The untold truth of McDonald's McGriddle

Some prefer sweet breakfasts while others prefer them savory. Others still, stare at the brunch menu until their eyes blur, weighing the pros and cons of choosing an omelet over French toast. Tom Ryan probably knew that. Tom Ryan understood the tides of sweet and savory breakfast options. So when Ryan, a product developer, was working for McDonald's, he created the McGriddle, changing the world of breakfast sandwiches for the better (via CNBC).

The small, deeply caloric invention is simple. The contents of a breakfast sandwich — sausage, egg, and cheese, for example — are nestled between two pancakes. But they're not just any pancakes: according to McDonald's official site, they're "griddle cakes," and they're decadently designed to taste like maple syrup. 

Sweet griddle cakes, American cheese, alarmingly yellow egg, and oily sausage. When the McGriddle hit the market in 2003, McDonald's changed, sandwiches changed, and breakfast got a little more indulgent. McGriddle designer Tom Ryan went on to launch cheese-stuffed crust at Pizza Hut — is that a surprise? According to him, the game-changing ideas "always seem simple in hindsight."

The McGriddle helped boost McDonald's breakfast menu

For decades, McDonald's was known and loved for its burgers and fries — they're not exactly breakfast foods, unless you're really schlubbing it. The already-existing breakfast items were strictly savory, and McDonald's needed something sweet, according to Ryan (via First We Feast). Sweet options like pancakes, French toast, and waffles can be cumbersome. The goal, Ryan explained, was to design something that could be held in the customer's hand. After all, isn't that what fast food is all about?

To ensure that the sandwich would be syrupy, but not sloppy, McDonald's designed maple-flavored crystals to be mixed into the griddle cakes. The crystals are designed to melt at a certain temperature — a literal melt-in-your-mouth experience. So McGriddle's eaters are free from the inconvenience of a sticky syrup packet. According to Ryan, it took a year and a half to fully implement the syrup crystals in McDonald's nationwide — it wasn't easy, but it was rewarding.

McDonald's still tests McGriddle flavors

While the simplicity of the McGriddle is one of its winning characteristics — no extra sauces, condiments, or garnishes — the chain is still testing ways to expand on the McGriddle empire. In 2020, McDonald's added a fried chicken patty to its breakfast menu, sandwiched between two griddle cakes. While the idea makes perfect sense (it's pleasantly reminiscent of chicken and waffles) not everyone was satisfied. Food writer Kat Thompson noted that the simple chicken patty took away the exciting contrast and flavor that the sausage, egg, and cheese combo holds, according to Thrillist. And we can't help but wonder how Chic-fil-A feels.

McDonald's has tried other twists. A French toast version of the McGriddle began gracing the Midwest in 2018, according to Food and Wine. Even a Spam-laden McGriddle made a debut in Hawaii, according to the Chicago TribuneAnd in 2019, the chain began testing out Blueberry McGriddles in Washington, D.C. It's exactly what you're picturing: a quiet, unassuming McGriddle sandwich, encased in two maple-flavored, blueberry-studded griddle cakes, according to Food and Wine. Food reporter Tim Carman tried the test-drive sandwich, only to express concern for the health risks and sugar crashes the new McGriddle would likely cause, according to The Washington Post. Moderation might be good to keep in mind.

Sweet-savory combos are still everywhere

The McGriddle is by no means the first sweet-savory sandwich to make a mark on curious consumers. The Monte Cristo sandwich — a crispy, decadent ham-and-cheese sandwich topped with jam and powdered sugar — has been making an appearance in American cafes for decades, according to The Kitchn. And Elvis's favorite sandwich combines peanut butter, bacon, and banana slices (via Serious Eats). That's a sweet and salty combo if we ever saw one. And as sandwich makers continue pushing the limits of grilled cheese (in the best way possible), they've managed to incorporate figs, dates, and strawberry jams into buttery sandwiches. Let's not forget the game-changing Thanksgiving leftover sandwich, with stuffing, turkey, and a generous dollop of cranberry sauce (via The Spruce Eats).

But among the sweet-and-savory successes, the McGriddle stands out as a fast food innovation — not just full of indulgent flavor, but for convenience. And it hasn't been so easy for other large chains to emulate the success of the McGriddle. When Taco Bell released its bacon-studded Waffle Taco, a group of expert taste testers pitted it against the McGriddle. The McDonald's classic won, according to Consumer Reports. Those syrup crystals must have hit a sweet spot.