[Photographs: Above, Jack in the Box; others, Erin Jackson]
If you watched the Superbowl on Sunday, you might have noticed ads for the new Hot Mess burger ($4.29) from Jack in the Box. It’s made with a seasoned beef patty topped with melted white cheddar, pepper jack cheese sauce, onion rings, and sliced jalapeños on toasted sourdough.
The San Diego-based chain has a history of debuting items during the Superbowl, but this is the first time in a few years that the new burger is legitimately new—not like the All-American Jack, which was really just an Ultimate Cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato (lame). The Superbowl spots are part of a huge online marketing push around the burger, which includes t-shirts, song downloads, and a MySpace page for Meat Riot the fictional band whose hit “Hot Mess” is featured in the commercial’s soundtrack. There’s also a $1 off coupon if you’re tempted to try it.
Even though the burger doesn’t visually measure up to the publicity shot, it’s still one of the most promising burgers Jack has released in quite some time, even with some execution issues. The jumbo seasoned patty actually has some depth of flavor, the combo of jalapeño slices with the melted cheddar and gooey pepper jack cheese sauce is delicious, and the sourdough bread is a major improvement over the standard-issue bun, both in terms of flavor and how well it stands up to all the melted cheese. Speaking of which, I’d ditch the onion rings. The coating is too scant to take on the gobs of hot cheese, and they quickly turn limp and soggy.
The issue this burger runs into is properly portioning and arranging the ingredients. A little of the cheese goes a long way, and because almost all of the jalapeño slices on my burger were fenced in by an onion ring, every bite was totally different, and only a few achieved the perfect balance between beef, cheese, and pepper. Then again, this is the Hot Mess we’re talking about, so a precisely executed burger with jalapeños delicately placed just so with tweezers was never going to happen. You get exactly what you order.
While you’re at it, try the Hot Mess wedges ($2.79)—crisp potato wedges topped with all of the same ingredients as the burger. They’re tasty in that way that anything with salt, fat, starch, and a touch of spice is always pretty good, even if it’s a bit sleazy. Eat them quick, before the cheese sauce congeals. There’s also an overly sweet hot cinnamon shake, but I wouldn’t recommend it based on the fact that I couldn’t get through more than a third of the tiny sample size portion before feeling dizzy and more than a little pukey.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she’s @ErinJax.