April 16, 2008
Jack vs. The Bull

With The Bee's cafe closed for the day, I headed out to weigh in on the latest raging battle in the burger wars. I only had to go as far as Broadway, home to both a Jack in the Box and a Carl's Jr.

The folks of Carl's Jr. are accusing Jack of ripping off their enduring Western Bacon Cheeseburger by introducing an almost identical BBQ Bacon Sirloin Burger. Naturally, I had to try them both.

Basically, each is a burger sandwiched with orange cheese, bacon strips, onion rings and barbecue sauce. And frankly, my palate had difficulty deciding which is the best. Jack's clearly has the superior patty, a thick cut of rich ground sirloin seasoned with just the right doses of salt and pepper. The onion rings were big, hot and sweet, the bacon thin but almost crisp. The Carl's Jr. by far tasted smokier and saltier, with a sturdier and more flavorful bun. The bacon also was thin, and limp. In both cases, the cheese was forgettable.

I began to ponder other factors to help me decide. The Jack in the Box has more parking. Carl's Jr. has a napkin dispenser on each table. The Jack in the Box burger costs $5.09 before taxes, $5.48 after. The Carl's Jr. costs $2.99 before taxes, $3.22 after.

Nutritionally, they're virtually in a dead heat. The Jack in the Box has 1,120 calories, 24 grams of saturated fat, 190 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,520 milligrams of sodium. The Carl's Jr. has 1,130 calories, 28 grams of saturated fat, 150 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,540 milligrams of sodium. No, I didn't run into anyone from the Center for Science in the Public Interest at either venue.

Carl's Jr., however, gets the nod for environmental consciousness. Its Western Bacon Cheeseburger comes wrapped in paper, and that's it. At Jack in the Box, the BBQ Bacon Sirloin Burger not only was wrapped in paper, it was in a box in a bag. (At both places I said I'd be eating on the premises.)

I'm not convinced that these occasional dustups between competing burger chains are anything more than a publicity stunt orchestrated by their advertising agencies, especially during economically shaky times like these. Still, the folks at Carl's Jr. sound not only unflattered by Jack's imitation but downright bitter. "Jack must have decided to turn their new $150-million 'Innovation Center' into an employee lounge," snorts Brad Haley, the executive vice president of marketing for Carl's Jr.

In addition, Carl's Jr. tomorrow will give customers a free Western Bacon Cheeseburger when they purchse any version of the burger, but you will have to get to Eureka, Redding, Chico or Reno to take advantage of the offer in this area; Sacramento branches of Carl's Jr. aren't participating in the promotion.

On a brighter note, Carl's Jr. has pulled from retirement its iconic mechanical-bull TV commercial from 2004, featuring the beat of Foghat's "Slow Ride."

That alone gives Carl's Jr. the edge in the burger sweepstakes this time around, but before I cast my final vote I'd like to hear what others think is the superior burger.

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