Sunday, August 03, 2008

Not-So-Haute Cuisine: Burger in a Box

Not long ago, my friend Arnold reviewed a not-so-excellent German-made canned cheeseburger on his excellent food blog, Inuyaki. I told him about its French counterpart - a microwaveable boxed cheeseburger - and promised him that, once I found the gumption to eat a microwaveable boxed cheeseburger, I'd review it.

In the weekend's utter boredom I found the time and motivation to engage this culinary aberration.

You would think that in a country known for its multitude of open-air markets, near-nationalistic zealotry for food, and strict agricultural and food processing laws that a microwaveable cheeseburger-in-a-box would be illegal, or at the very least, unpopular.

Au contraire, mon frère, I discovered it's somewhat of a pop culture phenomenon:

Video courtesy of

The burger's made by Charal, a company that apparently specializes in packaged meat products, not unlike Hormel in the US. If you go to the supermarket, there's almost always a Charal section in the reefer case, filled with vacuum-packed ground beef, steaks, pre-marinated meats, etc. It's about the furthest thing from going to a proper boucherie to get meat, but even food-snobby France can't resist modern convenience anymore.

Not opting for the whole family-pack of microwaveable cheeseburgers, I opted to pick up the single package, cleverly made to look like a fast food carton. It promises cheeseburger goodness in just 40 seconds in the microwave.

I read the instructions carefully, knowing this would likely be the only time I try something like this, and as such, I must do it right. The little "BAP!" exclamation next to the illustration of the microwave made me curious. "What does that mean?"

The directions call for 40 seconds in a 1000W microwave, but being that the tiny little Bosch in my tiny little kitchen only does 800W max, I adjusted the time up a bit. Not that this matters, because the timing mechanism isn't exactly a timepiece of Swiss-made accuracy.

After about 10 seconds, I learned what the "BAP!" was. It was a small explosion in the microwave.

I fully expected a blown-up mess of cheese and grey meat upon opening the package. Instead, I found a perfectly shaped burger with a perfectly shaped bun, sandwiched between two little metallic reflectors, which I assume help generate "proper," less microwavey heat.

The burger actually came out looking really good. At least, compared to a typical berguére from MacDo or Quick. The meat almost looked real, the cheese wasn't a gloppy mess, and there were actual slices of pickles!

I plated it and served it up with a fine bottle of 2008 Coca Cola, the kind with real sugar (as opposed to the awful vintages with high fructose corn syrup).

The verdict?

Not bad for something prepared in less time than it takes for me to pay for it.

But not particularly good, either. In fact, it tastes exactly like a White Castle burger. Which, if you're named Harold or Kumar or Billybob, I'm sure would suit you just fine. Personally, I like my burgers to taste more like actual beef and cheese. The bun is surprisingly decent, though, and the fact that I didn't feel like I was eating a microwave meal is a big bonus.

Would I do it again? Hell no. For the same price, I can go to the butcher and pick up a confit de canard thigh/leg, throw it in a skillet for a few minutes, and have a much better snack. But I have to admit, the sheer novelty was kinda cool.


  1. Just to know a little bit more about Charal. This brand is well-known in France to provide high quality meat. Even if it's somehow hard to imagine for a non-french native, we do eat sometimes easy food (i don't like to call it fast food (as we do in france) or junk food, easy seems a better word to describe that to me;)).
    In order to taste the real untasty plastic-like microwave burgers made in France, you'd better buy the same product but provided by the hard-discount retailers on their own name (such as Lidl, Leader Price...).

    Anyway, i do really prefer those home made BBQ burgers;)

    By the way, nice post. Do White Castle actually exists? I've seen the movie you're refering to (Harold and Kumar) Thx to US friends of mine (I'm not sure that i have to be that thankfull to them for that:)) and I must admit, the burgers looked great in the movie:)

  2. Thanks for the info, Daniel. I still prefer the butcher, but I suppose I won't be as afraid of Charal steaks if I'm ever in need of some quick meat!

    White Castle does actually exist, and I personally think their food is pretty awful, but they do have a lot of fans. And sometimes, for no good reason, a bunch of tiny little steamed burgers does sound good. Then again, sobriety has never been a strong suit.

    As for Leader Price - I learned my lesson badly one day, having bought a package of Leader Price crevettes. Owwwww...

  3. By the way (second time today...) I'm MaNieL from scoopeo.

    I really like your blog, keep on pointing your finger at those cultural differences you're experiencing in your everyday life in France. It's amazing, I like it.

    I don't know if you've heard of him, but there is a british writer, which name is Stephen Clarke, who's spent a lot of time in France and who does quite the same in his books. he describe french habits with a british eye. Just hillarious.

    some more about him and his books

  4. Just from the picture, that looks so much better than White Castle (which isn't a very high bar to achieve anyway). I'm glad you at least found it edible as opposed to repulsive. To be fair, I think the cheeseburger in a can is intended for backpackers, campers and other outdoorsy adventurers and not as a quick convenience food (which is why it requires a bain marie as opposed to a microwave).

    However, if I was camping and had to bring along a canned meat, you know it would have to be SPAM. Is even sold in France?

  5. @ SPAM and those awfull canned hamburgers are not sold in France, which is actually not so bad for us;)

  6. @ Arnold (i have forgotten your name in the last comment, sorry)