Chef Tips To Make Your Fast Food Burgers Michelin Star-Worthy

There is a stereotype that anyone who calls themself a chef would turn up their nose at a fast food burger, since of course, they're only capable of eating the finest of foods prepared to their exact specifications. Well, it turns out that's not exactly true as even famous chefs have their fast food favorites — Andrew Zimmern loves Culver's, David Chang's a Popeyes fan, and Julia Child thought In-N-Out was pretty good (though Martha Stewart is kind of "meh" about this last chain). Matt Baker, the executive chef and owner of D.C. restaurant Gravitas, is another In-N-Out fan. He also agrees with Julia Child's assessment that chains like McDonald's and Burger King could be quite good if they'd just step up their game — or, failing that, if you step it up for them.

To demonstrate, Baker walks us through four different ways to upgrade four flagship fast-food burgers. (Not the In-N-Out one, as he's satisfied with what he describes as its "well-executed simplicity and flawless construction.) If you feel like recreating the experiment, keep in mind that you may mix and match these upgrades as you please, since what works to enhance one burger will likely work for any of the others. (If we're being honest, they're not too dissimilar.)

The McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese could use a better bun

The very first thing Matt Baker would do to improve this burger is to take off the bun and change it out for a potato one, as he explains, "The slightly sweet and pillowy texture of the potato bun will complement the savory flavors beautifully." (He doesn't say what to do with the surplus bun, but we're all about reducing food waste and would urge you to save it for use in our homemade crouton recipe.)

Baker doesn't stop with a simple bread swap, however, as he also feels that this basic cheeseburger could use a few strips of bacon. The chef even gets specific with the type, recommending it be thick-cut and applewood-smoked. As he says, "The rich, smoky flavor and crispy texture ... will elevate the sandwich." Not only is this a great suggestion — because what burger isn't made better with bacon? — but it also tells us where Baker may stand on one of the great debates of our time: It seems that in his opinion, yes, a burger is indeed a sandwich, though he hasn't said a word about whether the same applies to hot dogs.

The McDonald's Big Mac needs more cheese

Here, Matt Baker takes on yet another one of Mickey D's burgers, the venerable Big Mac. While this, too could benefit from bacon, he's already worked that angle, so here he's suggesting a cheese change. He doesn't say to take off the skimpy slice that's already on there, but instead says to add more cheese, telling us, "The additional layer ... will provide an extra punch of savory flavor and creaminess." While you could stick with American cheese, you could also upgrade the suggested upgrade by opting for sharp cheddar, Swiss, or pepper Jack.

There's one more tweak that Baker feels the Big Mac could really use, and that's more sauce. "The tangy, dressing is a key component," he explains, adding that "using a more generous portion will ensure that each bite is perfectly coated in that signature zesty taste." If you're wondering where to get an extra helping of the stuff, it just so happens that we have a copycat Big Mac sauce recipe. All you need to do is combine mayonnaise with mustard, relish, French dressing, and a little white vinegar, then stir in some spices and you'll have a pretty reasonable facsimile of what Baker refers to as an "iconic" condiment.

Try an egg topper for your Burger King Whopper

Leaving Mickey D's behind, Matt Baker turns to Burger King, where he starts his Whopper improvement project by taking off all the toppings. Unlike the surplus burger bun from the Quarter Pounder makeover, the pickles, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce are still going to be used in the final product. However, they need to come off for a moment while you add the special ingredient, which consists of a fried egg. Once you plop the egg on the patty, Baker says you'll need to "meticulously reassemble" the toppings over and around this new addition. (Be sure to use tweezers and a jeweler's loupe.)

As to what that egg does for the burger, Baker explains that it makes for "a harmonious blend of flavors and textures," elaborating that " The runny yolk will mingle with the savory beef, creating a decadent, saucy bite." Once re-added, he says the original toppings should "offer a bright, crisp contrast" — well, as long as they're not too limp by the time you've brought the burger home and fried the egg.

Dress up Wendy's Baconator with gourmet condiments

The Wendy's Baconator is, in Matt Baker's words, "already indulgent" since it comes complete with six strips of bacon as well as two slices of cheese (no egg, though). Even here, there's still room for improvement, specifically with the ketchup and mayonnaise which are the two condiments that come on the burger. While Baker doesn't insist that you scrape off Wendy's sauces, he does suggest that you supplement them with what he calls "two decadent sauce additions," these being truffle aioli and "high quality" ketchup. (Our top picks for ketchup brands are Whataburger and Trader Joe's, although the readily available Heinz makes a respectable third choice.)

In Baker's opinion, truffle aioli is necessary to take the Baconator to the top level because, as he says, it "lend[s] an unmistakable earthy, umami depth that perfectly accents the savory bacon and beef patties." The ketchup, in turn, is something that he feels will provide "bright acidity [to] cut through the richness [and] natural sweetness [to] highlight ... the charred notes from the beef and bacon." (Hopefully not too charred, though, since who wants a burnt burger?)