Wendy's Baconator: Trust Us, It Looks Nothing Like The Ads

Is any category of advertising as deceptive as the promotional images of fast food menu items? The commercials and online ads never fail to make the food look fresh and delicious, but often what you receive from the drive-thru window is decidedly more homely, even if it tastes good. Fast food always looks better in commercials because food stylists have a bag of sneaky tricks to make food more photogenic, including painting grill marks on burgers and shining them up with shoe polish.

In the name of science and consumer advocacy, we are buying a Wendy's Baconator to see whether it looks anything like it does in promotional materials. We can't say the real-life Baconator is as pretty as Wendy's perfectly food-styled photo, although it isn't an ugly burger. We'll break down all the ways the actual burger measures up (or doesn't) compared to its picture on the menu board, and as a bonus, we'll let you know how it tastes too.

The bun was a little beat up but still attractive

The buns in the marketing images of fast food burgers always stand up proud and tall, and the bread in the Baconator promo photo is no different. However, we know from experience that the buns in real-life burgers can often end up a little squished, especially after they've been swaddled in their protective wrapping. 

That was the case with the bun on the Baconator we ordered. Its time inside the wrapper had given it some wrinkles, and a small crack was torn in one side. Other aspects of its appearance matched the picture, though. It looked as big and fluffy as we were hoping, and the exterior had a nice, shiny, burnished, golden-brown glow. The flavor was as appealing as the appearance — in fact, the bun was actually our favorite part of the burger overall, which didn't say good things about the fillings. Like most fast food buns, it was incredibly sweet; we're talking borderline-cake levels of sugar. It tasted fresh and had a nice light toast on the cut surfaces.

The bacon wasn't as perky as it looked in the marketing image

This burger is called the Baconator for a reason: It has an irresponsible amount of bacon on it. In the photo, wavy strips of bacon are practically bursting out of the bun. In real life, though the burger did indeed have six strips of bacon on it, just as promised on the menu, the bacon doesn't take up as much of the overall volume of the burger as you might expect. The bacon we received was a little flat and shriveled-looking. If we were to guess, we'd bet that these bacon strips were pre-cooked, perhaps under a grill press, and then reheated to serve.

The texture of the bacon supported our pre-cooking theory. Although it looked crispy, the bacon was actually a little bit tough and chewy. Despite the enormous quantity of bacon, the cured pork didn't really do much for the flavor of the burger either. The griddled beef patties were already salty, meaty, and fatty, so the bacon really just doubled up on tastes that were already there.

The patties were not as thick and juicy in real life

In Wendy's photo, the Baconator's burger patties look incredibly enticing. They're thick and perfectly browned with just a hint of sheen on the outside that promises juicy delights within. The corners of the chain's signature square patties protrude far from the confines of the bun, showing you just how much beef this sandwich contains.

In some ways, the patties we received lived up to the photo. They actually did have some nice browning on the outside, and they were wide enough to stick out past the edges of the bun a fair bit. In other aspects, they were disappointing. The meat was definitely thinner than in Wendy's photo, and even worse, it was dry. The chain famously uses fresh, never-frozen beef, which should make for a superior fast food burger experience, but the burgers on our Baconator had spent too long on the flat-top. We needed a lot of Diet Coke to wash down all that parched, overcooked beef.

The cheese was pretty much as promised

No image gets your appetite going quite as much as the sight of ooey-gooey cheese, and the two cheese slices in the Baconator marketing photo look perfect. They're glossy and beautifully draped, with just a hint of a saucy drip happening at the edges.

While the American cheese on the real-life Baconator didn't look quite as liquidy as the photo, it had a nicely melty mouthfeel. The runny cheese basically acted as a sauce for the beef, which we really appreciated since the meat itself needed moisture. Taste-wise, it delivered exactly what you would expect from American cheese: lots of milky flavors and salt but not much sharp cheese tang. American cheese is generally one of the best cheeses to use on burgers, but in the context of the Baconator, it didn't provide enough contrast to the other elements of the sandwich. The cheese, bacon, and beef came together to create a one-note flavor profile. A sharper cheese would have at least injected some helpful acidity to balance out all the fat and umami.

The Baconator could really use some veggies

The complete lack of vegetables (not even onions or pickles) was the same in both the chain's photo and our sample Baconator, so we can't deduct marks for that in terms of appearance. However, the absence of a crunchy, fresh garnish really hurt the eating experience of this burger.

Perhaps the Baconator idea would work better if the bacon was actually crispy and the patties were juicy, but the one we tasted was crying out for some lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle. The veggies would have added not only some refreshing crunchiness but also juice and acidity. Without veggies, the cheese and condiments had to provide all the moisture in the Baconator, and the only acidic ingredient in the sandwich was ketchup. The condiments just didn't have enough juice to balance out the huge wad of meat in the sandwich. We get that the whole point of the Baconator is that it's a ridiculous mountain of meat, but a little salad never hurt anybody.

The verdict: Did the Baconator live up to the photos?

The Baconator from our local Wendy's didn't look exactly like the picture on the chain's website. Overall, it didn't have the same unblemished appearance as the promo photo, and it was a little more squished and shorter. But, to be fair, we can't say that it looked so bad that we were disappointed by its appearance. When we unwrapped it, we were excited to give this burger a try.

It was the flavor and texture that ultimately let us down, not the aesthetics. Wendy's marketing photos of the Baconator depicted the best burger that anybody could possibly imagine, but the taste didn't live up to the hype. If you want to get an indulgent pile of beef and bacon at Wendy's, there are better options out there. The Big Bacon Classic, with its comparatively moderate amount of bacon and full stack of vegetable garnishes, would be a tastier and more well-rounded sandwich. The Baconator only seems worth it if you're afraid of eating plants.