Next week, McDonald's is launching a pilot program at nine locations — all in the Louisville, Ky., area — in which Krispy Kreme doughnuts will be available for purchase alongside Big Macs, fries and McFlurries.
According to a press release, McDonald's customers will be able to order original glazed, chocolate iced with sprinkles and raspberry filled doughnuts either individually or in six packs. And while the treats won't be available for delivery, they will be available all day. This fact led me to feverishly send a prediction to my sibling group chat: "Guys, we are 90 days out from a McDonald's/Krispy Kreme 'doughnut burger' collab. Mark my words."
One brother responded that it was, indeed, an inevitability; the other brother, who is a college sophomore, simply sent back a "welp." Meanwhile, our younger sister sent back a string of emojis: a doughnut, a burger and a person shrugging, all punctuated with a question mark. I took that to mean, "What in the world are you talking about?"
Let me fill you in: I first became familiar with the doughnut burger about five years ago when wandering the grounds of the Kentucky State Fair as a public radio reporter. At the time, I was new to the job, so I was simply sent to collect "color tape," or interesting audio clips indicative of being at the fair. I was somewhere between the cattle contest and the beckoning neon lights (and a lot of beeping and clanging carnival attractions — so, good tape!) of the midway when I saw dozens of people waiting in line at a food stall.
One by one, they left with a steaming sandwich made by placing a fully-dressed burger — cheese, bacon, bright red onion rings, lettuce and a squiggle of mustard — between two glazed doughnuts. As Salon's editor in chief Erin Keane captured in a photo from this year's Kentucky State Fair, the booth remains, as does its simple, yet memorable, slogan: "Donut burger: Donuts are the bun."
Armed with my audio recorder, I asked a few folks to describe the sandwich for me. While most of the responses were monosyllabic — "sweet," "sticky," "heavy" — the conversation also produced my favorite bit of tape that never aired. A walking caricature of a man wearing cannabis-leaf tube socks and Crocs told me, "It's stoner food, mama. Good ol' f**king stoner food."
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I suppose one could argue that most state fair food falls into the "stoner food" category. It's an extravaganza of disparate flavors that have been fused and deep-fried: bacon-wrapped caramel apples; fried pickles in chocolate; hot beef sundaes. All these dishes, which are served at state fairs across the country, feel like recipes that would be shared in the cannabis-centered subreddit r/stonerfood.
They also feel a little bit like foods that are the creation of "food hackers," a subgenre of social media influencers whose posts and videos deal with topics like secret menus and strategies for "hacking the menu" at various chain restaurants. That's how you end up with viral Starbucks drinks and creations like the Monster Mac (eight Big Macs stacked on top of each other) and Land-Sea-and-Air Burger (a Big Mac stuffed with fish and chicken patties).
As Jaya Saxena wrote in her recent Eater article "Hacked to Bits," in recent years, the menu hack has gone into overdrive.
In recent years, the menu hack has gone into overdrive.
"Proliferated by YouTube, Instagram and now TikTok as well as online ordering apps, these hacks are more complicated than ever — asking for two sauces or extra-crispy fries no longer cuts it," she wrote. "Videos detail ways to get cheaper burritos, rainbow layered lattes and Big Macs at half the normal price."
But Saxena reports that some menu hacks have become so popular that chains have added them to their permanent menus. One such example is the Starbucks Pink Drink, which was formally adopted by the chain after droves of customers used the online ordering app to request coconut milk instead of water in a Strawberry Acai Starbucks Refreshers beverage.
Starbucks wrote in a 2017 press release that the drink "first gained popularity last spring when the beverage customization took social media by storm."
"It has enjoyed much fandom online as Pink Drink lovers continue to share photos on social media channels using #pinkdrink," the release added.
It seems pretty inevitable that if McDonald's gives customers the building blocks for a doughnut burger, they will build doughnut burgers. It also seems pretty inevitable that someone will post a photo of one with the hashtag #McDonaldsDoughnutBurger and others will follow suit.
Whether McDonald's will fully embrace becoming the state fair of drive-thrus, however, remains to be seen.