I’ve never set foot in an Arby’s. Perhaps it’s because they’ve been a punchline for the Daily Show, or maybe it's because of all the stories I've written about how Arby’s sandwiches are borderline dangerous. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a coastal elite who’s too danged librul to “get” how “real Americans” eat.
But sometimes, the strong pull of (morbid) curiosity is enough to overwhelm even our best judgment. That’s how I ended up in a pop-up test kitchen in New York’s Little Italy eating a “carrot” fashioned entirely out of meat. That’s not a typo: it’s an indication of Arby’s relentless commitment to having the meats taken to its most illogical conclusion. A deliberate effort to zig when so many other burger chains worshipping at the altar of all things plant-based are zagging.
“Our CMO Jim Taylor called me on a Saturday, which is not unusual for him,” recalled Arby’s Brand Executive Chef Neville Craw of the impetus for the “marrot,” a portmanteau of meat and carrot. “He says, ‘everybody’s trying to turn something that’s plant-based into meat. We’re Arbys, we should be thinking of it the other way: can we turn meat into vegetables?’ It was really that simple.”
And so the idea for the marrot—the first of perhaps many forays into “megetables”—was born. From there, Craw and co.’s mission was to ensure that this meat-based plant “tastes great, looks the part, and is something we can envision happening in the back of [an Arby’s] without altering our setup from an operations standpoint.” We won’t know how well the marrot checks that last box for a while. But after experiencing first hand how the carrot sausage gets made, I can confirm that it looks and tastes closer to the real thing than one would expect.
Surprisingly for a frankenfood with no precedent, the marrot is designed to be assembled in as few steps as possible, using fairly conventional cooking techniques and ingredients. First, a raw, skinless turkey breast (chosen for its lean protein profile) is cut into tapered strips and rolled into the carrot’s conic shape. Those strips are then seasoned using salt, pepper, and a blend of herbs, and wrapped in cheesecloth, which roughens the exterior to better match a carrot’s texture. Then each marrot gets a sous vide bath.
Watch: How to Make a Vegan Chick-fil-A Sandwich
After that, it’s seasoned again to lock in that orange carrot color, roasted in the oven, and coated with a maple glaze that’s blasted with a blowtorch to add an extra hint of autumnal sweetness. I don’t know what it takes to make a plant-based burger, but I imagine there are no blowtorches involved.
A convincing scent of roasted carrots filled the test kitchen by the time the turkey came out of the oven, quelling my anxiety about what I was about to taste. What I didn’t expect upon my first bite was how well its flavor profile mirrored that of a carrot. Between the two rounds of seasoning (with an assist from that light maple glaze), the marrot hit the kind of tasting notes you’d expect from a roasted carrot on a fall seasonal menu. Eventually, of course, the turkey taste prevails. The meat and some elements of the seasoning bring more saltiness to bear than I’d expect from a carrot. Coupled with the presence of a chewy texture rather than the kind of slightly softened crunch one would expect, it’s more like a carrot-flavored turkey sausage than a serious attempt to trick you into thinking you’re eating a carrot.
Given that no one walking into an Arby’s would expect to really eat a vegetable, it’s hard to say how much that matters anyway. The ultimate mission of the marrot isn’t to be some inverse of the Impossible burger (which Arby’s doesn’t plan to introduce, by the way), but to show that fast food can still occasionally surprise us. “For something like this, we’re not taking ourselves too seriously,” Craw says. “We’d like people to point, laugh, take a picture, enjoy the moment and move on to the next thing… just have fun with the whole experience.”
And he’s right. If you’re willing to embrace the absurd contradiction of a carrot fashioned from turkey, it’s hard not to enjoy it at least a little bit. In this age of unreason, who’s to say that meat can’t be a vegetable? At the very least, Arby’s deserves a tip of the cap for daring to ask that question.
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