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Inside McDonalds’ Secret Test Kitchen

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

david_highfield David Highfield
You may have seen David at the anchor desk or reporting in the field,...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s a menu most of us have ordered from.

There are some iconic items and some new ones.

But how does McDonald’s come up with its menu?

KDKA traveled to the company’s headquarters outside of Chicago, Ill. It’s the home of Hamburger University, where restaurant managers are trained.

And nearby, in another building, is McDonalds’ top secret test kitchen.

“It starts here,” said Chef Jessica Foust.

Foust is in charge of developing new items.

“We go to the grocery store, we buy some ingredients and we play around with the food,” she said.

But to know what direction to go, they pay close attention to customers, even checking out people’s tweets.

Some of the menu additions she’s most excited about are oatmeal, applewood-smoked bacon and smoothies, including blueberry pomegranate flavor.

“Who would have thought we’d have pomegranate in our menu years ago?” Foust asks. “But now we do.”

It turns out, the company tested that flavor in Pittsburgh before deciding to launch it nationwide.

But that recipe was actually invented at McDonald’s in Canada.

The McWrap also started in another country and, despite its tortilla, it wasn’t Mexico.

“The original idea actually came from Poland,” Foust said.

It turns out, McDonald’s has slightly different menus in other countries.

Even in different parts of the U.S. In Hawaii, you can get a Spam with eggs and rice for breakfast. The McLobster is sold in Maine.

Sometimes those regional favorites become national ones, such as Shamrock Shakes and the McRib sandwich.

And there’s always lots of testing involved.

After leaving the kitchen, Chef Foust takes us down Big Mac Boulevard, the hallways on the McDonald’s campus have names like that.

Another important step happens inside the Sensory Evaluation Center.

That is where taste testing goes on. People sit on one side of a wall with little windows. Someone on the other side will push up a window and put out two items that are to be tested.

The taste testers just see arms mysteriously pushing food toward them.

“It really happens like that,” Foust said.

Specifically, one room is to make sure food from a certain supplier doesn’t affect a product’s taste.

McDonald’s also says 70 percent of its business is from the drive-thru.

“So we have to make sure we can meet that demand and not slow-up the drive-thrus,” Foust said.

Which means it’s really important that everything can be made in 60 seconds or less. As an example, KDKA’s David Highfield was given a lab coat and told to assemble a Big Mac – appropriate, since it was invented in Western Pennsylvania.

First, you have to cook some burgers in a clam shell grill, which cuts the need to flip them.

Then, after toasting the buns, and some instruction, it was time.

After a moment of panic, Highfield was able to create a slightly messier version of the classic hamburger.

WEB EXTRA: Watch David make a Big Mac!


(This was a practice run before David’s timed Big Mac assembly.)

And, as for the future, in California, McDonald’s is testing having people order with iPads. You select a bun, choice from three cheeses and 20 gourmet toppings. If it goes well, it could go national.

Foust says expect some items, like the Egg White Delight, to take on a traditional item, in this case, the Egg McMuffin.

“I really love our smoothies and the yogurt in the smoothies,” Foust said. “I would also love to see more yogurt on the menu in general.”

But she says they won’t abandon the classics.

“I will never get rid of fries and a Big Mac,” she said. “They’re delicious.”

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