The last time I doubted an item on Burger King's new "Summer BBQ Menu," the King delivered the best fast-food dessert I've ever had. The bacon sundae was such a pleasant surprise that I suspended my general skepticism regarding overly ambitious fast food and headed back in to sample some of the other seasonal specials.
The SE burger cartel has already weighed in on the new Whopper flavors, so I skipped those in favor of the Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and both the Carolina and Texas versions of the BBQ Tendergrill Chicken sandwiches.
The pulled pork was disappointing, even by the necessarily forgiving standards of the fair-minded fast-food pork reviewer. I'm equipped to enjoy this kind of thing: I like McRibs, and not in the hyperbolic manner of their creepy nostalgia-fetish fans. I just find the McRib to be a credible effort to provide decent mass-produced quick-serve pork on the cheap. I wish I could say the same about the Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork, but alas, with this sad sandwich BK has squandered all the porky goodwill they built up with the bacon sundae.
The "toasted artisan-style bun" is pretty good. Its high-concept grooved crown and borderline crunchy exterior over downright squishy guts might be out of place in the world of real barbecue, but this world is not that world, and this bun is the highlight of the operation.
The bread houses a generous portion of a bad thing: This pork carried very little pig essence; the bulk of the flavor came from a couple of sauces. The meat was mixed into a mediocre red sauce that could have used more tang and less sugar. I like sweet BBQ sauce, but this was too much. I didn't notice any of the alleged hickory-smoked flavor, either. (The sauce is rumored to be Sweet Baby Ray's, but it wasn't branded as such at my BK and Sweet Baby's name is not invoked on the website.) The second sauce was a glowing eggshell-colored gel spread across the top bun. In Memphis they often top pulled pork with coleslaw. This sauce was the color of some coleslaws and also seemed to contain some vinegar; otherwise it served mainly to glue the pickles and white onion slices in place.
The biggest problem was the pork's texture. It may indeed have been pulled at some point, but by the time it reached my tray it had been smashed into a dense and fibrous puck of pig that resembled a haphazardly chopped McRib patty. The disturbing density pushes this otherwise forgettable sandwich into the memorably bad category.
Both chicken sandwiches were better than the pork, though they were also marred by heavy compression of the main meat. The chicken tasted fine in both cases, but it was too chewy and seemed more like amalgamated meat than single hunks from single breasts. The Texas BBQ Tendergrill was topped with lettuce, tomato, very good pickled jalapenos, yellow cheese, and red onion. The "smoky and spicy Texas BBQ sauce" wasn't prominently featured or heavily flavored, but it did have noticeably more kick than the Memphis pork version. (If the Memphis sauce is ketchup with sugar, this is ketchup with sugar and vinegar.) This sandwich is more about the toppings than the sauce or even the chicken. There's a lot going on here, some might say too much, but most of it works.
The Carolina rendition was heavier on the sauce, which resembled a sweet and lightly spicy mustard-mayo hybrid with a hint of honey. It's odd that Burger King would trot out two different versions of a whitish "sweet southern sauce," but this struck me as distinctly better than the stuff on the pork. I could be stupid or schizophrenic, or they could be different sauces, or they could be the same sauce that shows differently depending on the context. At any rate, the Carolina Tendergrill, like the Texas one, leans heavily on the toppings, which in this case were lettuce, tomato, red onion, pepper jack cheese (which, as noted by Erin J. in her Carolina Whopper review, lacked pepper), and two slices of bland, limp bacon that got lost in the shuffle.
Overall, the new flavors seem to work better with chicken than with Whoppers, though I agree with Erin's finding that the new sweet potato fries are the best thing the King's come up with this summer. Says her: "Crisp on the outside, and sweet and fluffy on the inside, these spuds were easily as good as the ones I've had at restaurants where you can't eat your meal wearing a paper crown." Other than the fact that I will wear a paper crown any-damn-where I please, I concur.