Sonic Pulled Pork BBQ Cheeseburger And Sandwich Review: Solid, Cost-Conscious 'Cue

Sonic seems to be challenging Arby's reputation for "having the meats" — hot on the heels of releasing its peanut butter bacon cheeseburger, it has rolled out a pulled pork menu with three new items: the Pulled Pork BBQ Cheeseburger, Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich, and Pulled Pork BBQ Totchos. All three items feature smoked pulled pork served with cherrywood smoke barbecue sauce.

For this taste test, I sampled the two sandwiches to see if they could satisfy real barbecue fans. As someone who lived for several years in the barbecue hotspot of Austin, Texas, I have high standards for barbecue, and I'm suspicious of a fast food restaurant's ability to pull it off. Traditional barbecue requires a painstakingly long, slow approach, which is antithetical to fast food's drive for convenience and efficiency. Sonic's pulled pork certainly doesn't rival the lovingly smoked meats turned out by pitmasters in the American South, but I was pleasantly surprised by how tasty it was. As you'll see, though, Sonic's execution of these menu items wasn't entirely free of hiccups.

What's in the Sonic Pulled Pork BBQ Cheeseburger and Sandwich?

The Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich is a classic, minimalist entree similar to what you'd find at any hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint. It consists of smoked pulled pork, pickles, and barbecue sauce enclosed in a soft bun. Sonic does fancy it up a bit by using a brioche bun and toasting the bread, but there's nothing particularly original about this sandwich beyond that.

The Pulled Pork BBQ Cheeseburger is a bit wackier in concept. It has all of the same fillings as the pulled pork sandwich plus a burger patty and a slice of American cheese. If just eating pork isn't enough for you, why not stack two animals on top of each other in one sandwich?

Both sandwiches can be customized with Sonic's standard menu of toppings, which includes add-ons like fresh veggies, spicy jalapeños, bacon, extra condiments, and chili. You can also ask for extra cherrywood smoke sauce at no extra charge.

How much do they cost, and where are they available?

In terms of value in today's fast food market, the Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich is hard to beat. I paid $3.99 plus tax for it. That's the same price I recently paid for a McDouble, but Sonic's sandwich is much larger and more substantial than McDonald's value menu mainstay.

Given how great a deal the pulled pork sandwich is, the Pulled Pork BBQ Burger feels kind of expensive at $6.69 (though there's a chance the price may be lower in your area). I'm not sure the addition of a burger patty and a slice of cheese justifies charging over 1.5 times the price of the base sandwich, but at the same time, the price isn't out of line with the cost of other fast food burgers these days.

These sandwiches were made available for purchase on Sonic's app on January 29, and they'll be an app exclusive until February 5. They'll then be on the normal menu from February 5 until March 31. You should be able to find them at all Sonic locations in the U.S.

How do they compare to other Sonic menu items?

As far as I can tell, Sonic's new pulled pork menu is the chain's first experiment with this particular protein. Its other limited-time offerings at the moment include the aforementioned peanut butter bacon menu as well as Buffalo Chicken Dip Bites, a kind of fried dumpling that is filled with chicken, cheese, and Buffalo sauce.

Although the pulled pork items are being rolled out nationally, they're definitely playing with the flavors of the American South when it comes to these menu items. Sonic likes to feature regional flavors on its menu, to the point where it even has a whole section dedicated to local favorites. At my Sonic location in Arizona, the local entree is a Hatch green chile cheeseburger — this type of green chile is popular across the Southwest. In Texas, where I used to live, I was always able to order a country fried steak sandwich from the chain. The pulled pork menu is another example of taking a deeply-rooted American food tradition — in this case, barbecue — and giving it a fast food spin.

Nutrition facts

If you're trying to moderate your intake of calories and fat, you should choose the pulled pork sandwich over the cheeseburger. Sonic must be using quite lean pork for this menu item, because this sandwich clocks in at a reasonable 350 calories and 12 grams of fat (3.5 of which are saturated), according to the nutrition facts displayed in the Sonic app. All of those figures are just a small fraction of the FDA daily recommended values for those nutrients, which means you could easily work this sandwich into a normal day of eating. Fast food often hides a ton of extra sugar, but here, too, Sonic's pulled pork sandwich is fairly moderate, bringing in 10 grams of added sugar, or just 20% of the daily limit. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's healthy, but it's certainly less potentially harmful than other options on the menu.

The burger, on the other hand, is a bit of a gut-buster. It contains 700 calories and 40 grams of fat, 13 of which are saturated. That puts it at over half of the daily value for fat and saturated fat. It also has about two-thirds of a day's worth of sodium at 1,590 milligrams. I've eaten plenty of fast food items with scarier nutrition stats, but I still wouldn't eat this burger every day if I was trying to maintain a balanced diet.

The Pulled Pork BBQ Cheeseburger was a bit disappointing

Sadly, I wasn't able to experience the Pulled Pork Cheeseburger as Sonic intended, because my local Sonic forgot a couple of the components. Most tragically, it was missing the cheese, making it a Pulled Pork BBQ Hamburger. The pickles were also absent from the example I received. I did order this on the first day of app-only availability, so perhaps the cooks were still working out the kinks.

Without these two ingredients, this was an incredibly dry sandwich despite the generous serving of barbecue sauce. The beef patty was well-browned and savory, but it was so well done that the inside was completely devoid of moisture. The pork, while tasty, was also a bit dry. The bun was pleasant enough, but to call it brioche is a bit of a stretch — it was more like a potato bun or sweet challah. A French baker would weep if you presented this bread to them as brioche.

Even if I received a complete version of this burger with all the correct toppings, I think I still would have like liked it less than the regular pulled pork sandwich. The burger patty just didn't add anything special and distracted from the pulled pork, which should be the star of the show.

The Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich was a treat

Speaking of making the pork the star of the show, this sandwich did just that. Sonic's smoked pork was almost like a hybrid between traditional pulled pork and carnitas. It seemed as if it had been pre-cooked until soft and then reheated on the griddle, which gave the pork wonderfully crispy edges. While the smoke flavoring wasn't super strong, it did lend the pork a slight bacon-y essence, especially in the pieces that were well-browned on the griddle.

I didn't taste much smoke in the cherry smoke barbecue sauce, but it was still quite well-executed for a fast food barbecue sauce. The taste wasn't excessively sweet and the texture didn't land in gloopy territory. The sauce's acidity helped to balance the salty richness of the pork, as did the sharp sweet-tart bite of the pickles.

Like the burger, the sandwich I received wasn't 100% compliant with Sonic's corporate specifications. It was served on a regular Sonic burger bun instead of a brioche one, but that didn't annoy me. If anything, I preferred it, because it was slightly less sweet.

Brioche bun or not, this was a yummy sandwich. It is perhaps one of the best things you can get from a fast food restaurant for under $5 right now. Hopefully, the build of the sandwiches will get more consistent in the coming days.