Who can forget where they were when they first learned of the Wendy’s Baconator? Perhaps one of the most iconic fast food burgers ever, the Baconator helped put Wendy’s back on the high burger sales map after a long period of struggling to compete with brands like McDonald’s. The Ohio-based fast food chain, which opened its first restaurant in Columbus back in 1969, started selling the Baconator in June of 2007. By March of 2008, it had sold over 68 million of the bacon cheeseburgers. This just in: that’s a LOT of burgers.
While Wendy’s advertising icon and founder Dave Thomas passed away in 2002, the company has always been determined to uphold his original mission of never using frozen meat, and that includes bacon. The Baconator touted a fresh heaping portion of bacon and beef, and those ingredients have kept people coming back. What makes the Baconator such a mainstay? And why is the name "Baconator" so darn memorable? Let’s dive into the untold truth of the Wendy’s bacon cheeseburger legend.
The Baconator was an attempt to revive Wendy’s after Dave Thomas died
The Baconator was launched in 2007 as part of an effort to revive Wendy’s in the wake of its founder Dave Thomas’ death in 2002. Back then, the number three burger chain was flailing and offers were on the table from rival companies. The chain had suffered with lower sales for a few years after Thomas passed, and those who are old enough to remember might be able to understand why. His appearances in Wendy’s commercials were always heart-warming and fun to watch. The company couldn’t seem to match the marketing magic that was Dave Thomas, until the genius invention and very catchy-named Baconator.
Dave Thomas left a lasting legacy, of course. Former Wendy’s head honcho Kerrii Anderson told The New York Times in 2007, "The legacy of Dave Thomas creates a powerful foundation for Wendy’s and allows my job to be easier." Dave Thomas would’ve done a killer Baconator commercial though.
The Baconator was developed to appeal to men
In 2007, when then Wendy’s CEO Kerrii Anderson helped roll out the Baconator, she openly admitted that the meat-lovers mecca of a sandwich was definitely designed to appeal to a particular demographic — 18- to 34-year-old males, which at the time were the most common fast food consumers. The Baconator vision was dreamed up while Wendy’s was trying to reinvigorate both its menu and its marketing. The efforts paid off and the sandwich definitely boosted the brand’s status, and in 2008, Anderson reported that Wendy’s was developing a "Go Wrap" chicken sandwich to its "snack and value" menu, but this time in an effort to appeal to women. While nowadays this might seem like a bit of a gender stereotyping kind of ploy, we guess the numbers regarding men and fast food at the time didn’t lie.
While those wraps didn’t stand the test of time, 13 years later, the Baconator is still holding strong. So do we have young, cheeseburger lovin’ bros to thank for the Baconator? Yes, it seems as though we do.
Wendy’s sold 25 million Baconators in two months
To say the Baconator took the fast food world by storm when it first arrived would be a bit of an understatement. The bacon cheeseburger arrived in a full-on blaze of glory. Within two months of initially promoting the now-iconic Wendy’s bacon cheeseburger, the company sold 25 million sandwiches to hungry meat-eaters. In the summer of 2007, a few months after the Baconator mania took hold, then CEO Kerrii Anderson told Business Wire, "This is one of the most successful new product introductions we’ve had in some time."
Commercials from the fall of 2007 really hit home on just how popular the Baconator was. The biggest selling points were, well, the bacon, and the longstanding Wendy’s promise of fresh, never frozen, beef. It furthered this message with famous ads like the Kicking Trees commercial, which was the most-watched TV commercial of June 2007, and in a way, cross-promoted the Baconator by reiterating that anything involving beef from Wendy’s was gonna be fresh and tasty. The massive success of the Baconator in its early launch was no doubt a part of Wendy’s revival both in sales and advertising.
Wendy’s tried to push a spicy Baconator but it didn’t work
Look, not everyone can be the Baconator. We’re looking at you, Spicy Baconator (RIP, we barely knew ye). In March of 2008, Wendy’s tried to top its Baconator success story with another Baconator success story. The chain extended its Baconator line with a spicier version of the cheeseburger. Long story short, it’s not on the menu today. We know … awkward!
While the commercials were cute, for some reason, Americans just didn’t take to the spicy version of the bacon-on-beef classic. A New York-based food critic NYC Food Guy certainly didn’t give the burger a glowing review. He wrote, "The jalapeños and chipotle ranch sauce soggied [sic] up the top bun while overpowering the entire burger with slightly spicy acidity." Needless to say, it didn’t get the same warm welcome as the Baconator. Wendy’s does serve a few variations of the Bacon Jalapeño Cheeseburger, though.
The Baconator had its first "child" in 2012
In 2012, Wendy’s tried to quell the concerns of folks who really wanted a Baconator but couldn’t bring themselves to justify consuming a half a pound of beef plus six slices of bacon in one sitting. So for those who wanted a little less pork and beef, Wendy’s launched a baby Baconator, dubbed the "Son of Baconator." Isn’t that cute?
The mini version of the Baconator made you feel a little less guilty than a full Baconator, serving up much less hefty burger patties (two 2.25-ounce beef slabs versus two quarter-pounders) and four instead of six slices of bacon. The Son of Baconator is alive and well, still on the Wendy’s menu today, but only has four ounces of beef, as opposed to 4.5 ounces total. It also only has 670 calories while its Dad, the original Baconator, has 960. Hey, a 290 calorie difference can be a deal-breaker for calorie-counting folks!
A "Top Chef" contender might have helped invent Baconator fries
According to popular food blogger L.A. Foodie, Wendy’s Baconator Fries were the result of a culinary collaboration bonded by a common love for bacon. The blogger reports being invited to hang with Top Chef star (from season four of Top Chef and then season eight of Top Chef All-Stars) Spike Mendelsohn at a Southern California Wendy’s location in August of 2015. Both food lovers got behind the grill at this new Wendy’s outpost and decided to enhance many a Wendy’s menu item with, you guessed it, more bacon.
Mendelsohn supposedly enhanced the Baconator by making a chili cheese version of the cheeseburger, after he had already added some bacon to the chili. Then they doused some fries with cheese and bacon and called it a day — a day forever known as the one where Baconator Fries proudly entered the world. The fries were supposedly limited time only when they were first introduced in 2015 but as of this publishing, they’re on the Wendy’s menu ready for consumption.
Burger King’s version is a little too close for comfort
Okay, Burger King, the Whopper is yours and it always will be. Nobody is trying to take that away from you. So, in turn, you gotta let Wendy’s have the Baconator, and all its proprietary glory. When Burger King started selling the Bacon King burger in 2016, it felt like shade had officially been thrown at Wendy’s. The cheeseburger was eerily similar— half a pound of beef topped with lots of bacon, cheese, ketchup, and mayo.
According to Chron. writer Ken Hoffman, when he first compared the two, the only difference he could detect was a few more cheese slices on the Bacon King and the presence of sesame seeds on the bun (the Baconator’s bun was/is sesame seed-less). The Bacon King is still on the menu at Burger King, but it’s safe to say it’s nowhere near the Baconator’s status in terms of fast food bacon cheeseburger royalty, despite the (obviously ripped) similarities.
A West Virginia resident used a Baconator to hide drugs
The Baconator is great for satiating any intense bacon cravings you might have; filling up your stomach on a long road trip; and, oh, stashing your weed when the cops come rolling through to search your car. Actually, scratch that last part. It turns out stuffing drugs in a burger isn’t effective for avoiding citation for drug possession.
In 2016, police in Milton, West Virginia got a call about a shady-seeming car milling about in a Wendy’s parking lot. The car contained four individuals and some Wendy’s grub. The police’s K-9 allegedly snuffed out the marijuana, which police reported was "hiding" in a Baconator. The suspect in question tried to claim that a Wendy’s employee must’ve put the pot in the cheeseburger. Good one. The ole "the fast food worker put weed in between the buns" excuse works every time (it doesn’t). As the Milton Police Department put it on their Facebook account, "Wendys.com shows that marijuana is not a standard ingredient for a Baconator."
There are at least 7 fast food burgers with more calories
One would initially assume that there can’t possibly be anything un-healthier than the Baconator, which is a half-pound of beef topped with six slices of bacon and American cheese, plus mayonnaise, ketchup, and a white-flour "premium bun." However, there are actually at least seven contenders for the title of, "More Unhealthy Than America’s Most Famous Bacon Cheeseburger."
According to the dedicated healthy eating brand Eat This, Not That!, of those seven really unhealthy fast food burgers that have more calories and fat than the Baconator, the biggest offender is the Triple Meat Whataburger from Whataburger. It weighs in at 1,885 calories, 84 grams of fat, and 2,080 mg of sodium, while the Baconator only (ha, only) has 960 calories, 66 grams of fat, and 1,540 mg of sodium. While we’re of the mindset that if you’re going to really enjoy a burger on occasion, maybe it’s best to throw caution to the wind and enjoy the extra calories, it’s still interesting to see seven other burgers ranked worse for your health than the Baconator, since the Baconator tends to take a lot of heat for its potential artery cloggin’ ways.
The long-anticipated breakfast Baconator didn’t emerge until 2020
Wendy’s has a troubled history when it comes to breakfast. The chain tried to initially launch a breakfast menu in 1985 but pulled the plug after just nine months of slinging eggs. It tried in earnest to serve breakfast again in 2007 and then again in 2012 but still couldn’t quite gain Egg McMuffin-level traction.
We now surmise what the problem was all along — there wasn’t a Baconator breakfast option! Cut to September of 2019 when Wendy’s once again announced plans to give breakfast another go. In February of 2020, the morning menu offerings started cropping up again at the chain’s outposts. They included a Breakfast Baconator and a Frosty-ccino, in perhaps another effort to capitalize on what they know already works (peeps do love their Wendy’s Frosty post-real meal). Wendy’s president Kurt Kane described the Baconator breakfast sandwich fillings as, "a fresh-cracked egg, signature sausage patty and six strips of Applewood smoked bacon." Hey, just don’t call it a comeback … actually, in this case, you probably can.
There is a Pringles flavor dedicated to the Baconator
Nothing cements a menu item in the fast food hall of fame quite like an official Pringles flavor, and you’d be surprised just how many Pringles flavors are possible. In June of 2020, Wendy’s and Pringles announced they were partnering to make a bacon, cheese, and beef-flavored chip. We never thought bacon cheeseburgers from a tube in crunch form was something we needed but alas, it’s hard to deny that this is an excellent flavor combo, and potato chips are pretty much always a win.
Wendy’s has, of course, created an app and is offering incentives for using it too — and one of those incentives incorporates the Pringles partnership. You can score a free Baconator, Son of Baconator, or Breakfast Baconator with any order on the app if you enter a code found under the lid of a can of Baconator Pringles, which are available anywhere you normally purchase Pringles, except maybe airplanes. The fancy flavored Pringles don’t usually make it to the sky stock.