The Short, Strange Life of McDonald's Pizza

CollectingCandy // Chloe Effron
CollectingCandy // Chloe Effron

In the 1980s, McDonald’s was as dominant as any fast food chain could hope to be. Possibly the world’s most-recognized brand, McDonald's was double the size of its closest competitor, owning nearly 40% of the $48 billion burger market. It had successfully branched out from cow-and-potato menu standards with the introduction of the Chicken McNugget. Before long, Happy Meals were being used everywhere to soothe the siren wails of hungry, manipulative children.

There was just one asterisk. McDonald's didn’t do dinner.

Specifically, its customers didn’t do dinner. Not there. Sacks of burgers were perceived as a lunchtime treat, something to be grabbed while speeding to or from the responsibilities of the day. When families got together in the evenings, they preferred to sit down, relax, and eat at a table rather than slumped over a steering wheel.

McDonald’s had been forced to break the mold before: In 1973, they attracted early-morning traffic by introducing the Egg McMuffin. Critics scoffed, but the sandwich was a breakfast phenomenon that led to an entire menu of a.m. options. There were millions—billions, even—to be earned in duplicating that success after 4 p.m.

It did not go unnoticed that the most sensational restaurant category in recent memory was pizza. Big chains like Pizza Hut and independent parlors were growing by 10 percent each year. Americans loved their pies. They also loved McDonald’s.

In 1986, word began to spread: McDonald's had secret plans to take a bite out of the ever-growing pizza industry.

It was not, for any real length of time, actually called "McPizza." That name was used for a calzone-style product that was tested briefly in the 1980s, presumably so drivers would be able to eat without being distracted by molten cheese in their lap. It was also not the only prototype: In Utah, one consumer, Jeff Terry, recalls picking up a cardboard pouch stuffed with a mini pie that had an expiration date embossed on the dough. Local parlors, he says, advertised that their pizza didn’t need to be dated for freshness.

None of these McPizzas evolved beyond regional testing, making it clear that the pizza itself could not be easily re-imagined to conform to the McDonald’s template. Instead, McDonald’s would have to conform to the pizza, upending their preparation model to accommodate the saucer-shaped dinner.

The company spent years developing a quick-cook oven (which was later patented) that used superheated air to take dough from frozen to crispy in under six minutes. Speed was a crucial component of the rollout—early commercials promised consumers had never had pizza "so good, so fast"—so diners wouldn't be tempted to stick with established chains or local pizzerias.

The oven made a solid pie, but it came at the expense of kitchen real estate: franchisees were going to have to remodel their restaurants to make room for the new equipment, including a warming bin.

Next came the problem of drive-thru orders. While McDonald’s planned to offer table service for family-sized pizzas indoors, a large box could not fit through many older drive-thru windows, which had to be expanded in order to accommodate the new menu selection. Executives also wanted a window that could show people near the cashier how their pies were being prepared. This, too, required more renovation, with stores stretching and contorting to handle the corporate strategy.

Expanded testing of the pizza began in 1989. Roughly 24 restaurants in or near Evansville, Indiana and Owensboro, Kentucky were selected to participate. After spending much of the decade tinkering, McDonald’s was ready to see if they could become the country’s biggest supplier of pizza. Unfortunately, not everyone shared that ambition.

"Don’t make a McStake," urged an advertisement for an Illinois-area Pizza Hut. As the world’s largest pizza chain, the idea that McDonald’s could use their sizeable footprint to muscle in on their business was unthinkable.

''Every place you see a McDonald's pizza, you're going to see a war,'' ad man Jack Levy told the New York Times in 1989.

Pizza Hut lobbed grenades, referring to the competition’s "McFrozen" dough and offering two-for-one pie deals. Even without their pressure, McDonald’s was having problems. Fast food was virtually their reason for existing, but the pizza service was glacial. Pizza insiders speculated their vaunted 5-minute prep time could wind up being 10 minutes or more once restaurants got busy. Sure enough, employees had to tell customers to park their car and wait for pizzas; patrons inside watched their hamburgers grow cold while politely waiting for a friend’s pie to finish baking. (It didn’t help that the company's own advertising featured a man reading a newspaper while waiting for his order.) McDonald’s sole advantage over the competition—expedited food—wasn’t happening.

There was also the matter of cost: at $5.99 to $8.99 a pie, consumers were being asked to spend far more than they had come to expect. Two pies for a family, plus drinks, could easily top $15.  

Still, the company refused to believe McDonald's-endorsed pizza could miss. By some estimates, pies expanded to nearly 40 percent of their restaurants in the early 1990s but disappeared just as quickly. They survived a little longer in Canada, with Howie Mandel hustling for the company in ads. In 2012, McDonald’s Canada came as close as the corporation ever has to publicly offering a reason for their pizza’s demise. In a response to a question posted on their web site:

“Although it was a popular menu item in Canada, the preparation time was about 11 minutes—which was way too long for us. Every McDonald's has a busy kitchen and the pizza slowed down our game. And since speed of service is a top priority and expected by our customers, we thought it best to remove this menu item. For now, our pizzas will have to remain a tasty bit of history.”

Jason Meredith, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Junk food nostalgia works in mysterious ways. Although McDonald’s pizza failed to meet the company’s expectations, its brief life made for some happy memories. In early 2015, a story on Canada.com went viral when it reported that two restaurants—one in Pomeroy, Ohio and one in Spencer, West Virginia—were still offering pizza to customers.  

Both locations are owned by the same franchisee, Greg Mills, who has ignored repeated requests by media for comment. But he’s likely not acting autonomously: menu items are screened by corporate headquarters. In order for McDonald’s pizza to still be served (even if it's not exactly the same recipe as before), the company must be offering approval on some level, possibly with an eye on revitalizing pizza. (In 2000, the company flirted with the idea of putting personal-sized pies into Happy Meals.)

If they do ever bring back the dish, it will still require some patience. Billy Wolfe, a reporter from the Charleston Daily Mail, wanted to try the now-mythological food and waited 10 minutes at the West Virginia location for his order to arrive. He brought the pies back to his office for a consensus, and while everyone fancied themselves a food critic (some said it was "bland" and the sauce was "a little too sweet," while Wolfe's take was that it "wasn’t offensive, but it wasn’t great"), all of the pieces were devoured, and one co-worker offered some apt perspective: "It's as good as McDonald's pizza could be."

10 Surprising Uses for Leftover Bananas

iStock
iStock

Bananas are practically the perfect fruit. They’re high in potassium and vitamins. They don’t need to be washed or sliced. They make a great healthy snack, but you can also put them in bread, ice cream, pie, and pancakes. What’s not to love?

Well, there’s one tiny problem—they go bad quickly. Bananas produce a large amount of a gas called ethylene, which causes fruit to ripen faster, meaning that there's a small window to enjoy them. Just because a bunch of bananas is past its prime doesn’t mean they can’t be used, though. Here are a few of the things you can do with ripe bananas.

1. TREAT BUG BITES.

Pressing the inside of a banana peel onto a bite from a mosquito or other insect for a few minutes is a surprisingly simple way to quell itching. In fact, some studies have shown that banana peels can help reduce irritation and inflammation [PDF, PDF]. The use of banana peels to treat inflammation is said to be an ancient Chinese remedy, but people around the world swear (with varying degrees of evidence) by the fruit’s ability to soothe poison ivy rashes, psoriasis, sunburn, and other skin maladies.

2. REMOVE A SPLINTER.

If tweezers aren’t getting that pesky splinter out, try a banana peel instead. Tape a piece of the peel onto the affected area (with the soft, inner side of the peel facing down) and leave it in place for about 10 minutes. The enzymes in the fruit should help to force the splinter out.

3. ATTRACT BUTTERFLIES AND HUMMINGBIRDS.

Once a common sight in the U.S., monarch butterflies are now difficult to spot. Their population has dwindled due to loss of habitat, but you can improve your chances of seeing them by placing an overripe banana out in your garden. They’re just soft and sweet enough for butterflies to enjoy (make sure to remove the bananas before you go to bed, though, or else you'll have animals like raccoons in your garden). You can also place bananas near a hummingbird feeder to attract fruit flies, which the birds feast on.

4. FERTILIZE PLANTS.

While you’re out in the garden feeding the birds and butterflies, give your plants some love, too. When cut-up banana peels are buried, they enrich the soil with nutrients and help nourish plants. You can also wrap a banana peel around a tomato plant to create a natural fertilizer.

5. POLISH LEATHER AND SILVER.

If you’re in need of a quick shoe shine, reach for the fruit bowl. The potassium in bananas make them a great, quick tool for polishing your leather. Simply buff the leather with the inside of a banana peel, and use a cloth to wipe it clean. The same technique can also be used to polish silver (though some recommend blending the banana peels into a paste and putting that on a cloth for polishing).

6. MAKE SMOOTHIES, SANS ICE.

Bananas have long been a staple in smoothies, but what if you have a whole bunch that’s about to go bad? Instead of throwing them out, stick them in the freezer. You can pull one out any time you get a smoothie craving, and since it’s frozen, you won’t even need to add ice.

7. MAKE NATURAL BEAUTY PRODUCTS.

Beauty products don’t have to be expensive. Bananas are a great ingredient in DIY hair treatments and skin exfoliants. The amino and citric acids help protect hair from damage and keep it shiny. There are a few different recipes you can try, some of which combine banana with avocado, yogurt, egg, and other ingredients. Rubbing the inside of a banana peel onto your face (seriously, try it) is also said to brighten your skin, fight acne, and reduce puffiness around your eyes.

8. PREVENT INFLAMED MUSCLES.

A recent study published in the journal PLOS One found that competitive cyclists who had consumed a banana instead of a sugary drink or water had less inflammation following their workout. Although other physicians cite the benefits of consuming bananas post-workout, the sample for this particular study was small—only 20 cyclists—and was funded by Dole Foods (although they had no role in any part of the study), so you might not want to swap out ibuprofen for bananas just yet—especially since the lead author told The New York Times that the banana led to “quite a bit of bloating,” so maybe best to not experiment on race day.

9. REPAIR A SCRATCHED DVD.

CDs and DVDs may be a dying technology, but many people still have a few lying around at home. If you have any discs that are scratched, you can try using toothpaste and banana to salvage them. First, rub toothpaste into the scratches with a cloth. Wipe it off, then rub a piece of banana onto the disc in a circular motion. Do the same thing with the banana peel and clean the disc with window cleaner. Whether or not this trick works will depend on how badly the disc is scratched, but it’s worth a shot!

10. TRY OUT SOME NEW RECIPES.

If a bunch of bananas is too ripe for your liking, try repurposing the fruit. There are hundreds of recipes that call for overripe bananas. The Food Network's Canadian site lists 83 recipes on its website, including chocolate chip banana pancakes, a peanut butter and banana oatmeal smoothie, and slow cooker banana upside down cake.

Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone Uses a $5 Tool to Clean His Grill

Tommaso Boddi, Getty Images for Rioja Wines
Tommaso Boddi, Getty Images for Rioja Wines

Every grill master knows that cleaning the grates of a barbecue is an essential step in the cooking process. If you forget to scrub off that caked-on char from your last cookout, any food you slap onto the grill will stick and fall apart when you try to flip it. Plus, all that dirt and grime will be an unwelcome addition to your meal. An easy way to avoid this is to give your grill a proper cleaning before you fire it up. And if you don't have a grill brush in your arsenal, a $5 tool you may already have at home will do just fine.

According to Eater, a regular paint scraper is the preferred grill-cleaning gadget of Curtis Stone. The Australian chef and TV personality is the owner of the restaurant Gwen in Los Angeles, which specializes in prime cuts of meat cooked over an open flame. He could use a professional grill brush if he ever chose to, but he tells Eater that a paint scraper is what he wields at home and in his restaurant.

Most commercial grill brushes come with wire bristles, but according to Stone, the scraping part attached to the top is the only feature that's useful. Not only is a paint scraper simpler, it's also compact enough to fit in a back pocket—a major plus for grillers who are prone to misplacing their cooking implements.

A basic grill brush can cost between $10 and $20, with the fancier versions selling for over $100. A metal paint scraper can be purchased from Amazon for $5.

[h/t Eater]

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