: goodcookiedrift

                  I'm sure you thought about it before eating it, though, no? I had a Big Mac combo the other day because I was really, really craving it. I know where McDonald's sources its ingredients from, and I know the nutritional value of such a meal, but I still chose to eat it. Why? Because I wanted to. And it was delicious!

                  Has anybody else noticed that Mickey D's patties seem to have gotten smaller over the years?

                  1. re: redearth

                    For sure. They have become tiny. Even the Filet O Fish sits nicely inside the bun confines. I remember when it would hang over the edge of the bun.

                2. re: SMOG

                  I agree with what you're saying, to a point. I don't buy meat from a grocery store anymore because I feel more comfortable buying from somewhere that can tell me something of the source that makes me feel comfortable with the way the animals were raised/treated. That said, I do eat at restaurants, most of which have their own agendas, which are different than mine.

                  People I know have criticized the KFC chickens, stating they would never eat such garbage and then trot off to the local grocery store and buy whatever chicken is on sale. I may be wrong, but I don't think they're getting any better quality bird that way. Now, it may not be deep-fried in old oil, and it may not have 11 secret herbs and spices on it, but that wasn't what they were criticizing.

                  I avoid typical breakfast sausages (and most sausages in general) because that, to me, is where things I never thought I would find myself eating are hidden. I could be wrong on that, however, but I also grew up with parents who refused to feed me hot dogs because of how they were processed. I still approach hot dogs with trepidation.

                  To me, a McDonald's cheeseburger is far less scary. It's not something I crave; it's not something I make a special trip for. It's not anything that the specialty burger places aspire to be. I would certainly use better ingredients at home, but for something quick, on the road, at that price, that is my choice.

                  I can no longer eat a Harvey's burger, however much I prefer the char-grilled flavour, because that is a patty that is filled with something other than meat, and I haven't been able to figure out what. But, perhaps the encyclopedic embee will chime in.

                  1. re: Full tummy

                    All great points! Especially the one about KFC vs the grocery store chicken, very true! I too try to buy my meat from ethical sources as much as possible, but like you, have no issue eating out at a restaurant or buying meat from Loblaw's once in a while if it's just way too inconvenient to get properly grown meat.

                    After this discussion, I'm starting to understand the opinions that McD's is better than Hero. I still can't agree, but can see your perspectives. Further, I think part of it is that we all grew up on McD's and got used to thinking that it's a treat. Since we were kids, it's been like a reward. So even to this day, McD's brings out those kid memories and it just feels like comfort food. Very tough, if not impossible, to change those kinds of feelings!

                    1. re: Full tummy

                      It is unfair to equate KFC chicken to Canadian supermarket chicken. KFC is unlikely to divulge their sources, but hopefully they have improved since they received bad publicity in the U.S.

                      I have frequently heard that battery raised birds have to meet more stringent controls here than in a free market situation. Better feed, and humane slaughter, for example. Most organic and free range chickens will come from an enclosed hen house, without much advantage over supermarket birds.

                      1. re: jayt90

                        Actually, what I have read seems to suggest that KFC Canada is almost a model of humane treatment, as compared to the U.S. I don't doubt that there are still chickens being sold in supermarkets that fall below the low standard of humane treatment that KFC has agreed to adhere to.


                        1. re: Full tummy

                          No hormones in Canadian chickens for starters. Most KFC outlets, at least in the Toronto area, are also Halal. I know they get deliveries from Maple Lodge Farms. They undoubtedly have other sources beyond this.

                          1. re: embee

                            Thanks for chiming in with the facts. I suppose the debate could be continued on to whether people believe that Halal butchering is more humane than conventional. I have read some who argued yes, but, to be honest, I don't have the stomach to fully investigate.

                            1. re: Full tummy

                              Halal slaughter is almost identical to Kosher slaughter and if you've seen a cow slaughtered in the Kosher fashion, there's no mistaking it for humane

                3. Well put SMOG. Could not have articulated it better. Hero is overpriced but a solid burger.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: food face

                    I am a Culinary school graduate and will admit that I love Big Mac's, Burger King double cheeseburgers and Wendy's Double Stack. Locally (RI) I love Stanley's fried/steamed with onions burgers. No reason to limit your tastes, gourmet - fast food, as a foodie I love it all...

                    1. re: Sean

                      I think a lot of the fast food places mix the meat with soy- you really can't tell.
                      I like the Harvey's veggie burger and you can't tell it's not "meat", has the same grilled taste and only 8 grams of fat which is decent.

                      Now the milkshake there scares me 33 grams of fat! that's crazy.

                      I really dislike all the McDonalds burgers and have never like the flavour- even as a kid.
                      The filet o fish is allright once in a while. The fries there are ok, esp with bbq sauce.

                      Their salads are actually quite decent and very fresh-but seriously overpriced.

                      The fries I like the best are chip wagon or new york fries, or else I just buy some extra when I'm out at a place that makes fresh real patato fries and freeze them at home for later- usually more tasty than the mccain ones (that I still eat but not like that much).

                      I don't think there is anything really "wrong" with fast food, exept when some families will spend $40 on dinner there and they could have something much nicer...unless they really want fast food that is.

                  2. Well SMOG, I was already to rip into you. I'm sure you've seen my Hero Burger rant but if not, here it is:

                    What has changed my opinion of your opinion is you've learned to see the other side of the argument. That's good.

                    There's no secret that Hero is absolute rubbish IMHO but if you like it, terrific. If I have to have a FF burger it's a double cheese burger from McD's. Unless I'm in the states and can get my hands on a 5 Guys. I find them to have a good beef flavour, not over done with toppings and are cheap. I also think burgers are better on a flat top. Not grilled, char broiled or otherwise conveyor belted.

                    I will however take exception to your original dissertation. McD's and Wendy's promote 100% pure beef burgers and you don't believe them even though false advertising can be pretty serious then you just go ahead and assume the Hero patty is better without knowing what's in it.

                    I've also dissertated on here about "Angus Beef" or "Certified Angus Beef. I think it's a scam. Places are charging higher prices for a name. While CAB is held to a higher standard, it also means that it's from at least 51% Angus cattle. The flavour of the beef is gonna be more influenced by the diet than the breed.
                    We have a commercial here for Shoeless Joe's where in it says that ever AAA beef isn't good enough for SJ's. Well, it may be better than CAB as both are gradings and don't assure flavour. Yet they'll still charge more for it.
                    For my tastes, I've tried Angus quite a bit and found it to be nothing special. Even the CAB.

                    The bottom line for me is, I have a friend who works at Cumbrae's. I asked him flat out if Angus beef was worth the extra money. He laughed and said "No".


                    19 Replies
                    1. re: Davwud

                      Unfortunately, we can go back and forth about this for ages (and we pretty much have been, already) and will never come to an agreement. I think, though, that you've misunderstood my post a bit.

                      I agree with you on the Angus argument. It's not a big consideration for me. I don't give much weight to Angus, AAA, whatever ratings. If I had my choice, I'd buy all my meat from your friend at Cumbrae's. And I'm happy to buy whatever they give me without ever asking what the meat is "rated", because I know it's properly raised and expertly butchered.

                      Now, having the said the above, I think we can all agree that whether we're talking about McD's, Hero, Wendy's or whatever... that they are all sub-par compared to proper meat. My point was that Hero uses "natural" meat. Anti-biotic free, blah blah. It's NOT Cumbrae quality, and I don't know this for certain, but I think it's safe to assume that it's also several notches above McD's in terms of quality. BS ratings aside, McD's meat is the cheapest you can get. It's highly processed. It's highly spiced. And when compared to an ordinary home-made burger, it does not resemble it in texture nor taste. Hero Burgers come closer. Much, much closer.

                      So back to my original post - I'm still not convinced that you're getting anywhere near acceptable quality ingredients when you go to McD's. I'm not talking only about the beef, either. The chicken, fish, and yes, even the salads, are not the real thing. (Someone mentioned the salads are very fresh - there are ways of keeping produce fresh and looking picture good, but that doesn't necessarily translate into being healthy for you). Don't be fooled by ingredients lists - because 100% beef at McD's and 100% beef at Cumbrae's are certainly not comparable.

                      1. re: SMOG

                        There is a farmer who sells his beef at the local farmers market and it's excellent. I have no idea what the grade is on it and I don't care. It's excellent.
                        I buy grocery store/Costco meat when it's on sale or as needs suit me. I don't go to Cumbrae's much since it's not convenient and more than I want to spend. My buddy used to work at Whiteveen's at SLM.

                        As for how burgers taste at home compared to McD's or Hero, well, there aer so many factors that you can control at home that'll make yours better. Quality of meat. The abiltiy to not cook it to death. Subtle seasonings to taste, etc. But my McD's cheese burgers taste like beef whereas the Hero burger tasted like beef fat.

                        This to me is why diner burgers are the best. Done on the flat top. Made fresh. Cooked to order (As in, not sitting in a warming tray) and the guy cooking it cares about whether you like it or not. Generally speaking anyway.


                        1. re: Davwud

                          Right. See, at home (or at the diner), you'll get a burger with a bit of salt and pepper, but you know the meat is good enough to hold its own flavour. At McD's, I bet the meat on its own merit tastes horribly bland. It tastes like beef to you because of the seasoning they add. Just like the chicken broth they have to inject into their nuggets to get the flavour back from overprocessing. I don't know how heavily Hero seasons its burgers, so I won't comment. But I suspect it's less than McD's and more than home cooked.

                          1. re: SMOG

                            But I'd guess there's more filler in it since they don't advertise it as 100% beef. In which case, I'll take the McD's.


                            1. re: Davwud

                              Perhaps, but the filler could be in the form of eggs + breadcrumbs. Unfortunately, the only thing we know for certain is that the quality of beef that McD's uses is extremely low. Not to mention the ultra sugared wonder bread buns, etc etc.

                            2. re: SMOG

                              What I have found with the burgers at McD's is that they taste just like an overcompacted, overcooked, pretty much unseasoned, fried patty I could make with cheap ground beef from any grocery store. It's not great, it's not fabulous, but it's easy on the wallet (if you go for the value burger option), and it's recognizably beef. It's also the kind of patty I grew up eating at home, with a single father who had neither the time, money, nor inclination to make a better burger. Definitely not what I make at home, but for $1.50, I can't complain.

                              1. re: SMOG

                                But McD's burgers are not highly spiced. Before they hit the grill, they aren't even seasoned. And though they aren't my idea of a proper hamburger of any style, they do taste like beef. They don't contain anything other than beef. If you know and can PROVE otherwise, bring charges against them for fraud - I'm not kidding....

                                As to the chicken and other items on their menu, I don't disagree with your assertions. My understanding is the McGriddles were developed by molecular biologists - not cooks. But their hamburgers are unadulterated and unadorned.

                                1. re: embee

                                  I can't prove it and certainly don't want to argue with embee, as I'm a few notches below in terms of my knowledge of these things. So, I've decided not to bring fraud charges against McD's!

                                  Having said the above, here are some interesting facts. On the McD's website, it clearly says their burgers are 100% beef and nothing else (as embee mentioned above). Salt and pepper is added on the grill. Click on the nutritional info section, and the the ingredients say:

                                  "Grill Seasoning: Salt, spice, sunflower oil"

                                  Not sure why the discrepancy (is "spice" simply pepper and nothing else?). Further, I'm no nutritional expert, but I wouldn't expect a 101 gram burger to carry 510mg of sodium.

                                  Doesn't prove anything, I'm happy to concede on this particular point, but just some info for consideration. No nutritional info on Hero's site to compare against.

                                  1. re: SMOG

                                    Not surprised by the amount of sodium. Keep in mind that works out to .5 gram. 1/2 cup of condensed Campbell's chicken noodle soup has 890 mg (.89 gram) sodium.

                                    1. re: SMOG

                                      The sodium content is ridiculous, but I read something a few days ago that gave me pause. The gist was that almost every major food processor puts absurd amounts of salt into Canadian products because Canadians (presumably from testing results) appear to want it.

                                      I have no reason to disbelieve this. The sodium content of foods vs their counterparts in other places is astounding. Details at:


                                      I'm no expert on Mickey D's food ingredients beyond the information they provide, so feel free to argue :-


                                      As to the sunflower oil, I can only guess that they oil the grill with a seasoned oil. Otherwise, I don't get it. Some dry seasonings do list oil as an ingredient, presumably as a flavour carrier. This works with, say, capsicum but hardly seems necessary for salt and pepper.

                                      As to the nutritional info, I wonder what Hero is hiding?

                                      1. re: embee

                                        embee, you don't think the sunflower oil is used just to fry the meat? Maybe they just call it "seasoning", since it does add some flavour...

                                        1. re: embee

                                          Absolutely true on the sodium. It's also a requirement to add flavour to processed foods, because otherwise people (although I'm not sure I understand why Canadians are so significantly different from Americans in this department) who are used to super-flavoured foods will think its otherwise bland. Processing takes flavour away, not to mention that it typically starts with poor quality ingredients in the first place. People begin to "want" things (aka "need" things) when processors get them used to it over a long period of time.

                                          I'm not sure that Hero is necessarily hiding something. In either case, I emailed them to satisfy my curiosity and am now curios to see if they'll respond.

                                          1. re: SMOG

                                            While I'd be surprised - if it's all that great, why don't they make the info easily available? - but please post your reply if you get one.

                                2. re: SMOG

                                  The Mcdonald's salads are not the real thing?
                                  I'd like to hear an explanation of that.

                                  The salad I used to buy there was lettuce,baby tomatoes and another vegetable.
                                  I doubt they are doing anything to the lettuce or small tomatoes as they go through so much they are never bad.

                                  Now I know the apple slices they sell those are processed so they do not brown with citirc acid and then put in an airtight packaging.

                                  I guess that is kind of "artificial".
                                  Oh, maybe the old salad dressings were very fake as well- esp when they had the Newman's Own natural dressings.
                                  They recently switched to Renees Dressings....I guess those are really "fake" to esp since they come in individual packets....

                                  (just kidding about the dressings,for store bought they are decent).

                                  1. re: MiriamOttawa

                                    A little off topic, but... the Asian salad with grilled chicken and low-fat dressing has about 75% of your daily sodium intake. And that's the seemingly "healthy" one. And that's supposed to be for lunch? A little excessive, to say the least. Ok, so aside from the fact that their chicken is pretty disgusting (look at the ingredients and I'm sure you'll agree), there are ways for preserving fresh salads/fruits. I'm not sure whether McD's does this, but I know other fast food restaurants that have pumped gases into containers as a way of keeping everything crisp and fresh for far longer than it should be. Just like the apple slices you mentioned. Again, I'm not sure that's the case here, but I wouldn't be surprised. In either case, the nutritional value of their salads is closer to a deep fried steak.

                                3. re: Davwud

                                  Agreed about Angus beef: lots of hype, and who knows whether an Angus burger is from 100% pure bred, or a 1/4 cross? I'm currently a fan of Cumbrae's, especially the less expensive cuts. Cumbrae's looks for beef with a proven blood line, and excellent husbandry. Stephen Alexander extols the virtues of Wagyu, Angus, but also Charolais, a big, lumbering French breed well established in Ontario.
                                  Angus is well established too, and has a strong breeders' Association behind it, but I wonder if the basic costs (bulls, calves) have not shot up for most farmers.

                                  I've read the Cumbrae brochures, and watched the videos, and I don't see any reference to grading. That's an added, optional expense, and an inspector's best guess as to what is inside the carcass. Most purchasers seem to rate Cumbrae's beef at the high end of Canada AAA or even Canada Prime (for the best in store.)

                                  That said, the Cumbrae pre-made burger is $3 each, and well worth it.

                                  1. re: jayt90

                                    Some of the meat at Cumbrae's is graded; some may not be. They have always been up front with me about this: if I ask for prime, they sometimes have it and sometimes not.

                                    Certified Angus is not a government grade. It is a marketing program that uses grading standards different from the official Canadian or US standards. I perceive it - via taste, tenderness, and appearance - to be roughly equivalent the high end of US choice.

                                  2. re: Davwud

                                    I remember a conversation I had with a butcher from Olliffe, who has a great list of customers ready to buy up any pieces of kobe/wagyu that arrive. I asked him if it was worth the money, and he laughed and said no, as well. According to him, there's a wow factor when it's served at some dinner parties; everyone oohs and aahs over a "kobe" steak...

                                    1. re: Full tummy

                                      It wouldn't surprise me if Kobe beef is in fact more tender and more tasty although those two are generally exclusive of each other. And therefore worth it. However, I doubt it's 10 times more worth it and that's what you're gonna pay.


                                  3. No one's mentioned In & Out Burger. My almost first stop when I'm in California.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: Babyducks

                                      That would probably be because the moderators, in their wisdom, split this thread from one on the Ontario (Canada) board, and those of us talking so far are from north of the border, most likely Toronto.

                                      1. re: Full tummy

                               wonder I never heard of some of these burger places! Guess I should read more carefully.

                                        1. re: Babyducks

                                          We should get an In & Out Burger up here, it would be rockin'!

                                          1. re: Babyducks

                                            But thanks for the tip. Us Canucks now know at least one place to check out if we're traveling to California!

                                            1. re: Full tummy

                                              OMG do check it out too.. they are in California, Arizona , Nevada and Utah.

                                              I would recommend a Double-Double Animal Style... mmmmmmmmmmm good.

                                              I am from Toronto btw but made a point to find an IN-N-OUT on a recent trip to AZ!

                                              1. re: superjj

                                                Just to add my favorite In & Out Celebrity Recommendation: when Julia Child was interviewed on her 90th birthday, she revealed that she kept a list in her purse of every In & Out between Santa Barbara and San Diego!