Serious Eats

Fast Food: Taco Bell Triple Steak Stack

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[Photograph: Alice Gao]

Taco Bell began the year defending themselves against allegations of false beefertizing, and although the lawsuit filed by an Alabama firm was eventually dropped, you never fully win a war that compels your website to add a tab titled "What Are These 'Other' 12% Ingredients?"

At the risk of sounding like an apologist for the beef extension industry, I'm on Taco Bell's side here. Their taco filling, which they call "seasoned beef," is 88 percent cheap beef and 12 percent the other kinda crap anyone with his head in the game might expect to find in a fast-food taco.

My favorite "seasoned beef" guest stars are oatmeal (to retain moisture) and cocoa powder (to make the oatmeal beef-colored). Maybe you're partial to soy lecithin or trehalose. Either way, it's not as if these crazy-named adjuncts are the ground-up bits of your favorite childhood pet; they're just standard elements of the fast food hustle. Anyone who rings the Taco Bell ought to have surmised beforehand that something a little untenderloin could be involved with a beef taco that nets you change from a Washington.

But if my defense of Taco Bell is based on the notion that a sub-buck burrito is going to come with a certain degree of mystery and modified corn starch, what's to be made of the new Triple Steak Stack? This baby costs $4.99, making it one of the more expensive standalone items on the fast food market.

The triple refers to the portion of steak: It's 4.5 ounces of "100% USDA Select marinated, grilled steak," which is three standard tacos' worth. In a bold departure for the chain, the steak stands mostly alone. It's augmented by a three-cheese blend (standard mozzarella, cheddar, and AmeriJack) and stuffed inside what they're calling a bolillo flatbread.

That's it. No onions or peppers, no lettuce or tomato, no pico de this or guaca-that. You are free to adulterate your Triple Steak Stack with the usual array of Taco Bell sauce, but for research purposes I went missionary.

In-store advertising proudly points out that the TTS is nine inches long. It makes sense that they'd appropriate Subway's ruler to describe what is essentially a steak and cheese sandwich, but the only fast food weight or measure that matters to me is gross tonnage, and the Triple checks out OK in that department. It's a bit thinner than most top-shelf Taco Bell offerings due to the lack of vegetables, beans, or rice, but it's still a fair portion of beef and cheese.

The bread was served medium-soggy and got damper as it cooled. It's thick for a folded sandwich (about ΒΌ inch), slightly sweet, and mostly bland. A short stretch on a grill or in a press could have smartened it right up, but as served, the limpness obscures the passable flavor.

If you eat it as the taco gods intended, the next layer you hit is the steak, but if you unfold it for research purposes, your immediate post-bread encounter is with an overgenerous spread of melted three-cheese. There's too much of the stuff, which would be a blessing if it were any good, but it's devoid of flavor other than extreme saltiness.

My three-ingredient lunch was off to a fatal two-strike start before I had a chance to consider the steak, which was a pleasant surprise if not a saving grace. It was cut to the ideal sandwich size: strips of about an inch by a half-inch by an eighth. It was tender without being mushy, and the marinade was peppery and reminiscent of a better brand of quickie mart beef jerky.

In light of the high price and troubles with bread and cheese, I can't recommend the Triple Steak Stack, but I will say that Taco Bell is ending the year in good beef standing.

About the author: Will Gordon loves life and hates mayonnaise. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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