We’ve all been burned by fast-food advertising at one age or another. The people behind it are wizards. They use their craft to take banal dishes and turn them into something diners will fork over money for, even if they know better. The burger is never going to look as big, the hot dogs will never look as juicy and the fries will never look as golden as they do in commercials.
That’s okay. Fast food isn’t supposed to be pretty. As long as it looks like it’s in the general shape of what we’re expecting, we’ll eat it. Eating fast food means making certain concessions, plating and presentation being chief among them.
It's easy to see the appeal in the above image of Burger King’s Mac n’ Cheetos. The saturated color is the sweet spot between orange dusting and nuclear hazard, which is why the Mac n’ Cheetos look like plump versions of the finger-staining snack.
This is what they really look like:
Orange-tinted, corn-dog brown was not exactly what I was hoping for when I busted open the container, but it's what was inside the box.
Something called Mac n’ Cheetos probably isn’t supposed to look great. Bonus points to the fast-food advertising wizards for making me get my hopes up a little, though.
Cheetos are so familiar in our culture that we’re long past thinking that both the crunchy and puffy variants are just plain weird. It’s actually a really good thing that we don’t have to describe them, because the best description is “a Frito that went on a bender and got into a fight at a cheese dehydration plant.” That doesn’t roll off the tongue at all. Cheetos are simply those orange things that we all know by sight, smell and stained fingers — and that have almost nothing to do with Burger King’s Mac n’ Cheetos.
Admittedly, if you hold them up to your nose and breathe in, you will catch a faint hint of Cheetos aroma, but that’s about it when it comes to connections between the snack and this mac- and cheese-stuffed knockoff. The color isn’t right, the shape isn’t right and the flavors don’t have anything to do with Cheetos.
That is not to say that they’re bad. Aside from maybe using them as a topping on a burger, there's no telling what to pair them with from the Burger King menu, but, taken on their own, they taste fine enough. The mac and cheese itself is good, a few notches above the stuff people ate during their grade school years. If these had been marketed as deep-fried mac and cheese bites without the Cheetos connection, they’d be a perfectly serviceable, albeit weird addition to the Burger King lineup.
However, it’s the outside batter where it all goes weird. It’s not crunchy, which after “orange” and “cheese” is probably the most important defining characteristic of a Cheeto, and it’s not really cheesy. There are notes of cheese, but we’re talking fast food, not wine, and something like this should hit you with a sledgehammer of cheesy goodness. This is more a faint breeze of cheese, at best.
They’re also a little too expensive. At $2.49 for five pieces, Burger King is asking for 50 cents per piece of not-quite-cheesy-goodness. The price would need to drop to $1.49 for five to be worth it, unless the chain is planning on taking the entire thing back to the drawing board, which maybe it should. Even a five-year-old knows the magic of chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. The Mac n’ Cheetos don’t even pair well with chicken fries, and that is further proof that this experiment was no good.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.