Is A Homemade Cheeseburger More Cost Effective Than A McDonald's One?

Nope. It sure isn’t, but Trent at the Simple Dollar makes a good case for why you should just make yourself a cheeseburger. He went to McDonald’s, bought a cheeseburger and then tried to replicate it at home for the same amount of money. (He used real tomato instead of ketchup, however.)

The burger Trent assembled cost $1.83, while the McDonald’s double cheeseburger was $1.06, but he still thinks he got a pretty good deal.

Is The Value Menu Really A Value? Comparing The Homemade Double Cheeseburger To The McDonald’s $1 Version [The Simple Dollar] (Thanks, T!)

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  1. The Meathead says:

    Making yourself a burger controls the ingredients, and is probably worth the 77 cents, not to mention the lack of random bodily fluids.

  2. serreca says:

    Who cares about cost, homemade burgers are 1000x tastier than McDonald’s burgers.

  3. ooolam says:

    Time is money; I think if he has taken into the consideration of the time he spent to make the burger, it would probably cost him at least $5 or more.

  4. Chicago7 says:

    HA! Yesterday, I ate hamburgers at McDonalds for lunch and made hamburgers at home for dinner. They cost about the same, actually, but I was using “Manager’s Special” hamburger.

  5. homerjay says:

    @ooolam: Who considers payment for services when making your own dinner?

  6. Hanke says:

    @ooolam: As the only meat-eater in my home, I have taken to mass-production.

    I make several burger patties (NEVEREVER buy prepared patties), wax paper them, and seal them in pairs in freezer bags.

    Prepareing the stack of 10-15 burgers takes about the sale time as preparing a full meal, but now I have a nice part of my meal ready to go whenever I want.

    And yes, I make my vegetarian wife cook them for me.

  7. louisb3 says:

    @ooolam: If you’re going to calculate time as a cost, then you might as well figure in the health care costs associated with a McBurger. Then you can worry about abstract benefits associated with a homemade burger, like the emotional satisfaction of having created something.

  8. nweaver says:

    But you can’t get the Grade D beef for home use…

  9. frankieman70 says:

    Dude homemade burgers are always best, But making just 1 burger will always cost more money, but if you are making burgers for at least 5 people or 2 people who eat a lot it will fed. be a better deal and tastier.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Careful! You might end up with actual nutrients in your burger!

  11. Ben Popken says:

    Was the relative healthiness figured into the cost-effectiveness?

  12. OnceWasCool says:

    This is NOT comparing apples to apples. McDonald’s comes from beef LORD KNOWS WHERE, frozen, then shipped over. Somewhere in the process they add sugar to keep it from tasting like hammered butt.

  13. Dead Wrestlers Society says:

    So how are people with the ground beef vs ground turkey? I have to say, I love making burgers with ground turkey. It seems to have a natural sweet taste to it.

    I get the double cheeseburger at McD everynow and then. They’re not bad. I do love the little processed onions on them though. I made them at home once.

    Get yourself a fry daddy, buy some canola oil and make fries at home. They are unbelievably good.

  14. timmus says:

    YES. I have been trying to tell people for years that sometimes it -is- cheaper to eat out. I’m tired of hearing the conventional wisdom that you save money by cooking at home.

    I’m not saying that McDonalds is a good thing to be eating all the time, but the restaurants get to use economy of scale, which we consumers do not. I’ve also suspected that some of the better restaurants have access to much higher quality ingredients (cheeses, meats) than can be purchased in most stores.

    Also another consideration is that if you go bottom barrel on home cooking to save money, you often end up with a lot of heavily processed, high carbohydrate ingredients. Mac & Cheese and Ramen Noodles comes to mind.

    And yeah, there is the opportunity cost of time spent cooking the meal. I’m self employed, so I do have to consider time that I could otherwise be spending on projects and so forth.

  15. jaredgood1 says:

    And looking at the picture comparison, I’d say that is an extra 70 cents well spent…

  16. Hoss says:

    He made a cheeseburger — not a double cheeseburger. He got a similar result, but heck, let’s be more scientific.

    @Ben Popken: He estimates the fat/calorie content to be similar

  17. pyloff says:

    I don’t know if anyone here read the book called omnivores dilemma, but the author goes into detail on the corn millitary/industrial complex that makes up around 50% of the McMeal. There seem to be many hidden costs of consuming a McMeal the burden placed on the environment and the tax payer.

  18. homerjay says:

    @Ben Popken: You’re new “Healthy” lifestyle is really bringing us down, dude. :)

  19. MikeHerbst says:

    @Hossofcourse:
    He made a single cheesburger with the same approximate meat content as a McDonalds Double Cheesburger.

    And Timmus, read the whole article. Factoring in the leftover ingredients, the unit cost of a homemade burger goes down significantly. (Feeding a family of 4, would be cheaper at home, for example.)

    Also, he addresses the time issue and shows that he actually saved time versus McDonalds if the ingredients were amortized over multiple meals (leftovers, or freeze the patties, etc.).

    There is only ONE reason to ever eat McDonalds (or any of their competition): Laziness.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do it too, I eat at these such places 2-4 times a week, (usually lunch away from the work cafeteria, etc.), but I’m under no illusions that I’m doing it for any reason other than I’m too lazy to spend the same amount (or less) of time, effort, and money to prepare this food for myself.

  20. Denada says:

    Hmm, burgers sound good for tomorrow night. Nothing like ending the week with a nice hot grill and some juicy burgers. Ooh I think I’ll throw on some bacon and mushrooms too. Thank you Consumerist, I have dinner plans for tomorrow now.

    Mmmmmm, Friday.

  21. Anonymous says:

    One’s health and dining experience is worth the added cost.

  22. warf0x0r says:

    As any good cook will tell you the quality of the food is in the quality of each of your ingredients. So with quality vs. cost I always go with quality.

  23. Techguy1138 says:

    This is a totally bogus comparison on price. It was MUCH MUCH cheaper to purchase the pre-cooked
    burgers.

    He spent just a bit over $9 on ingredients that would net 9 double cheeseburgers. He could at best make 2 and 1/2 with what he had.

    He stated times savings mainly because he had left overs. Well if he bought extra burgers from McDonalds he would have leftovers then also.

    I also want to know what grocery store he went to where he bought all of his ingredients and checked out in 2 minutes. I know my local store well and it take no less than 5.

    It cost him more time AND money to make it at home. It’s almost always more expensive to cook things at home when all the costs are totaled.

    Where he COULD have saved money is if he bought bulk amounts of ingredients; although the prices he paid are about as low as I could expect for under 25 pounds. Burgers one day, meatloaf the next few, taco joes, sloppy joes, cheeseburger bake and you can last,survive(endure?), 2 weeks on $20 in beef, bread and cheese.

  24. remusrm says:

    i would still prefer the cooked at home food over mcsh*t. i do go there but rarelly… also quality has to do with the taste…

  25. FLConsumer says:

    That said, I don’t think McDonald’s is a fair comparison on burgers. I think one of the chain restaurants (Bennigan’s/Ruby Tuesday’s/Applebee’s) would be a more fair comparison in terms of food quality.

    If you’re cooking for a family of four, then eating at home is probably cheaper. However, the same isn’t necessarily true if you’re single. If you’re living in the suburbs, things are sold in mega-size packages which no single person could consume before it spoils. Lettuce is sold in entire heads (that bagged stuff isn’t safe and is more expensive than the head), hamburger buns are sold in 8-packs, meat’s sold in >2-5 lb packs, etc.

    For some of the better food, it’s definitely cheaper to eat out. For what it’d cost me to get an oven that can cook at 1800F and heat the plates up to ~600F, it’d take an awful lot of $37 steaks to come even close to breaking even. I’d probably have to buy a kiln.

  26. bonzombiekitty says:

    @ooolam:
    He did take that time into consideration. It took him 16 minutes to make the burgers including the time spent getting the ingredients on his routine shopping trip. He said it took him 11 minutes in mcDonalds to get the burger. Time would be saved on the second night if he were to just use the leftovers from his home made burger to make another one (only a minute or two to assemble) rather than going back to mcdonalds to get another burger (an additional 11 minutes).

  27. infinitysnake says:

    @homerjay: ATime is valuable. If the bought burger saves time, it’ s worth noting.

  28. savvy9999 says:

    Because of economy of scale and supply chain and wholesale v retail prices of the commodities involved, it would be impossible to beat McDs or BK on price alone.

    What he made more accurately compares to a burger you would get at a place like TGIFridays or Chili’s, not fast food. In which case, his experiment is even more cost-effective.

    I would imagine the ROI curve for cooking at home hits a sweet spot when the comparable item at a restaurant is at least $7+ (depending upon your market).

    You simply cannot make a burrito cheaper than at Taco Bell, or fried chicken less than KFC does. But you can make both cheaper than you would similar items at a casual dining place.

  29. bonzombiekitty says:

    Personally, I refuse to eat burgers from a fast food joint. I make my own burgers that are between 1/3 and 1/2lb of meat. Put some salt, pepper, onion powder and a dash of hot sauce into the meat, mix and make the patties. Throw ‘em on the grill. Put them on a toasted bun with some grilled onions and green pepper. Yum.

  30. vanilla-fro says:

    To all those saying time is money when it comes to cooking at home: What about all the damn time spent driving to Mc D’s, waiting in line, waiting for the food to be scooped out from under the heat lamp, and lets not forget…the time in the bathroom afterwards?

    There’s your “time is money” you waste a lot more time going to get the disgusting burger plus you pay for it. Idiots.

    And those who are saying “of course it costs more to make just one” thank you. cooking for one is not normally cheaper than going out, but it sure as hell can be better for you.

  31. infinitysnake says:

    @FLConsumer: They do make small freezers that can make bulk-buying economical. I am a little surprised that you think you couldn’t use up an entire head of lettuce, unless you only planned to use it as burger decoration?

    And forget the kiln- try a nice, hot, cast-iron fry pan.

  32. ancientsociety says:

    Well, it might not be cheaper but last time I checked none of the fast-food chains were making burgers from Grade A beef, bison, or turkey.

  33. mr_jrdn says:

    I agree that the time it took to make a burger at home should be taken into account when determining the price. Health care costs due to eating fast foods is a moot point in this debate, as we just want to know what the food cost us. McDonald’s has to pay employees to make your burger, so you should calculate that into the home-made version’s cost. So in the end we know it’s cheaper to eat burgers from fast food places, and it’s up to us to choose which burger we want.

  34. LTS! says:

    Actually, the comparison is too short sighted to be a true comparison. You’d have to consume all of the variables in your equation before you can obtain a valid result.

    I recalculated the following numbers:

    Beef $1.99 per 5 patties ot .40/burger
    Cheese $1.89, 16 slices, 2 slices per burger is 8 burgers per package or .24/burger
    Buns $1.99 per package, 8 buns, or .25 per burger
    Pickles $2.49 per jar, I estimated 25 slices so at 1 slice per burger that’s .09
    Tomato .40 per tomato, assume 5 slices, that’s .08/burger
    Onion .40 per onion, assume 8 burgers, that’s .05/burger.
    Summed: .40+.24+.25+.09+.08+.05 = about $1.11

    Now, he used tomato, not ketchup which is less expensive per serving. He also admitted the rolls were a little higher priced. From a strict comparison it looks like it’s not much more expensive and certainly more gratifying to eat your own burgers.

    Granted, if you assume you’ll use ground beef for more than just burgers you’ll buy a larger pack and break it up, driving down costs.

    Perhaps my math is flawed as I just did this quickly, but he divided his entire purchase by 5 burgers which is false, unless he’s throwing out everything that wasn’t used which would be stupid.

    Man, if you are going to do something, at least get parts of it right.

  35. Starfury says:

    You can’t really compare a McD’s burger to a homemade one. Mine are 1/4 to 1/3 lb before cooking, and the hamburger I use is 10% – 12% fat, not 30% like McDs. All the onion/lettuce is fresh and the bacon is also cooked fresh. The buns are grilled.

    Home cooking for the win!

  36. FLConsumer says:

    @infinitysnake: I’m only in town for ~2-4 days a week. There’s no way I’d be able to polish off a head of lettuce in that time. Even if I were home 7 days a week, it’d be a stretch to polish off everything in a week.

    Great point on “time is money”, and it does take time to do both… Depending on where you’re located, it’s probably a draw on time. 15 mins to make it, 15 minutes to drive to a fast food restaurant, order, try to get the order right with the incompetent staff, and get the food. This is why I prefer room service many times. MY time is worth more than farting around. Fortunately the “local” restaurants in major cities seem to understand time is money and have quick service. It’s in the ‘burbs that I find myself craving room service.

  37. RandomHookup says:

    @oncewascool:

    ummmmmm….hammered butt.

  38. BoorRichard says:

    Unless you are going to die in six hours, it’s totally wrong to compute the cost of food in a one-serving increment.

    Do you calculate your rent one day at a time? Do you pay your mortgage in little tiny bits three times a day? Hell no to such questions.

    Food is something that you bring into a home, like water, heating oil, and so forth, and manage and consume on a long-term basis.

    As many people have noted, absolutely you can make yourself much better quality hamburgers for less money if you cook them at home. And if you want to calculate time and cooking fuel, you have to do the same for time it takes to travel to McDonalds and wait in line for your dinner. No matter how you dice it, preparing your own food at home is always the far cheaper option.

    The other day I made a dozen Chipolte-sized vegetarian burritos for $8 of food cost and maybe, at most, an hour of my time. They freeze great and I eat them all week. There are an endless number of similar examples, especially when we are using fast food and not, say, truffle souffle as the “meal standard.”

  39. theblackdog says:

    @public enemy #1: I LOVE using ground turkey to make my burgers now. I made a most excellent turkey burger the other night by mixing in some lime juice and tomato/basil feta cheese in the meat.

  40. mthrndr says:

    Man, I love a double cheeseburger from McD’s. They’re usually poorly built, greasy (sometimes with grease fingerprints on the buns), but damn if I can’t get full on $2 for lunch where EVERYWHERE else I’d pay at least 4.50. Now, I could make lunch at home, but usually I’m a lazy sucker. I agree that his comparison would be better if he was looking at TGIF or Chili’s or other place where a burger will set you back some $7-10.

  41. @FLConsumer: “For some of the better food, it’s definitely cheaper to eat out. For what it’d cost me to get an oven that can cook at 1800F and heat the plates up to ~600F, it’d take an awful lot of $37 steaks to come even close to breaking even”

    Make friends with a chef and get him to teach you how to make kick-ass $37 steaks at home. :)

    For our anniversary I hired a chef for $160ish and had a four-course meal with multiple wines and the best steak I have ever eaten in my entire life in my home. Which he made on our little 1972 oven/stove.

    I learned a few tricks during the prep to make a few super-cool restauranty things at home without 8 zillion special tools.

    (and to second infinitysnake, cast iron FTW!)

  42. Anonymous says:

    It’s basically a trade-off between short-term convenience and long-term health. Economy of scale is only one factor explaining the crazy low prices for fast food. Reducing quality and nutritional value is another major factor. If people took the time to learn what they are actually eating, fast food wouldn’t be as popular. But, hey, as has been pointed out before… time is money. If you don’t make time to make/get a decent meal, you probably won’t make time to find out what you’re eating either.

  43. marsneedsrabbits says:

    There are several benefits to making them at home, including better taste; the ability to use organic or ultra-low-fat meats; cheaper, too once you factor in the $1.89 20 ounce Coke & 2 dollar fries. Also, you can use your own (real) cheese, better buns, fresh onions, tomatoes… okay okay okay – now I think we’ll have to have antelope burgers for dinner tonight. Maybe some garlic oven fries & some peach iced tea to go with. Homemade spicy pickles to garnish.

  44. infinitysnake says:

    @FLConsumer I think I’d want to encourage you to eat more lettuce if that’s really true- I could eat an entire head in one day, even in one sitting with the right dressing. But there are way- lettuce crisper bags can make an average head last two weeks, and some of the nicer varieties can even be purchased with intact roots.

  45. LittleBlackFly says:

    @FLConsumer: Are you serious? I live alone and spend about $40/week on food: $20 (or less, if I’m not getting cheese) at the farmer’s market, $20 at Whole Foods/Wild Oats. Not cheap places to shop, and I don’t get bottom of the barrel ingredients. I know how to cook, have a nifty thing called a freezer so if something’s on sale I’ll get extra (meat, fish, many fruits and veggies all freeze well), and eat better food (taste, quality, value) than any of your room service meals.
    You eat for <$40/week going out? Even eating a McD’s off the $1 menu you’ll spend $10-15/day assuming you eat there 3 times a day.
    PS. properly stored lettuce will last at least 2 weeks. You should probably eat more salad anyway.

  46. hoosier45678 says:

    @pyloff: Read it. Loved it. But if you’re buying corn-fed beef from the market then you’re still riding the same corn subsidy gravy train.

  47. Major-General says:

    I would like to point out what the fast food industry really did: allowed for a quick meal of pretty good quality and consistancy no matter where you are.

    It is not a bad choice neccessarily to eat at McDonalds. But I think a fairer comparison would be with Wendy’s.

    Finally, anyone notice that the companies that have been most successful are the ones we complain about most?

  48. UpsetPanda says:

    Okay let’s face it – the “double cheeseburger” at McDonalds is just two very very thin mechanically separated meat parts slapped together to create the thickness of what one 100% USDA Beef (or turkey) patty would be. So for that alone, that trickery of a “double” anything, stay home. It’s better for you, even if it might not cost as much. You’ll end up paying for it in other ways later anyway if you eat at McDonalds.

    Also, like others have said, you control the ingredients, but more importantly, you control the cooking process. You don’t need oil to cook meat, there is natural fat that creates oil. I’m sure the McDonalds grills are permanently oiled by the hundreds of patties that went before it. You can buy lean meat, McDonalds doesn’t seem seem to care where the meat came from.

  49. UpsetPanda says:

    @MissJ: edit* I meant to say, “stay home, it’s better for you even if it costs more”

  50. ShadowArmor says:

    Its hard to dispute the economics of a slab of salmon or steak on the grill, but I agree there are a few times when its cheaper/better to eat out for specific items. If the cost of ingredients required to replicate the food costs more than it would to get at a restaurant (anything with lots of random ingredients), when the equipment required to cook the food is cost prohibitive (anyone actually have a brick oven or tandoor in their houses).

    A similar debate can be had with coffee. I love when people say they don’t have time to make it at home, but they will happily stand in a starbucks line for 5 mins.

  51. Rusted says:

    @silvanx: No not really healthy, either one, depending on what one has for a metabolism. Bet the home cooked one tasted better though.

  52. TechnoDestructo says:

    @serreca:

    Yes. Greater utility offsets the higher price.

  53. synergy says:

    Depending on the calorie and ingredient content you might want to take into considering health costs. O.o

  54. rdm24 says:

    Regardless of home vs. storebought (I vote for the home team!), is a difference of 70-odd cents meaningful when there is a clear difference in quality?

  55. trillium says:

    Can cost really be a factor when you know exactly what is going into your body when you make it at home versus those grey wonderpatties from MickyD’s?

    Fastfood almost always seems to be perceived to be “cheaper” because:
    1) They buy in BULK (and I mean ALOT) – you cant buy nearly that much to offset the “deal for meat”
    2) They prepare when you buy fastfood, you dont
    3) They pay for the energy and appliance wear, you dont…

    the list can go on and on

    But really what is your health worth?

  56. aparsons says:

    I brought up this same argument on consumerist before over [HERE], and people didn’t believe me. I’m glad to see someone actually did the experiment and that consumerist posted it.

  57. FLConsumer says:

    @infinitysnake: Believe it or not, I used to be a vegetarian before my body just couldn’t handle the lack of protein. I tried everything I could before ultimately resorting to the steaks, but I’ve come to like my baked/grilled cow.

    @Klassy: Nah, that’s just $37 for the steak (no sides, drinks,etc.), dinner usually runs me ~$25-75/night, not per week!

    I think much of this arguement depends on how much your time is really worth. One hour of my time = quite a bit of money, enough to easily justify paying other people to handle the cooking for me. That’s one more chargable hour for me. I have pondered hiring private chefs, but I travel too much and it’d be unfair to ask a chef to prepare an elaborate meal for only one person.

  58. lockdog says:

    @mthrndr: There is scant evidence out there to back me up, but in high school I used to order this thing called a Big N Cheesy from the McDonalds closest to school. If memory serves me it was four beef patties and five slices of cheese. It was like eating a greasy cheesy soft ball sized lump of meat. And they were cheap, I think around three bucks or so. I was one of those high school kids who was perpetually hungry but couldn’t gain a pound, and could slam down two of those puppies in a single sitting. I can’t eat a double cheeseburger without missing the Big N Cheesy just a little bit.

  59. asherchang says:

    @louisb3: Not to mention the karma that you
    avoid by refusing to put money into the hands of an evil corporation
    that harms the environment.

  60. JayXJ says:

    This only works in McDonald’s favor if making ONE burger. When cooking for yourself, wife, and children it is far more cost effective to do it at home.

    Homemade burgers and baked fries for two adults and three children:

    beef: 2.89
    cheese: 1.99
    buns: 1.99

    Fries (one bag): 2.49

    Total: $9.36
    McDonalds runs about $25

  61. zolielo says:

    Ah, economies of scale… Not news…

  62. Anonymous says:

    @FLConsumer: Are you talking about cooking during work time? I don’t measure my time outside work in money.

  63. FLConsumer says:

    @silvanx: I measure ALL my time in money. With the majority of my income coming from contract-work, I can work as many hours as I wish.

    Ultimately, you should measure your off-time in terms of dollars…as in, “How much would I pay to be able to get that extra hour / get that hour back?” When you start realising how much your time is truly worth, you do tend to approach life differently in both how you spend your time and money.

  64. frogman31680 says:

    Could be worse. If you accidentally ate a homemade cheeseburger made with topps hamburger meat, it is more cost effective to eat at McDonalds after the medical bills.

    Course, if you do eat at McDonalds instead, it’s really a 5050 chance of landing in the hospital.