Burger bosses aren't talking about ration coupons, odd-day or even-day lines or embargoes.

But in every other respect, it's war.On Jan. 23, McDonald's broke two years of uneasy peace by dropping the price of a Big Mac to 99 cents. Burger King fired back by dropping the price of a double cheeseburger to 99 cents. Last Monday, Wendy's fired on both by slashing the price of a quarter-pounder to 99 cents.

Assaulted from all sides, the city is reeling. Entire office staffs are eating out. Homemakers have stopped cooking. Kids no longer drop by home at night for a hot meal. Even pets think they deserve a break today.

Hungry Utahns have discovered volume buying. "I heard one person order 24 quarter-pounders over the intercom," one frazzled Wendy's cashier said. Her own customer record is an order for 16.

Dining out is no longer the pastime of the two-child, two-income families. Even the big families eat out now. "We fed four kids for $6.32," one McDonald's customer boasted.

"You can't cook a meal for less," said Margaret Glen. She and her husband, Philip, were lunching on three 99-cent burgers at Wendy's.

She had one. He was eating two.

"We're not burger eaters ordinarily," Philip Glen said. "I go for chicken fillet. But today - because of the price and just because of the price - she talked me into it."

He had just finished his first and was unwrapping his second. "It's not bad."

If you've always wanted to see how your favorite burger stacks up against the competition, you can finally afford to do some comparison shopping. In the interest of consumer research, Deseret News reporters ordered burgers from all three businesses one afternoon. When we tell you what's inside of the burgers, we speak with authority.

The Wendy's quarter-pounder comes straight off the grill and sports mayonnaise, catsup, pickles, onions, lettuce and mustard on two buns. Anything else costs extra.

Burger King's patties are flame-broiled, then kept warm by steamers. Their 99-cent special offers two patties, two slices of cheese, catsup, mustard and pickles and two buns. Anything else costs extra.

McDonald's Big Mac is grilled, put together, wrapped and kept under heat lamps for no longer than 10 minutes. If someone doesn't buy it within 10 minutes after it's made, it goes into the trash. The Big Mac is built with three buns, two meat patties, one slice of cheese, lettuce, onion, pickles and special sauce.

McDonald's has been working up to the burger wars for several weeks. In December, they started by dropping the price of a single to 49 cents. Then it was a double cheeseburger for 89 cents. "We couldn't keep them in the bin," said Stan Knoles, owner of three local McDonald's franchises. Finally, the coupe de grace: the Big Mac, the most venerable of the McDonald's burgers, for only 99 cents.

"We've known we were going to do this for a long, long time," Knoles said. "We beat everyone to the punch. Now they are following behind us."

You can thank the wet and the cold for the beef patty battles. "When it's cold and snowy, sometimes people need a little boost," Knoles explained. What finer boost than a cheap Big Mac.> Knoles refused to say how long the Big Macs would go for 99 cents. That's secret stuff that McDonald's doesn't want Burger King and Wendy's to know, he explained.

But if you haven't had a chance to partake yet, don't despair.

"I don't think the issue of burger wars will go bye-bye," he said.>