At long last, after years of begging from vegetarians, McDonald’s finally debuted its long-awaited meat-free burger, the McPlant. Right now, the chain is only testing the burger, made in collaboration with plant-based meat brand Beyond Meat, at eight of its locations across the United States, including just a short drive away from my apartment in the Dallas suburbs. And so, in the honorable pursuit of journalism, I braved an uncharacteristically cold and rainy day to try out the hottest new thing in the world of plant-based burgers.
The McDonald’s drive-thru in Irving, Texas boasts a large digital sign announcing the McPlant’s arrival. In addition to the Beyond patty made with rice, peas, and potatoes, which was developed exclusively for McDonald’s, there’s a slice of American cheese, a messy tangle of shredded iceberg lettuce, pickle slices, and a couple glops of mayonnaise and ketchup. (The U.S. version is slightly different than the McPlant that debuted in the U.K. in late September, which boasts vegan cheese and a vegan “special sauce,” making it the chain’s first-ever vegan burger.) All together, the elements on the U.S. McPlant make for a decidedly welcome new fast-food vegetarian option.
But there’s really not much to rave about when it comes to the McPlant. It boasts a flavor that’s definitely somewhere in the vicinity of beefy, but the patty is arguably a little under-seared, leaving it a bit floppy and hard to manage, especially while eating in the car. It could also benefit from more seasoning, and a dash of mustard would add a touch of acidic balance to all the richness from the mayo and grill grease.
But those are all things that could also be said about McDonald’s beef burgers. Even though the McPlant isn’t exactly earth-shattering, it’s a perfectly serviceable burger in a pinch, especially when you’re road-tripping or in desperate need of a late-night meatless meal.
Its real competition among those looking to make the switch to eating less meat, however, is the Impossible Whopper. Introduced by Burger King in 2019, the Impossible Whopper is arguably the gold standard of meatless burgers at American fast-food restaurants. Developed by Burger King and Impossible Foods, it’s juicy, meatier than the Beyond patty, and gets an added dose of authenticity thanks to a lightly charred exterior created in Burger King’s signature flame broiler. Right now, if there’s a Burger King and a McDonald’s sitting across the street from each other, there’s no real reason to choose the McPlant over the Impossible Whopper.
Ultimately, the McPlant is a pretty big win for vegetarians, especially those who frequently find themselves at a fast-food restaurant without a whole lot of options. It’s also a solid choice for folks who are just looking to reduce their meat consumption, whether for health or environmental reasons. Now that McDonald’s is finally in the game, it’s likely that the coming months will bring a meatless arms race to the world of fast food as every chain tries to figure out what its future looks like with less meat. Less meat at fast-food chains can only be a good thing, but there’s going to be a point when folks get tired of simply being grateful that meatless options exist and demand the same care and attention that’s put into making beef and chicken taste great.