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McDonald’s is testing a chicken Big Mac. We hacked a preview.

(Aaron Hutcherson/The Washington Post)

These days, chicken rules the fast-food roost. Chains have been competing for the last few years to create diners’ favorite crispy bird, prompted in part by Chick-fil-A’s market growth spurt and egged on by Popeye’s introduction of that spicy sandwich that filled Instagram feeds and created wraparound lines.

So it seemed inevitable that even the most iconic of burgers might feel the brush of a feather: McDonald’s is testing out a version of its marquee offering, the Big Mac, that swaps out the beef burgers for chicken patties, the company says. “We’re always looking to give our fans more ways to enjoy the classic menu items they know and love,” the company said in an email responding to The Washington Post’s query about the rumored new offering.

McDonald’s plans to test the chicken version of the Big Mac, after introducing it earlier this year for a run in the U.K., for a limited time at Miami-area locations, starting later this month. And it hinted that the offering could eventually go national if stateside reviews are good enough. “While not everything we test makes it on our U.S. menus, we’ll use this time to gather feedback from both customers and restaurant crew as we consider opportunities to offer more delicious options in the future,” the company said in the email.

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The formula is familiar (remember the jingle?) — there’s the special sauce, shredded lettuce, American cheese, pickles, served on a sesame-dotted bun — but the new riff substitutes two “tempura chicken patties” for the classic burger meat. (McDonald’s statement did not mention the customary diced onion that comes on the Big Mac.) The combination sounds so predestined, it makes you wonder why McDonald’s didn’t think of it sooner, particularly because the chain had initially faltered in the Great Chicken Sandwich Wars. The Golden Arches was slow to the draw after Popeye’s sandwich took off in 2019, and franchisees complained that they lacked a “premium” chicken offering to compete with Chick-fil-A and other competitors.

Seemingly to buy time before introducing its own version, McDonald’s tried out a nominally “spicy” chicken sandwich that at the time I noted seemed like “an amalgamation of various spare parts lying around the company garage,” including a Big Mac bun, a regular chicken patty, and barbecue sauce that tasted like it could have been licked off a McRib. Now, with the Chicken Big Mac, the company has another menu item that seems similarly to be assembled from ingredients already in the Golden Arches’ pantry (though perhaps the chicken patty is a new model), that actually appeals.

The Big Mac, which was introduced in 1968, long ago transcended its status as a mere sandwich. It’s become both an avatar for American capitalism and a stand-in for lowbrow taste. And so it seems the right palimpsest for reflecting the current obsession with chicken generally and with fast-food fried pucks more specifically. McDonald’s has tinkered with the formula before, briefly offering four- and one-patty versions in the U.S. and marketing other riffs, including the Samurai Mac in Japan and the Grand Big Mac, in other markets.

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Even before the Chicken Big Mac sandwich debuted across the pond, clever “hackers” — people who either custom-order off fast-food menus or order multiple items and mash them together themselves — were already enjoying it. They are a thing on TikTok: some people apparently convinced their local McDonald’s to make them, while others went to DIY route, using the chicken from other sandwiches.

And the glowed-up Big Mac hype spread even more when Mark Vayntraub, a food-obsessed blogger and social media influencer who uses the handle @markie_devo, posted a tantalizing bit of news: U.S. employees were being trained to make the new item, he said, citing McDonald’s workers as his sources. He even posted an image of what looked like an instruction sheet for making it, and a prompt to ask any customer ordering a Big Mac a heretofore unheard of question: “Will that be a Chicken Big Mac?”

Since Miami is a little far to go for a chicken sandwich, we opted for the hackers’ route, approximating the new menu item by following the instructions on that card and ordering two McChickens (they have a flatter, more compact shape than McDonald’s other chicken sandwiches, which would make for a too-towering final product) and harvesting their patties. We took a standard Big Mac, and performed a little culinary surgery to remove the beef discs (the American cheese had melded itself onto the burgers, so there was scraping involved), before making the swap.

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The result was … pretty much what you would expect, which in this case is a compliment. The thing about Big Macs is that the beef has always seemed secondary — to me, the burger is defined by the tangy Thousand-Island-like sauce, the briny pickles and the shower of shredded lettuce. The chicken version is not that different from its beefy brother, with the patty itself taking a back seat in a minivan of flavors driven by the toppings (although the crisp patty does add a nice textural contrast that the regular burger does not).

If you’re a Big Mac fan, this might be the bird you’ve been waiting for, although if you can’t convince your local McDonald’s to make the swap for you, it can be pricey to concoct yourself, since it takes two McChicken sandwiches and a Big Mac to create.

And while there’s no guarantee that the Chicken Big Mac will ever show up on your local light-up drive-through menu, it’s worth keeping an eye out. McDonald’s might not be reinventing the wheel here, but just hitching it to a crispier wagon.

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