McDonald's Special Grade Garlic Sauce Review: Umami Oomph Worth The Heat

Dipping sauces burger composite image
Dipping sauces burger composite image - Static Media / Shutterstock

We all have our favorite McDonald's dipping sauces. Personally, mine is the Tangy Barbecue Sauce (aren't I original?). But what about the delicious items you're missing by proxy of living outside of the U.S.? Fast food lovers in Japan can dunk their McNuggets in an intriguing Black Garlic sauce, and for a fleeting moment from coast to coast, Americans can taste something similar. That's because the Special Grade Garlic Sauce is joining the U.S. condiment lineup on July 9, as part of a joint promotional gambit for anime series "Jujutsu Kaisen."

Described as featuring "notes of garlic and soy sauce, balanced with a slight tangy sweetness" in a press release, the sauce packs a two-pronged punch on salty and sweet. I'm a fan of dualities like this, so when Mashed was invited to try out the Golden Arches' brand-new dipping sauce ahead of the drop date, it was an opportunity I found hard to resist. We headed to a location in New York's Times Square to meet with Alvin Zhou, a content creator whose YouTube channel documenting his culinary creations have racked up almost 1.5 million subscribers as of this writing. What lay in store for us was a specially curated menu that he developed one-on-one with the chain, and allowed us unfettered reign to assemble ourselves. Take a gander at our sneak peek to see when the condiment is available near you and whether it has our blessing.

Read more: US Foods You Surprisingly Can't Find In Canada

What Ingredients Are In The Special Grade Garlic Sauce?

Sauced chicken nuggets in box
Sauced chicken nuggets in box - Brianna Persons / Mashed

The sauce containers are designed with eight different labels depicting "Jujutsu Kaisen's" character lineup. Regardless of which magic-slinging sorcerer graces your peel-able lid (it'll be a roll of the dice whether it's Yuji Itadori or Mahito) the sauce will be exactly the same for all consumers. The ingredients printed on the outside of the cup attest to this fact, with the first trio comprising water, corn syrup, and sugar, followed by the obvious inclusion of salt, soy sauce, and distilled vinegar.

These components by and large overlap with other McDonald's sauce varieties -- the core formula isn't dramatically dissimilar to the chain's Sweet 'N Sour Sauce, with the exception of the jammy apricot tinge riding through it. Where the ante is upped, obviously, is with the inclusion of the Black Garlic Puree. This informs the basis of the sauce's exclusive, hard-to-get nature with the black garlic lending a distinctly fermented kick that's delicate on the palate.

Whether you're a manga fanatic or just enticed by the notion of another sticky dip, McDonald's Special Grade Garlic Sauce seems to fit in recipe-wise. Yet if you're allergic to wheat, soybean, or sesame, this sauce features all three, sadly meaning some consumers might have to skip this one out.

When And How To Order The Special Grade Garlic Sauce

Dipping sauce soft drinks
Dipping sauce soft drinks - Brianna Persons / Mashed

By the time you're reading this, the Special Grade Garlic Sauce will likely have flown beyond the Big Apple and into your drive-thru without a concern towards zip code. However, procuring cartons from the pick-up lane isn't going to be possible. That's because the sauce is currently only available via the McDonald's app. You'll be further on the way to nabbing delicious freebies thanks to the chain's points system -- and more to the point, tacking on the elusive dunking agent to any sandwich or McNuggets box, free of charge. As of this writing, so long as the sauce is in your cart on a mobile device, the franchise is also gifting a 30-day trial subscription to anime-focused streaming service Crunchyroll.

As for how long the sauce will remain on menus, we can only recommend customers make haste. After all, this is the chain that ignited the Szechuan Sauce drama of 2017 involving a depleted supply of sauce packets and irate Rick and Morty fans. While we doubt the Special Grade Garlic Sauce will unleash a firestorm as chaotic and legendary, it's probably best to grab it sooner than later. Corporate employees we spoke to at the tasting claimed it fared a high chance of high-tailing it out of restaurants within a week at least, so it's best to plan ahead.

How It Tastes

Burger with dipping sauce
Burger with dipping sauce - Brianna Persons / Mashed

So, how does the new sauce taste? Picture a tongue-busting fusion of McDonald's Tangy Barbecue Sauce and Sweet N' Sour Sauce ... and the comparison still wouldn't quite pinpoint the flavor profile. This sauce is as tangy and toothsome as what we've come to expect. More than that, it's savory in all the right ways. The garlic came through immediately, imparting a thrilling amount of umami goodness to ride alongside the acidity of the soy sauce and the smoothness of the sugar. The sauce lacked that saccharinity that often overwhelms an otherwise perfectly good stir fry. Zhou must have been a mind-reader, because during the sampling session he mentioned enjoying this balance, suggesting that this more savory type of dipping sauce had yet to crop up in the McDonald's canon.

Having this sauce as my formal introduction to black garlic in any format, I believe I now have the qualifications to attest that this sauce breathes new life into the spicy sauce racket. Certainly the aroma is strong, and to those less tolerant dinners, it may perhaps be a little pungent. But those tendencies are offset by a tanginess that's pleasantly robust and a little -- just a little -- sweet. While I'll reach for the Kleenex when enjoying spicy food, the medium-ish heat here was definitely bearable, especially as a dipping sauce paired with other foods.

Trying The Sauce With A McCrispy And McDouble

McDonald's fast food sandwiches
McDonald's fast food sandwiches - Brianna Persons / Mashed

After taking a preliminary taste to assess the sauce on its own merits, we then dug into the tasting menu. The first meal we sampled off the roster was a McCrispy chicken sandwich. Tweaked to showcase the sauce's strut, Zhou invited us to smear the Special Grade Garlic Sauce on the bottom potato bun, while dolloping plain mayonnaise onto the chicken patty. Quite literally sandwiched together, the two spreads added their own voices to the chorus of fried breading and juicy white meat. The novel sauce injected a prominent zip into the creamy, crunchy textures playing around the periphery. As something I always crave in a mayo-heavy sandwich, the spicy element of the sauce further won me over.

Second on the itinerary was a classic McDouble -- well, almost. The burger was missing the American cheese, a cause for confusion that quickly shifted to glee once we piled on the works -- pickles, onions, mayonnaise, and a wad of fries -- and smushed the toasted buns head-on. The limited-run sauce, once again, was layered on the bottom bun. Maintaining boundaries between the sauces was something Zhou conceived of intentionally when designing each plate. This helped me appreciate the full brunt of the sauce's zingy aftertaste that left me wanting more of the same.

How It Tasted With Loaded Fries And McNuggets

Fast food nuggets and fries
Fast food nuggets and fries - Brianna Persons / Mashed

Zhou then guided us through the combo of the sauce with a beloved dive bar snack: loaded fries. For the Loaded Fries, the first order of business was stirring the new sauce up with mayo, before drizzling the mixture onto a bed of the salty fried, diced onions, and pickles. Think of it as the Golden Arches' Animal Style moment -- or perhaps even more accurately, a deconstructed Big Mac. I already enjoyed swirling the Special Grade Garlic Sauce into mayo as a sandwich topper, and the fusion condiment dribbled onto French fries further brought a similar lusciousness I enjoyed.

The final course, a 4-piece serving of McNuggets, made me assume I'd just sit in my chair dipping away without a care in the world. In reality, Zhou had us generate a glazed chicken dish fit for takeout. All it took was dumping out the sauce into the box (as much or as little as we liked -- myself, I like a lot) with some honey, then giving it a generous shake so the coated nuggets gleamed in the spicy brown gloss. To my mind, this would be hard to distinguish from another restaurant's wok-sizzled nuggets, especially if there'd been a bowl of steamed rice and chow mein on the side.

Final Impressions

Row of dipping sauces
Row of dipping sauces - Brianna Persons / Mashed

Overall, I came away quite impressed by the Special Grade Garlic Sauce. Being a fan of Asian-inspired sauces and garlic, I was already prepared to enjoy this one wholeheartedly. However, what didn't dawn on me until I entered Zhou's domain of culinary adventure was how versatile the condiment could be. The spice levels are right on the money, while the complexity inherent in the black garlic made it stand out in the undeniably cluttered sphere of fast food. It's great as a dip for fries (curly if you're in Korea) or slathered onto your cheeseburger or McChicken sandwich. No matter the menu item, the piquant zip carries through every time.

From the quartet of distinctly delicious menu concoctions showcasing the sauce, I found the McDouble with a twist was my number one pick. I could be biased, of course, as the sandwich has been a regular in my takeout rotation for many years. But in my opinion, the umami tang gave the classic menu item a unique mix up.

Just as we chatted about with Zhou, the beauty of this sauce lies in its playfulness. So, experimenting with it on a variety of menu items is a part of the fun. The Special Grade Garlic Sauce is a slammin' addition to the supply, and it's worth savoring, if only for a short time.


Close up of sandwich
Close up of sandwich - Brianna Persons / Mashed

As I noted in the introduction, I was able to visit a special tasting event and sample the Special Grade Garlic Sauce prior to its debut from McDonald's kitchens around the country. The Times Square establishment even presented testers with their own work station of sorts, with ingredients for the impending tasting extravaganza packaged and sealed along with beverages to sip inbetween each of the scheduled dishes.

Keeping things easy, I stuck to bottled water for preparing my palate, glugging it before and after each entree so I could properly assess the nuanced of each meal's texture and flavor when paired with the sauce.

Read the original article on Mashed.