The McDonald’s McDLT: George Costanza Takes on the Whopper

Hey, who here likes hot lettuce? No one, I’m assuming, and McDonald’s made a big decision on this massive issue in the 80s with the McDonalds McDLT. 

The McDonalds McDLT was a burger that competed with the Whopper in 1984. The burger was served in a two-part compartment to keep the hot side hot, and the cold side cold. It would be discontinued in the early 90s when it became the Big N’ Tasty.

This McDLT was McDonald’s’ chance to go up against the enormous success of the Whopper, solve a problem, and use a future sitcom superstar to do so.

This is a look back at the McDonalds McDLT, the burger that would become 4 different versions of itself. 

P.S. Hot Lettuce would also make a great band name…

What Was The McDonalds McDLT?

Good artists borrow, great artists steal – Pablo Picasso.

The McDonald’s McDLT was their answer to the very popular Whopper put out by Burger King. But McDonald’s wanted to take care of a problem with their new “creation.” Wouldn’t it be great if every Mcdonald’s burger came with a small oven for the burger, and a small refrigerator for the lettuce and tomato?

You just got in the minds of the product development team for McDonald’s in the 1980s.

In fairness, this is a legit concern that many fast-food diners have: no one likes hot slimy lettuce and vegetables in their burgers. Even though it’s a small problem–it’s still a problem. How do you keep the burger as fresh and crispy as possible?

The burger they came up with was simple. It was based around being a BLT but swapping out the bacon for a burger. It also contained:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Pickles
  • Sliced onion
  • American cheese

The McDLT would come in a unique styrofoam packaging–called the double clamshell container–that would keep the meat and bottom bun on one side, and the lettuce, tomato, cheese, other toppings, and top bun on the other side. The customer would then have to put the burger together. 

This seemed a little labor-intensive. Who am I, Gordon Ramsay?

The McDonalds McDLT Commercial

Nothing has ever captured a product better than the McDonalds McDLT commercial. It introduced us to a young Jason Alexander who would go on to play George Costanza: one of the greatest characters in television history.

If you’re not familiar with his past, Jason Alexander is a notable Broadway performer. He even won a Tony Award in 1989 for his work in “Jerome Robinson’s Broadway.”

The point is, despite the bumbling nature of his most famous character, Jason Alexander is the legit triple threat who can sing, dance, and act. And who better to use all those talents to help advertise the McDLT!

What you get in this 1985 gem of a commercial, is the most extravagant, over the top, Broadway performance in a 30-second spot. In case you have never seen this, just check it out…

I love the exaggerated moves that lead from scene to scene and the overabundance of enthusiasm. It’s like Rent and Glee got together to sell an alternative to the Whopper.

But wait, there’s more!

It’s not all just Jason Alexander, another future sitcom icon would lend her talents to launching the McDLT in 1987: Janet Hubert aka the original Aunt Viv from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

The Success of the McDLT

So the McDLT was launched in 1984 and was a pretty decent hit. It sold for only $1.49 which is about $3.60 when converted for today. This was a decent value as you knew that your burger was at least somewhat fresh and everything hadn’t been microwaved altogether. 

As over the top as the commercial was, the jingle was pretty memorable and people were focused on the idea of “keeping the hot side hot, and the cool side cool.” The commercial went just beyond George and Aunt Viv; Aretha Franklin and Jerry Butler also appeared in various McDLT commercials. 

McDonald’s was doing pretty well in the 80s with new food items. The Happy Meal was now an established thing, and Chicken McNuggets were a fun new creation. (click those links to read my blogs all about them)

The McDLT was doing alright for itself, and would last until the end of the decade, but environmental issues put the kibosh on the whole thing. 

Environmental Issues & Becoming the Big n’ Tasty

The 1980s were not exactly a time of environmental awareness. Just look at the size of some of those gas guzzling monstrosities we called cars back then. But as the decade came to a close, people were becoming more conscientious of environmental issues.

And this would be a problem for the McDLT.

The styrofoam packaging that the burger came in was seen as unnecessary, wasteful, and harmful to the environment. McDonald’s wants to avoid any kind of public backlash so they discontinued the McDLT in December, 1990.

By January 1991, McDonald’s had fully moved away from the polystyrene packaging. The problem was, it could no longer be the McDLT they had advertised; the one that had all the fresh ingredients. This led to a full overhaul of the burger which would create a few more variations of itself over the years. 

The McLean Deluxe

The first version they came up with was the McLean Deluxe. Not only did it come in a single cardboard container, it had a few ingredient changes from the original McDLT. It came without mayonnaise and was promoted as a lower fat burger.

The mayonnaise taken out cut down on the fat content, and the patty itself was made with carrageenan which replaced the beef fat in the patty. THe McLean Deluxe did pretty well with test audiences, but really didn’t catch on when it was rolled out. It did last until 1996, but the dwindling sales led to another change.

So they replaced it with…

The Arch Deluxe

The Arch Deluxe was McDonald’s attempt to appear to a more “adult crowd,” whatever the hell that means. The Arch Deluxe was a more sophisticated burger, and how do you make something more sophisticated? Dijon mustard of course!

Dijon has somehow risen the ranks to becoming the Rolls Royce of condiments. Either way, this was seen at creating a more high=end burger that still had its roots in the McDLT.

The other big change was the bun. With the Arch Deluxe, McDonald’s went with a higher quality roll which again feels like all you need to do to make something more “adult.”

Shockingly, McDonalds does not seem to appeal to the elite of society and the Arch Deluxe died a slow death before being discontinued in 1998. 

And that brings us to…

The Big N’ Tasty

Pretty gutsy of McDonalds to market a product with the name “Big N’ Tasty.” But they are a bold company. The BIg N’ Tasty would be the final iteration of the McDLT and was introduced in 1997.

THis burger kept the legacy of the McDLT going for quite a few years and became a big hit around the world. You may remember the Box Xtra depending where you lived at that time. The Big Xtra was released on the East coast and the Big N’ Tasty on the West coast. They were launched at the same time to get a feel for what people liked best.

The BIg N’ Tasty won out and rolled out nationally in the year 2000 (Conan O’Brien voice…). You may not remember this, but the Big N’ Tasty was on the dollar menu for McDonald’s and considered one of their flagship burgers.

The Big N’ Tasty is also interesting because the national campaign in 2001 featured a young NBA star named Kobe Bryant in one of his first big commercial endorsements. 

The Big N’ Tasty was eventually bumped off the dollar menu for the double cheeseburger in 2003. By 2011, the BIg N’ Tasty went to the big BBQ in the sky when it was officially removed from the menu on January 1st.

Today it is still available at a few locations.

Final Thoughts

You probably didn’t think that the McDonalds McDLT had such a long and sordid journey did you? Through all the different versions, the core of the burger was still the same, and if it wasn’t for the packaging issue, could have still been sold till this day.

Either way, the McDLT technically had a run from 1984 to 2011. And we get to look back on it fondly through its existence in one of the most outlandish fast-food commercials you will ever see.