Burger slogans aside, if you’re a burger snob in the mood for fast food, you likely won’t be screeching to the side of the road for any of the burgers served by the chains they represent unless it’s the only thing open. All the menu reinventions, commercials, and image rebranding by McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Carl’s Jr., doesn’t hide the fact that their burgers just aren’t very good.
And it’s not as though good fast-food burgers can’t be made without prices being jacked to ridiculous heights. Sure, it may cost a bit more to make a better burger, but how much? And it’s not as though you’re going to expect a chain of Minetta Tavern quickie-marts serving $26 Black Label Burgers basted with clarified butter at rest-stops along the highway. A Double-Double at In-N-Out is what, $3.20? A double cheeseburger is $2.80 at McDonald’s? How many people would pay $0.40 more for an In-N-Out burger than one from McDonald’s? That’s one reason that recent years have seen the rise of burger chains like Five Guys, Umami, Smashburger, and Shake Shack that are doing better, higher-quality burgers.
So surveying the fast-food playing field, which spots serve the best burger? In the same way the best burgers are the burgers that established your essential burger knowledge, the criteria for your mind’s burger framework, your favorite fast-food burger may be regionally dictated. Maybe it’s In-N-Out because you grew up out West. Maybe it’s Whataburger because you grew up in Texas. These days, chains are spreading out and becoming increasingly less regional. That sets up potential fast-food showdowns where customers can evaluate their favorites against those they’d traditionally have had to travel to try. A national fast-food burger pecking order has never been closer to being established by Americans who don’t have to leave home, or go farther than nearby states to be the judge of who makes a better burger.These days, chains are spreading out and becoming increasingly less regional. That sets up potential fast-food showdowns where customers can evaluate their favorites against those they’d traditionally have had to travel to try. A national fast-food burger pecking order has never been closer to being established by Americans who don’t have to leave home, or go farther than nearby states to be the judge of who makes a better burger.
Establishing this pecking order, a list of America’s Top 10 Fast Food Burgers was done as part of The Daily Meal’s 2013 report to establish a list of the 40 Best Burgers in America. Because of America’s great love for this simple sandwich, and the expertise that has been developed in making them truly great, it was a huge task to narrow America’s most iconic food, the hamburger, to a select group. We searched for burgers in both small towns and big cities, examined local and national best-of lists both in print and online, and reached out to a group of some of America’s foremost burger experts to collect a list of national and local favorites, icons and ideals that were voted on by an expert panel to come up with a list truly that represents a pantheon of burger heroes. To give even the smallest burger joint its fair shake, chains with 15 or more locations weren’t included in that list, but in their own for The Daily Meal’s esteemed panelists to vote on. Burger King, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, and the other cookie-cutter spots along the highway — while nice things can be said about their onion rings, Frostys, french fries and Blizzards — were not considered for this category. For the chains that were considered, the quintessential, or signature burger from each was evaluated.
The results were interesting. It’s likely that people from the West Coast will be outraged by the burger that edged theirs out for top billing. They can take consolation in the fact that it was a close call; voting was neck and neck, with the winner edging out the second place burger by less than 5 percentage points. It’s a result that could be mirrored in the minds of the general population out West after the planned 2014 expansion of one burger chain on this list. Whataburger, Umami Burger, Five Guys — they’re all there, joined by the relative upstart of the crew, Iron Chef Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burger Palace.
The truth is that wherever these burgers ended up on this list, you can trust that they’re a step above the rest, fast-food burgers worth eating.
This article was originally published June 20, 2013.