Burger King's latest sandwich is not subtle. Image source: Burger King.

When in doubt, add bacon.

At a time when fast-food chains have turned to increasingly ridiculous ways to get attention (grilled cheese pizza crust and the Whopperrito to name two), Restaurant Brands International's (NYSE:QSR) Burger King and Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA) have returned to the idea that bacon makes everything better. Though they are taking very different approaches to how they use the salty pork delicacy, they have made it a key feature of their current marketing efforts.

Neither effort may have the impact of fried macaroni and cheese dipped in Cheetos dust, but both should work to bring in more customers for the two chains. These are not the flashiest moves in a space that has become increasingly about being shocking, but betting on bacon is usually a safe play.

What is Burger King doing?

Burger King has been arguably the most outlandish of all the fast-food chains when it comes to creating attention-getting items. The chain has, over the last few years, released the aforementioned Whopperrito, Mac 'n Cheetos, a number of variations of chicken fries, and even an ice cream sundae using bacon as a topping.

Now the fast-food eatery has gone back to basics with the Bacon King, a sandwich with 6 slices of bacon; two quarter-pound, flame-grilled, 100% beef patties; four slices of American cheese; ketchup; and mayonnaise on a sesame seed bun. It's a fairly classic burger piled with more bacon than would typically be expected.

"We didn't hold back with the Bacon King sandwich," Burger King's North American president, Alex Macedo, was quoted as saying. "Six strips of bacon, four slices of cheese and two big beefy flame-grilled patties. The Bacon King sandwich makes meat-lovers' dreams a reality. We know our guests are going to put this burger into heavy rotation."

It's a pretty simple business proposition. People like bacon and having more of it should get consumers to try the new sandwich, which costs $5.99 on its own and $7.99 with fries and a drink. All that bacon does come with a cost, however, as the sandwich alone has 1,040 calories and 1,900 milligrams of sodium.

What is Panera doing?

Rather than simply piling on the bacon like Burger King, Panera Bread has made a change to the bacon it uses in its stores. The fast-casual chain has decided to sell only "clean" bacon that is free of artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners, and colors from artificial sources prohibited by the company's No No List of ingredients/additives it does not use in its food. In addition, the company will only source its pork from pigs that meet its animal welfare standards regarding confinement and antibiotic use.

According to a press release, this bacon will contain only pork, water, sea salt, sugar, celery powder, and thyme extract. The clean product is cured without artificial additives, using celery powder as the curing agent.

"There are few foods as beloved as bacon," said Panera Head Chef Dan Kish in the company press release. "As we approached the challenge of remaking bacon without artificial curing agents and preservatives, we took another step back to think about bacon as it should be: the perfect slice. My food philosophy is that if you're going to truly enjoy an indulgence, like salty, smoky bacon, it should be the best you can get."

Will these moves work?

Burger King has never been shy about giving customers an indulgent product full of calories. Piling bacon on a sandwich is a simple recipe for success and the Bacon King should be a hit.

Panera has taken a different approach, by using bacon to highlight its commitment to offering higher-quality food. The company isn't adding any new bacon-based treats; it's simply using the popular meat to bring attention to its commitment to cleaning up its menu.

In some ways, Burger King is making a short-term play to build sales while Panera has taken a longer-term approach. To keep its momentum, the burger chain must continue to deliver promotions, stunts, and outlandish, tasty foods to win consumer interest. Panera's efforts may take a longer time to pay off, but the company is building a brand foundation where eventually consumers will simply associate it with higher-quality, more natural foods.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.