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Fast food restaurants have finally realized there’s an untapped market in the early hours of the day. McDonald’s is testing offering it all day. Taco Bell is adding new breakfast items to the menu. In a field traditionally dominated by Starbucks and McDonald’s, recently White Castle, Burger King and Taco Bell have all stepped up their early day game.
With so many options available to grab a speedy bite and a coffee, Yahoo Food is here to help. I took on the arduous task or trying all of the above-mentioned establishments, as well as Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks to see which one takes the cake in this breakfast battle royal.
How to compare? At each restaurant, I ordered one bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, one sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, a coffee, and hash browns, and evaluated them on price, speed of order time, and overall satisfaction.
(All photos by Anthony Sulla-Heffinger)
Order: Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit Taco, Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit Taco, Hash Browns, Coffee.
Order time: Two minutes
Review: I should have known from the fact that this particular Taco Bell was deserted at 8:30 a.m. that I was going to be let down by their breakfast offering. Although I have had Taco Bell breakfast before, the company recently revamped its breakfast offerings to include the biscuit taco in place of the waffle taco. There were several issues with Taco Bell’s breakfast, but the most offensive was the sorry excuse for bacon that was put on my taco. It looked more like corned beef hash than bacon and was not even remotely warm, let alone hot. In addition to that, the bacon was clumped in one spot, throwing off the entire balance of the taco. It was truly awful. Apart from that, the eggs and cheese were fine, the biscuit itself was light and flaky, and the sausage had enough flavor to save that taco from being entirely mediocre. The meal would have benefitted greatly from a syrup or sauce offering. As far as the hash browns, there was a nice crunch and temperature to the patty, but there was almost no flavor to it. The coffee was surprisingly fresh and tasted very good, especially considering how the rest of the meal went.
Final ranking: 6th
Order: Bacon & Gouda Breakfast Sandwich; Sausage, Egg & Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich; Tall Coffee.
Order time: 10 minutes
Review: It should come as no surprise that the highlight of my trip to Starbucks was the coffee; it’s the chain’s bread and butter. Of the six places I sampled, Starbucks had the second best coffee, second to Dunkin Donuts, offering a rich flavor and freshness that most of the other establishments did not have. Aside from the excellent coffee, Starbucks was unable to match up with its competition in this taste test. Not only did they not offer hash browns (or any other viable side dish), but they don’t offer combo meals, leading to a higher price point for less food. In addition to that, Starbucks tied for the longest amount of time to fulfill my order, which somewhat defeats the purpose of getting a quick breakfast. As far as their sandwiches go, as soon as I took a bite of each, it was clear that the meat in both were pre-made and undercooked. The bacon was rubbery and tasted as if it was fresh out of the microwave and the sausage patty had little unique flavor and looked more gray than brown. The eggs were a bit dry, but were fine overall. The bread was passable, particularly the artisan bread the bacon and gouda was served on. In this case, the bacon sandwich was far better than the sausage because of the Gouda cheese, which dominated my taste buds and offered a rich, different flavor the other sandwiches did not.
Final ranking: 5th
Order: Bacon, Egg and Cheese Muffin; Sausage, Egg and Cheese Muffin; Hash Browns, Coffee
Order time: One minute
Review: It was difficult to decide if Burger King’s highlight was its bacon or hash browns, but ultimately I decided that B.K. offered bacon that had a feature that none of its competition had: crunch. While most of the other establishments had bacon that was rubbery or undercooked, the edges of Burger King’s were cooked enough to give it a nice crisp and flavor to stand out among the rest of the sandwiches. Other than the bacon however, Burger King offered little to differentiate itself from its fast food rivals. The English muffins were comparable to McDonald’s, the sausage patty was a little dry and overcooked, and the eggs were too overpowering and tipped the taste scales within the sandwich. In my opinion, a great breakfast sandwich will offer you an equal taste of meat, egg, bread, and cheese in every bite, and that simply wasn’t the case with Burger King’s sandwiches. It was also the only place where I felt the bacon offering was far superior to the sausage. Burger King’s hash browns were also very good, but not great compared to the rest. Their serving size was larger than any other, and they had a nice, crunchy exterior but could have benefitted from just a dash of salt. Despite advertising that it uses Seattle’s Best Coffee in the store, Burger King’s java tasted watered down and offered little in terms of flavor. It was also one of the smaller standard coffees to come with a combo meal. In a jam, Burger King is certainly serviceable when it comes to breakfast, but as its ranking shows, it falls in the middle of the road.
Final Ranking: 4th
Order: Bacon, Egg and Cheese A.M. Muffin; Sausage, Egg and Cheese A.M. Muffin; Hash Browns, Coffee
Order time: 10 minutes
Highlight: Hash Browns/Coffee (tie)
Review: Dunkin’ Donuts honestly could have rated anywhere from first to fourth on this list because of how superbly delicious half of the meal was and how underwhelming the other portion was. First, let’s start off with the hash browns, which were the clear winner in terms of flavor. Dunkin’ Donuts’ hash browns were the only ones that had a seasoning that truly made them stand out from your standard breakfast potatoes and even though only six came in an order, it was easily overlooked because of how rich and delicious each one truly was. The coffee was just a smidge better than Starbucks in terms of freshness, flavor, and taste. If I were to only have had the hash browns and coffee, I would have ranked Dunkin’ first out of the six restaurants. Unfortunately, in order to keep things equal, I had to have try two of their breakfast sandwiches, which is where the meal turned for me. The eggs were very dry and flat, the cheese wasn’t melted and the bacon and sausage were pedestrian at best. All things considered, the good (hash browns, coffee) far outweighed the bad (serving size, sandwiches) at Dunkin’, allowing me to give it a slight advantage over Burger King and rank it just a notch below the top two chains.
Final Ranking: 3rd
Order: Bacon, Egg and Cheese slider; Sausage Egg and Cheese Slider; Hash Browns, Coffee
Order time: Five minutes
Highlight: Sausage, Egg and Cheese slider
Review: Coming into this taste test I did not expect much from White Castle, especially considering the kind of stomach-churning reputation it has among some. When you promote Valentine’s Day specials, host weddings and have a movie that features two stoner’s visiting your restaurant, it is easy to see why White Castle is often seen as a gimmick when compared to other fast food chains. But enough of the hating on White Castle, because they actually did a really good job with breakfast. In addition to being the only ones that were fried, the eggs served on the slider were hot and seemed fresh when I received my order, and offered a nice flavor while not overpowering the rest of the sandwich. While the bacon was clearly nuked, lacking texture or flavor, the sausage patty was perfectly cooked and offered a slight hint of spice that the others did not have. White Castle’s sausage, egg, and cheese was easily the best of the bunch, with the only downside being the size of the slider. In terms of hash browns, White Castle’s were cooked perfectly: they had a nice golden brown, crunchy exterior. The coffee was neither terrible nor great, but was good enough to pass in my book. White Castle offered the cheapest combo meal, but it’s really misleading because you’ll likely need more than two sliders to satisfy your hunger, especially after tasting just how good the breakfast really is.
Final ranking: 2nd
Order: Egg McMuffin (served with Canadian bacon); Sausage McMuffin with Egg; Hash Brown, Coffee
Order time: Two minutes
Review: Now it is going to seem odd that I did not list a highlight yet I still rank McDonald’s as having the top breakfast of this group, but let me explain. I mentioned earlier that I believe a great breakfast sandwich has a balance of meat, egg, cheese, and bread in every bite, and McDonald’s has perfected that. The beauty of the McDonald’s McMuffin is that everything fits perfectly on the English muffin and there is a perfect balance among the flavors. In both the Sausage McMuffin and Egg McMuffin you are able to savor all of the different components of the sandwich in every bite. In addition to the excellent sandwiches, McDonald’s hash browns have an exterior that is equal parts crunch and flakiness, offering the perfect complement to any of their breakfast items. The only real negative from McDonald’s was its coffee. There was almost no flavor and it did taste as if it was watered down a bit, especially compared to Taco Bell, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts. That said, the coffee was not enough of a deterrent to remove McDonald’s from the top spot, as it showed exactly why the company is testing all-day breakfast in some markets.
Final ranking: 1st
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