The Big Mac remains the most iconic of McDonald's products, but you can reproduce the experience in your own kitchen with an amazingly accurate replica of the "special sauce" that helps define the Big Mac. The secret ingredient? Vegemite.
Full credit for deconstructing the Big Mac recipe goes to the Serious Eats blog Burger Lab, which regularly features burger recipes from the elaborate to the basic. Kenji Lopez-Alt wanted to reproduce the Big Mac experience, while also making it "better". One discovery during that process was that a small amount of Vegemite (or a similar yeast derivative) helped reproduce the Big Mac special sauce flavour. That's not to say Maccas does that itself, but it's a useful trick, especially for Aussies.
I adapted the Serious Eats recipe to my own home burger needs. To be honest, I wanted a lazier approach (as you can see in the picture at the top). Lopez-Alt's method includes mincing your own beef and applying sesame seeds to the buns by hand. I'm perfectly happy to buy quality supermarket mince and purchase ready-made buns. (I actually cheated and bought seedless buns, as I don't like sesame seeds, but there's no shortage of seeded hamburger rolls at your local supermarket or bakery if you want to go that route.)
I thought it was important to double-check that the local Big Mac was produced in exactly the same way as the US one. This did indeed turn out to be the case on inspection:
Outside of reproducing the special sauce, there's three other notable tricks involved in creating a Big Mac at home: the burgers, the buns and the onions. As McDonald's itself is keen to point out, the Big Mac burger itself contains nothing but beef. You don't need anything other than mince to make it happen. What McDonald's doesn't emphasise is that the burgers themselves aren't that large: you only need around 50g of mince to make each patty. (For that reason, I've given the recipe below for four burgers; if you're going to this much effort, why stop at one?)
Unlike most burgers, the Big Mac incorporates a middle layer in the roll. To reproduce this at home, you need to slice the top and bottom off the roll. I'm a total knife klutz, but I managed this OK — though I purchased jumbo hamburger rolls to make that easier. Also, while you might not realise it when eating them, the buns for a Big Mac are slightly toasted.
The onions are also an important element. McDonald's uses dehydrated onions, which makes for a sweeter flavour. You can get the same results by dehydrating freshly-chopped onions on low power in a microwave. I was sceptical about this, but it totally works.
Is all this cheaper than buying a Big Mac yourself? Probably not. But it's still a cool trick to pull off, and it's surprising just how accurate the special sauce flavour is. I won't be making this every day, but it's probably a trick I'll pull at a dinner party at some point in the future.
The basic recipe is below; again, you can hit the Serious Eats post for a more MasterChef style approach.
DIY Big Mac (makes 4)
- 500g or so of premium-grade mince
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- Four hamburger rolls
- Oodles of shredded lettuce
- Sliced dill pickles (unless you're in the anti-pickle crowd
- 4 slices of cheese (of the pre-wrapped variety if you're trying to be authentic)
For the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon onion, grated on a fine grater or minced
- 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 6 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon Vegemite (you can briefly nuke it to make it easier to mix in)
To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients. (It tastes better if you refrigerate it and let it sit for a while.)
Divide the mince into eight equally sized portions, and flatten with your hand into patties. Refrigerate while you do the other prep work.
Place the onions on two sheets of paper towel and microwave on the lowest power setting for 10 minutes.
Slice the rolls horizontally to produce a separate middle layer. Toast lightly under a grill or in a low oven, with the cut sides of the top and bottom facing up. (This took about 10 minutes for me in a very low oven, matching the onion time nicely.)
Spread sauce over bottom and middle layer of each roll. Add onion on top of sauce. Add lettuce on top of onion.
Heat your frypan to high. Place burgers in pan and cook for one minute each side, flipping once.
Assemble your faux Big Mac by placing one burger on the bottom, adding a slice of cheese, adding the middle layer, adding a second burger, then the top. Serve immediately.