Can You Make A Cheeseburger For $1?

As part of its 40th anniversary in Australia, McDonald’s recently completed a promotion where it sold standard cheeseburgers for $1 for an hour every day. Judging by the queues every time I passed a Maccas over lunch, that promotion worked well — but could you replicate that pricing yourself? Lifehacker investigates.

Compared to our previous experiment with replicating a Big Mac, reproducing the cheeseburger should be a lot easier — there’s no iconic sauce to try and clone, for starters. But when we did that, we weren’t concerned about the cost. By comparison, making the cheeseburger itself is pretty easy (cook the burger, assemble with condiments, eat), but keeping it to $1 could be a challenge.

First things first: it’s self-evident that the up-front cost of reproducing a single cheeseburger would be higher than $1, simply because you can’t buy mustard or ketchup for that much. So we’ll be working out individual costs per serve, acknowledging that you’ll only get that price if you want to make and serve many cheeseburgers. (I was much stricter about per-serve economics when I did Mastercheap last year, but this time around I’m taking a more relaxed view.)

We also won’t be incorporating labour costs for you doing the cooking, or the (relatively small) amount of electricity or gas you’ll need for cooking. It’s debatable whether McDonald’s itself makes money from selling a standard cheeseburger for $1, but it certainly has a much better chance given that it’s buying all the constituents in bulk and not paying a fortune in wages.

Pricing the ingredients

Per the official McDonald’s ingredients list, these are the key elements you need for a cheeseburger, priced by a quick wander up to the nearest supermarket:

Burger bun: A 6-pack of no-brand brand burger buns costs around $1.99, which is 34 cents per roll.

Beef patty: We know from the Big Mac experiment that you can quite easily make ten small burger patties from 500 grams of mince, which will set you back $6 or so. That amounts to a cost of 60 cents for the meat.

Slice of cheese: A pack of 24 store brand cheese slices is $2.99, so each slice costs roughly 24 cents.

Ketchup, pickles, mustard and onions: Sticking to the cheapest brands, in the Coles I just visited a bottle of tomato sauce/ketchup is $1.19, American mustard is $2.60, a jar of pickles is $1.37 and a single large onion would run about 50 cents. However, that provides the makings for dozens of burgers and you’d only need a tiny amount of each: allowing 20 cents in total is probably being generous.

The grand total

So the $1 dream is busted; it looks like a cheeseburger is going to cost $1.38 just for the ingredients. Even if you assume I was wildly generous with the condiment costings, it would still add up to $1.30, and even if you rejected pickles and onion and mustard and even ketchup, bun plus beef plus cheese still cost $1.18. You might also be able to drive down the price further if you made a bulk purchase of the buns and cheese from somewhere like Costco, but I suspect getting to $1 would be difficult.

That said, it isn’t massively more than $1, and it’s cheaper than buying a ready-made cheeseburger. Plus you don’t have to argue with the staff about which components you want. The big lesson? If there’s another $1 cheeseburger promotion, go wild by all means, but remember you can make hamburgers at home and they don’t have to cost a fortune.

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.

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