Many fast food restaurants step up their grilled menu offerings for summer. But are the grill marks you see on the food really from sizzling on a grate over an open flame? It’s no secret that stylists utilize tricks of the trade to make food appear more appetizing in commercials, but what about in real life? Turns out, you might not be getting grilled meat at all—here’s why.
Faking the char:
For consumers, it’s often about visual perception over the actual taste when it comes to grilled fast food. Food stylist Claudia Ficca shared with Thrillist that: “It’s important to see the grill marks [on food products] because that is what makes it ‘grilled.’ Even if the brand uses a smoke flavor and doesn’t actually grill the meat, in advertising and on packaging the grill marks work as a visual cue for the consumer.”
A lot of the frozen meat that ends up in chain restaurants goes through a branding machine that applies near-perfect grill marks onto the product before it’s frozen and packaged. These pre-made grill marks save time for line cooks in the kitchen, but give the same visual appearance to customers. (But did you know that grill marks aren’t all they’re hyped up to be? Here’s why.)
This philosophy extends past fast food menus to the frozen section of the grocery store, too. Many frozen foods are treated by the same branding process.
The real grillers:
Not all fast food restaurants use grill stamps on their patties. Burger King, for example, is one of the largest chains that flame-grills their beef—and has been doing so since 1954.
As for chicken, in a report by Fast Company, the only restaurant found to actually grill their poultry in-house was Chick-fil-A for their Grilled Chicken Sandwich. (This is why the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich is so dang good.)