The fast food chain is testing a new broiler designed to save time, energy, and money, and - some say - makes the Whopper taste
better. Fortune's Matt Boyle reports.
By Matthew Boyle, Fortune writer
October 12 2007: 1:44 PM EDT
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- At Burger King, flame broiling will never be the same again. After spending three years in development, the number-two fast food chain is quietly rolling out powerful new broilers that reduce utility costs, produce hotter, juicier W hoppers, and could allow Burger King to expand its menu to include items like rib-eye steak sandwiches and shrimp kebabs.
But not all franchisees are on board yet, which could trip up the Miami-based company as it looks to build on the turnaround orchestrated by new CEO John Chidsey over the past 17 months, during which the company's stock price has risen over 50%. There's also a huge risk involved in tinkering with something so central to a brand's identity - Burger King (Charts) has been known for flame broiling since its founding in 1954.
The so-called "flexible batch broilers," currently in all 897 company-owned restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, represent a great leap forward from Burger King's old broilers, many of which have been around for decades.
Designed in 2004 by Burger King engineers who studied half a dozen prototypes before settling on the winning design, the new broilers cook food all at once in batches - say, eight Whoppers at a time - rather than having to constantly feed patties into a moving, conveyor-belt system. The new broilers are also fully enclosed, not open to the air, allowing them to heat up quicker.
In fact, the new self-contained broilers heat up so fast and run so hot that in a typical cooking cycle, the three separate burners (two on top, one on the bottom) will turn on and off multiple times. Cooking times and temperatures are pre-programmed, so employees only have to push a button.
By not having all the...