History of the Big MacBy Todd • Sep 18th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog
You know the jingle by heart. Seventeen of them are sold every second of every day… in the US alone. It is such a symbol of American capitalism that The Economist uses its price to gauge the cost of living in other countries. It is THE iconic fast-food burger, like it or not. And despite my personal feelings about it, I do- as a semi-professional cheebieologist- recognize that the Big Mac has a unique place in hamburger history.
The Golden Arches’ flagship sandwich was first served on August 22, 1967. Jim “MJ” Delligatti, one of Ray Kroc’s earliest franchisees, wanted to dish up something different at his Uniontown, PA store. “I just felt that our customers would appreciate a big sandwich,” remembers Delligatti, now 92.
Some say he turned to a double-decker burg recalled from his days as a drive-in manager in the ’50s. Robert Wian, the “Bob” of Bob’s Big Boy, actually did it first in Glendale, CA in 1937, according to this version of the legend, to feed some hungry musicians on a midnight snack run. With two beef patties and a sesame seed bun sliced horizontally into thirds, it was the first extreme burger. An immediate hit, it was soon imitated by mom-and-pop burger stands up and down the West Coast. And it’s where Delligatti started brainstorming for a new burg in 1965, admitting years later that it “wasn’t like discovering the light bulb- the bulb was already there- all I did was screw it in the socket.”
But it took two years for Delligatti to convince the McDonald’s brass to let him run with it. (Kroc, instead, was hot on another new creation called The Hula Burger- a cheese-topped pineapple slice on a bun. Hard to imagine a fast-food empire rising from that.) “The first day we just used the regular bun; we didn’t have any center (bread) slice,” Delligatti explains. “Making it that way made it very sloppy. The next day we put the center slice in, and today it looks the same.” (In modern Mickey D’s parlance, that center bun is called “the club layer.”)
The sandwich- originally 45 cents- was an instant smash. Within a year, the burger (which Delligatti almost named the Big Mick) was on the menu at every McDonald’s in the nation. Now it’s offered in over 100 countries and is arguably the most famous sandwich on the planet. Amazingly, though, Delligatti didn’t get rich off his world-changing creation. “All I got for the Big Mac was a plaque,” he says.
Delligatti has, though, achieved immortality as the Big Mac’s creator. His family still owns 18 McDonald’s locations in western Pennsylvania. And he has a strong presence at the Big Mac Museum near Pittsburgh, opened in 2007 to celebrate the Mac’s 40th birthday. (Photo by Henry Ray Abrams/AP)
While it was the biggest and baddest on the block in its day, the Big Mac barely stacks up to today’s outrageous gourmet burgers. In fact, the company’s own nutritional info shows that the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese has more of every category except carbs (because of that club layer)… so the Big Mac isn’t even the most extreme cheeseburger at McDonald’s!
And that famous “special sauce?” While Delligatti maintains total secrecy about its contents, it’s one of the more widely sought-after and readily-available clone recipes out there. There are slight variations depending on the source, but this one purportedly comes from a 1969 McDonald’s Manager’s Handbook. It was to be prepared only in an emergency, when the kitchen ran out of the pre-made stuff:
McDonald’s Big Mac Sauce (makes 1 cup)
1/4 cup Miracle Whip
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp French dressing
1/2 Tbsp sweet pickle relish
1-1/2 Tbsp dill pickle relish
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried minced onion
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp ketchup
1/8 tsp salt
Mix all ingredients, blend well. Microwave for 25 seconds and stir. Cover and chill for 1 hour.