The Untold Truth Of McDonald's McGriddle

McDonald's breakfast has a pretty long, interesting history. The idea of a separate morning menu first came to be around 1972. A franchise owner named Herb Peterson introduced his breakfast sandwich idea to McDonald's chairman Ray Croc (per The Balance Small Business), and his idea is what we know today as the Egg McMuffin. By 1977, the idea expanded into a full breakfast menu.

Fast-forward to 1997 and McDonald's was making $5 billion a year on breakfast alone. In 2015, McDonald's was recognized as the favorite in a survey of 10,000 American consumers, as reported by Eater.

Around 2003, McDonald's introduced the McGriddle, one of the fast food chain's greatest breakfast creations. The sandwich features special pancake-inspired buns (known as McGriddles cakes) and comes with meat, eggs, and cheese, though there are many varieties that have come up over the years. Notably, it's one of the best-selling McDonald's menu items as of 2021 (per Reader's Digest).

The McGriddle debuted as part of McDonald's renewed breakfast push

McDonald's recognized a gap in their breakfast menu as other competitors began to expand their breakfast menus in the early 2000s. There were no sweet offerings to balance the many savory options, like the short-lived but much beloved Spanish Omelette Bagel (per Eat This, Not That!). A lot of their breakfast menu also lacked the portability to make it gain popularity. The hot cakes were an example of something customers loved, but had to sit put to eat in an increasingly on-the-go world. McGriddles creator Tom Ryan was tasked with finding the perfect breakfast product that fit the needs of the average McDonald's customer while still offering something competitors couldn't match.

"We basically took the Grand Slam Denny's breakfast and put it in your hand," McGriddles creator Tom Ryan explained to First We Feast. "And the only little piece of technology we needed was how do you get the syrup inside the pancakes so you don't have to have syrup in one hand, sandwich in the other [when you're driving]. We worked hard to get those little syrup crystals, and once we had that, McGriddles happened really quickly."

The idea was just the beginning. It would take years of testing, tweaking, and innovation until the McGriddle was ready to make its debut.

McGriddles first came on the scene in 2003

As McDonald's describes on its online menu, the Bacon, Egg & Cheese McGriddles recipe includes "soft, warm griddle cakes ... thick-cut Applewood smoked bacon, a fluffy folded egg, and a slice of melty American cheese." Sausage, Egg & Cheese and Sausage McGriddles are also available. And while Tom Ryan is credited as the creator of the McGriddles, but he doesn't take sole credit. "No one wins alone," Ryan said of his getting credit for the idea (per CNBC). "You have to surround yourself with smart people."

Thanks to that group of "smart people," the McGriddle made its debut in 2003 (per The Balance Small Business). "These new breakfast sandwiches are some of the most unique in the breakfast category," McDonald's USA Marketing Director Max Gallegos said in a statement on the McGriddles' release. "In test restaurants across the nation, McGriddles have wowed our customers with their exceptional combination of sweet and savory tastes. It's another way McDonald's is responsive to evolving consumer tastes and providing a novel breakfast option."

McGriddles came out in the midst of McDonald's trying a lot of new things, such as the Cheddar Melt and the McPhilly Cheesesteak (per Reader's Digest). While most of them fell to the wayside, the McGriddles sandwich has held its own.

The creator of the McGriddle is a fast food genius

It's no big surprise that Tom Ryan was the one to create the McGriddle. He's considered something of a fast food savant, and the breakfast item is just one of his many achievements. He's also the inventor of Pizza Hut's stuffed-crust pizza and Quiznos' Steakhouse Beef Dip (per CNBC).

Ryan has some unique qualifications that have made him the go-to genius when it comes to revolutionizing fast food menus. He has a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry and a Master's in lipid toxicology, both from Michigan State University (per First We Feast). Today, Ryan works on his two latest ventures, Smashburger and Tom's Watch Bar, both of which he co-founded, according to his LinkedIn. He's also a Global Taste Advisor at Jollibee Foods Corporation.

No matter how many products or concepts are credited to him, Ryan drives home the idea of teamwork is the key to true, impactful innovation. "I think it takes a village. I think it takes a really smart partner, or even two. I think you have to surround yourself with talent if you don't want to spend the thick part of your career figuring out what you got right and what you got wrong," Ryan told CNBC. "And the more tenured your partners, the better."

The McGriddles cakes hold some special details

The McGriddle is special in more ways than one, and they all come down to its unique McGriddles cakes, which are described by McDonald's as "soft, warm griddle cakes with the sweet taste of maple." Getting that taste of maple wasn't easy, as creator Tom Ryan revealed.

"After we had the idea for McGriddles we talked to a couple companies that do inclusions and said ... 'we want a syrup crystal that melts at this temperature and gives you a really nice [maple] flavor.' They said, we'll work on that, and then we got it in," he told First We Feast. Ryan then explained it took a year and a half to officially launch and ensure it could be replicated at locations throughout the country, which was a learning experience. He noted, "I think the other big insight for me was that sometimes innovation is in front of you, you just have to look at things simple mindedly to figure out what to do."

Another special signature of the McGriddle is that it's stamped with the letter "M" (per So Yummy).

The McGriddle has come in quite a few varieties

Tom Ryan has a philosophy of changing up the familiar when trying to find a restaurant's next big hit (per CNBC). It's no wonder then that the already popular McGriddle would be a prime candidate for remixing. 

The three staple McGriddles varieties available wherever and whenever McGriddles are sold are sausage; sausage, egg, and cheese; and bacon, egg, and cheese (per McDonald's). That said, a few new varieties have gotten a shot in recent years. In 2018, they tried their hand at the McGriddles French Toast (per My Recipes). The sandwich substituted the standard McGriddles cakes for a bun that is "warm brioche French toast with a touch of syrup."

The following year, McDonald's tried another way of redesigning McGriddles cakes: adding blueberry (per Today). Though it was tested at locations throughout 2019, it hasn't been spotted since. In 2020, some international McDonald's locations were treated to the McGriddles Stack. It offers an extra patty (or two!) than the average Sausage or Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddles. Also in 2020, McDonalds launched the Chicken McGriddles (per Thrillist).

The McGriddle helped make McDonald's breakfast popular

McGriddles have been a mainstay on the McDonald's menu since its 2003 debut. Their popularity added to the overall popularity of McDonald's breakfast menu, which has been widely regarded as one of the best among fast food chains. 

"The reason pancake bread is so successful in the bacon, egg, and cheese McGriddle as well as the sausage, egg, and cheese McGriddle is that the inherent sweetness — via pockets of gooey maple syrups — is countered by the salt of breakfast meats," a reviewer for Thrillist wrote. "Everything falls into place like a puzzle."

The McGriddle is one of the best-selling McDonald's menu items of all time as of 2021 (per Reader's Digest), alongside items like the double cheeseburger and chicken nuggets. It's no wonder that in July 2021 McDonald's decided to refocus on breakfast options as they looked for ways to make up for financial shortcomings.

The McGriddle was once available all day

Many McDonald's breakfast fans enjoyed the glory of all-day breakfast starting in October 2015, as reported by CNBC. This was the first time McDonald's was responding to the serious demand to have breakfast items available beyond 10:30 a.m. (per Eat This, Not That!). A few months after the first all-day breakfast items were rolled out, the McGriddle was added to the mix (per Consumerist).

All-day breakfast was sadly halted in 2020 as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, in order to streamline operations (per The Takeout). While McDonald's all-day breakfast has come back, it's offering a variety of breakfast pastries instead of breakfast sandwiches like the McGriddle. As of late 2021, there is no word on if and when these items will come back to the all-day breakfast menu. Still, we can hope to see the return of an all-day McGriddle option in the future!

The McGriddle counts quite a few celebrities as fans

No matter how many dining options are at your disposal or how much money you make, there's always that one fast food item that has your heart. 

Nothing proves this more than Dallas Cowboys owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones' affinity for the McGriddle, which was documented on camera in "Hard Knocks," the HBO series about the team's training camp (per Eater Dallas). Jones is a big a fan of the McGriddle, but as viewers tweeting about the show noticed, the Cowboys' head honcho adds extra salt to his McGriddle. More than a few people found that to be gross at best and heinous at worst.

He's not the only fan in the NFL. In a 2020 Super Bowl commercial, the McDonald's orders of several famous faces were revealed. Among them was Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who enjoys a McGriddle, two sausage McMuffins with egg, a hash brown, and coffee (per the Daily Mail).

Twitter has debated if the McGriddle is better than the McMuffin

In September 2021, an age-old debate was struck up on Twitter: Which is better — the McGriddle or the McMuffin? The competition between the breakfast menu staples is steep. The McGriddle may have revolutionized McDonald's breakfast when it came out in 2003, but the McMuffin has history on its side, as it was introduced in 1973 (per Time).

Internet personality Greg Miller first posed the question on Twitter, tagging McDonald's for their input. The poll, which saw over 8,500 people vote, was a virtual tie, but the McGriddle was ultimately victorious with 50.7% of the vote.

McDonald's took notice and opened the question up to their 13,000 followers to see what they said, and they got way more feedback. With over 71,000 people voting, the McGriddle yet again emerged victorious by a slim margin, with 50.3% of the vote.

TikTok users think they've hacked the DIY McGriddle

Looking for a McGriddle during off hours? Maybe you're just trying to eat at home more. At any case, if you believe in the culinary powers of TikTok, you can have a McGriddle at home. One genius TikTok user suggested creating your own McGriddle cakes at home by using the outer ring of the lid of a mason jar as a mold for the McGriddle Cake. Pour in your pancake better, and then drizzle syrup to your preference.

TikTok users aren't the only ones who are trying to make a DIY McGriddle happen. There have also been adaptations for various diets, such as the Keto McGriddle by Fork to Spoon that uses a combination of cheeses and almond flour drizzled with sugar-free maple syrup as a substitute for McGriddle cakes.

Of course, nothing compares to the real thing. Even if you've got to get up before 11 a.m. to get it these days, there's nothing quite like a McGriddle from McDonald's.