Newest Gut Bomb in Burger Wars Is Audacity on a Bun

Times Staff Writer

The hottest new hamburger at Hardee’s is an unabashedly unhealthful mountain of meat called the Monster Thickburger.

Loaded with two 1/3-pound Angus beef patties, four strips of bacon and three slices of cheese, slathered with a generous glob of mayonnaise and encased in a buttered bun, it’s not exactly a celebration of calorie counting.

Who’s counting? When the 1,420-calorie, 107-fat-gram behemoth was unleashed, people gobbled it up.


“Sales results for this politically incorrect burger have been encouraging,” Andrew Puzder, chief executive of Hardee’s parent CKE Restaurants Inc., told Wall Street analysts after the big burger’s introduction in mid- November. On Wednesday, when CKE reported that December sales at Hardee’s were up 5.8% year over year, Puzder credited the burger and “its audacity.”

The Monster has been singled out -- the Center for Science in the Public Interest called it the “fast-food equivalent of a snuff film” -- but the $5.49 4-inch-tall sandwich is just the latest in a heart-clogging trend.

Big is nothing new at fast-food restaurants. McDonald’s, for instance, famously offered Super Size fries and drinks until it overhauled its menu to promote a “balanced lifestyle” in March -- coincidentally, or perhaps not, after the gross-me-out documentary “Super Size Me” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

But the newest trend isn’t just about size or value. It’s about thumbing your nose at the food police.

Hardee’s has received fan mail from people grateful for the guilty pleasure of the Monster Thickburger (about the equivalent in calories of two Big Macs and a strawberry sundae at McDonald’s) and offended that health watchdogs would want to take it away from them.

“While other restaurants were a bunch of Nancy-boys and became low-carb cowards in the face of moronic ‘they made me fat’ lawsuits, you did the AMERICAN thing,” John Frensley, a 22-year-old college student from Texas, wrote in an e-mail, “by spitting in the face of lawyers, nutritionists and food-nazi types and offering a monument to Americanism.”


Not to be outdone, Carl’s Jr., also owned by Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE, is peddling a 1-pound Double Six Dollar burger, with as many calories as the Monster Thickburger, albeit with 6 fewer grams of fat. (Hardee’s does not operate in California; there are 688 Carl’s Jr. restaurants in the state.)

For its part, Pizza Hut is flaunting a Full House XL Pizza, a “family-sized” pie promising 30% more sheer mass than a traditional large. And Burger King is testing an Enormous Omelet Sandwich filled with eggs, sausage and cheese.

Some of the gargantuan offerings aren’t going down very well with health experts.

“The Hardee’s Monster Thickburger is up there in the restaurant hall of shame,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which accused Hardee’s of engaging in “sinister marketing efforts” with its promotions for the burger.

Amy Lanou, director of the nutrition department at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, doesn’t fault only the restaurants.

“Humans have an innate desire to harm themselves through indulgence, through pleasure and excess,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate.”

The heaviest consumers of fast food tend to be young men who are less concerned than others about calorie intake and nutrition. “Since these people are fast-food chains’ best customers,” said Bob Sandelman, a Villa Park restaurant consultant, “it’s in the chains’ best interest to appeal to them.”


That’s exactly what they do. At Del Taco, the top-selling menu items are Macho burritos -- each weighing more than 1 pound.

“The Macho line is clearly a guy-food thing,” said Joe Senger, vice president of marketing for Lake Forest-based Del Taco Inc. “It’s not for everyone.”

The menu monstrosities are in stark contrast to the deli sandwiches, fruit cups and bottled water that chains in recent years began adding to menus in response to demand from customers -- and no doubt to blunt public relations body blows: lawsuits filed by obese teenagers who blamed fast food for their plights and the publication in 2001 of “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” by Eric Schlosser.

Even now, Pizza Hut has a Fit ‘N Delicious line of pies. Wendy’s is letting customers substitute French fries included in combo meals with a small chili, baked potato or one of two salads at no extra charge. And Hardee’s just rolled out a charbroiled barbecue chicken sandwich with 4 grams of fat.

“Maybe after the first of the year people will say, ‘I’ve had my fun. I need to go back to low-carb or low-fat,’ ” said Brad Haley, executive vice president of marketing for Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

Maybe. Meanwhile, really big, really fattening offerings are spoofing the trend toward healthier eating.


In Seattle, the 5 Spot restaurant recently took aim at trial lawyers who blame the food industry for consumers’ expanding waistlines by requiring diners to sign a tongue-in-cheek liability waiver before ordering the Bulge, a sugarcoated, deep-fried banana with ice cream, macadamia nuts, whipped cream and chocolate and strawberry syrups.

The release form read, in part: “The 5 Spot will not be held liable in any way if the result of my eating this dessert leads to a ‘Spare Tire,’ ‘Love Handles,’ ‘Saddle Bags,’ or ‘Junk in my Trunk.’ If I have to go to ‘Fat Camp’ at some time in my life, I will not mail my bill to the 5 Spot.”

In an ad campaign, Wienerschnitzel, part of Galardi Group Inc. of Newport Beach, urges customers to take control of their lives with its so-called Chili Dog Diet, a weight-loss plan that features no guilt or cravings. TV spots feature a self-proclaimed “tofu-intolerant” man explaining that the diet allows him to eat whatever he wants.

“People are fed up,” said Doug Koegeboehn of Santa Ana-based DGWB Advertising & Communications, the firm that helped Wienerschnitzel create the campaign. “We’ve gotten some great responses from customers who say, ‘It’s about time someone said: Hey, come and enjoy the things you like to eat.’ ”

Hardee’s wasn’t trying to goad fast-food critics when it came up with the Monster Thickburger and was surprised by the frenzy it sparked, Haley said. The goal had been simply to make a burger that would match the quality of one served at a sit-down restaurant.

“It wasn’t big for bigness’ sake,” said Haley, who declined to discuss sales figures.

During a recent lunch hour at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Los Angeles, a handful of customers devoured the chain’s 1-pound Double Six Dollar Burger.


Diner Mario Lopez Reyes said he wasn’t worried about the 101 grams of fat and 1,420 calories. “It’s very good,” the 21-year-old painter from Los Angeles said between jaw-stretching bites.

At an adjacent table, Julio Cornejo was similarly unfazed by the 61 grams of fat and 1,060 calories in his Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger.

“It’s big and it has beef in it,” said the 45-year-old tile contractor from Chino. “If I was to make a burger at home, I would make it like that.”

More fast fat is on the horizon. Starbucks this week is set to introduce Chantico, which a spokeswoman called “a drinkable dessert.” At 6 ounces it’s petite compared with the Monster Thickburger, but the steamed beverage delivers 20 grams of fat and 390 calories. The secret ingredient: cocoa butter.



The new super-size

Fast-food entrees are getting bigger, with Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. offering burgers that weigh in at more than 1,400 calories each. A sampling of some big entrees and smaller alternatives.

*--* Menu item Calories Calories from fat Hardee’s Monster Thickburger 1,420 965 Thickburger 851 512 Charbroiled Chicken Sandwich 590 230 Carl’s Jr. Double Six Dollar Burger 1,420 910 Six Dollar Burger 1,000 580 Charbroiled Chicken Salad-to-Go* 330 70 Del Taco Macho Beef Burrito 1,170 560 Del Beef Burrito 550 270 Deluxe Taco Salad 780 360 McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese 730 360 Big Mac 560 270 Fiesta Salad** 360 200



*Without dressing

**Without sour cream and salsa

Source: Companies



Working it off

Want to walk off a “Monster” number of calories? At a brisk pace, it’ll take you 3.3 hours. A sampling of other ways to burn it off:

1.9 hours of running

2.1 hours of stair climbing

2.4 hours in an aerobics class

3.2 hours of basketball

4.8 hours of golf (walking)

5.4 hours of grocery shopping

6.3 hours of bowling

7.5 hours of brushing your teeth

18.3 hours of watching TV

The above activities would burn between 1,400 and 1,450 calories based on a body weight of 165 pounds.