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.


Comments

    I'd prefer a home made burger any day, but if I was trying to cut down cost, I'd slice my own cheese, and buy cheep beef sausages and make patties with the sausage filling.

    Its called loss leading. not to mention economies of scale.

    also, would you like fries and a coke, maybe a hot apple pie with your cheezebuger?

    The best cheeseburgers are made with shredded cheese. Cook one side of burger, flip, add shredded cheese on top and cover (with lid or metal bowl) while the other side cooks. Melts the cheese perfectly.

    This could at least cut down the cheese cost. And it tastes better.

    It's not the $1 cheeseburger where they'd make their money, it's the additional purchases once you're in the door. Most people would probably buy a different "meal" (if you can call it that) and add the cheeseburger.

    The other side of this is that McDonalds buys there ingredients in superbulk (e.g. 500 Tonnes of meat). This reduces the price a long way, so I don't think Macca's are going to be losing money on this, but should make you ask yourself whether that cheeseburger is really worth it :D

    I'd prefer a homemade burger any day of the week! Fast food - what a waste!

    I'm pretty sure if you buy enough quantity per item, it eventually would come down to $1 each.

    I spent my savings on twelve thousand cheeseburgers while the offer lasted. Now that it's over, I can resell them at a substantial profit while still undercutting McDonalds.

    My spare room may be a little greasy, but it's worth it.

      A wise investment knowing that McDonalds' cheeseburgers have been demonstrated to last for several years without deteriorating. May the lingering scent of grease be a constant reminder of your wily business acumen

        Macca's had a simpler promo with $1 Cheeseburgers about 15 years back. I knew lots of people who bought in bulk and stuck them in the freezer. 90secs in the microwave and you had cheeseburgers whenever you wanted.

    I'm telling you now, McDonalds don't pay $12 a KG for meat. Hell I don't usually pay $12 a KG for mince.

    Homemade is always the best tasting and you can put your own condiments on..

    You could definitely save by not buying pre-sliced cheese. A 1kg block of cheddar from Aldi costs $7, which works out to 14 cents for a 20gm slice. Dilute the beef with a bit of ground-up offal and you'd squeak in under the $1, as well as having a more authentic Macdonalds experience.

    I don't know where you buy your mince, but either you're cooking for the Queen, or you're being robbed.

    Basic-grade "3 star" mince from Coles is $6 per kg (now they're standard price, according to that annoying bloody finger). That's gonna save you 30¢ per burger, right? $1.08¢ - assuming you're savvy enough to wait for at least 1 item in the list to go on sale, you've got your $1 cheezburger.

    Interesting article, but as disputed above, some of the prices are suspect :)

    McDonald's probably pay about $1 to make a cheeseburger. It's what is known in the industry (and all industries) as a loss-leader.

    For example, whenever my wife got a $1 cheeseburger, she also got a $3 coke.

    Together = profit.

      Meant to also add, McD's are paying someone a salary of $15 p/hr (for adult, less for <18s) to make those burgers, which would make up the $1. :)

    Not to mention there is more than mince in a patty, you need some form of binding agent to keep it all together, usually egg and flour.

    Also how hard would it have been to actually figure out how much sauce/pickle one uses rather than just guess. even a rough estimation of 5g of mustard and tomato sauce your looking at 3cents worth of sauce. You'd have have about 1/16 to 1/32 of an onion on one burger so that's 3 to 1.5 cents there as well.

    Poor form Mr journalist

      Two points: replicating a Maccas burger involves just meat and nothing else (I did this with the Big Mac experiment and it worked fine, no need for a binding agent, chilling them is enough if the meat is reasonable). The main reason I didn't go into fractional amounts is that the price jumped above $1 before those condiments were even involved -- I was aiming to answer the question "can you make a cheeseburger for $1" so the extra calculations wouldn't actually change the answer.

    Pickle club have them for 50c today!!!
    https://www.facebook.com/pickleclub

    I'll definitely stick with my homemade burgers. They might cost more than $1, but they're awesome:
    Bun, pattie, cheese, caramalised onion, bacon, avocado, egg, roasted tomatoes, seeded mustard, BBQ sauce.

    24 slices of cheese for $2.99, call it $3
    8 slices of cheese for $1
    1 slice of cheese for $0.125

    That's a 12c error per burger bringing you down to $1.26

      Quiet down with you maths and stuff! This isn't rocket science it's cooking dammit!

    I don't think you would bother making a cheeseburger if u were going to do it yourself

    That is 4 star beef at $6 for 500g. If you used 3 star/budget beef ($6 a kilo) it would lower the cost to about 30c a patty. Or, if you bought a box of coles brand pattys ($6.41 for 20) that would be 30c a patty too.

    Either would immediately drop the price to $1.08 per burger.

      Between that and pedants math skills re the cheese, its 96cents, and you can reduce the cost of the sauce by buying in bulk, i always buy the huge jugs and refill a squeeze container (so price per service is negligible and i always have sauce on hand), skip the pickles and the mustard, you have a basic cheeseburger for under 85cents and thats assuming for upto 1/5th a 50cent onion.

      I should make my own burgers more often.

    Dude you're pricing is all wrong...apples and oranges

    1. McDonald's buys wholesale
    2. You bought retail

    Wholesale and Retail shouldn't be compared as it will never work.

    Nice job at making burgers though. Epic Meal Time?

    the actual price that maccas actually pays to make a cheeseburger is closer to about 35cents.. something like 50cents to make a big mac too

    worked there for a couple of years ;)

    You could save some money by not buying the pickles, since everyone just takes it off anyway ;)

    It costs $1.30 to make each cheeseburger at Maccas. I deal with the stock intake for a store in Perth and calculated it with the stat manager

    Maccas would loose 30 cents on the burger but gain over a dollar selling you a drink... or upsizing or adding CHIPS!

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