Another year, another unbelievable assortment of burgers. Are we running out of new burger ideas? Well, BurgerBusiness.com featured more than 600 different builds just in the Burger of the Month specials roundups this year. I like to say there are no bad burgers, but here are some of the more- and less-good creations and ideas of this year. I’m counting on 2016 to be even better. Happy holidays.
BURGER OF THE YEAR
Jack in the Box responded to research showing many of its customers wanted a juicier, more flavorful burger by giving them just that. The chain introduced its Buttery Jack Burgers in January, calling them “the melt-in-your-mouth relationship your burger has always deserved…with butter.” The quarter-pound beef patties feature garlic-herb butter melted on top and a new bun. Customers made Buttery Jack the chain’s most successful new-product intro in more than a dozen years.
BURGER CHAIN OF THE YEAR
The year’s hottest burger concept on Wall Street and wherever it opens, Shake Shack refuses to let the accolades go to its head. It opened just a dozen U.S. locations this year, plus six overseas in the Wales, Japan and the Middle East. A South Korean unit will open in 2016. The secret: a limited menu of top-quality burgers that doesn’t slow speed coupled with operations expertise.
INDIE JOINT OF THE YEAR
It hasn’t appeared in every “The Week’s Most Intriguing Burgers” list only because I want to let some others get some ink. But Victory Burger in Oakland, Calif., creates something different, intriguing and delicious every week. It has pioneered the use of vegetables and nontraditional foods in burgers. For example, its Grilled Summer Squash Burger (above) topped its Five Dot Ranch burger with grilled slices of summer squash, a sauce of heirloom tomatoes and chilies de arbol with spring onion & lemon mayo.
BURGER OF THE YEAR (INTERNATIONAL)
The Freddar Dawg served at UK chain Byron gets the nod not just because the 6-oz. burger was served on a hot dog bun with bacon, lettuce, onion and mustard, but because it has its own proprietary cheese. Named after the chain’s head chef, Fred Smith, Freddar Cheese is a blend of three cheeses that looks and melts like good ol’ American cheese, but tastes even better.
OVER-THE-TOP BURGER OF THE YEAR
I love Des Moines burger emporium Zombie Burger + Drink Bar and feature it often. But even I responded “Umm, no” to its March Fatness burger. Beef, tater tots, American cheese, waffle sausage dogs, Shiner Bock-bacon country gravy and mayo? Love ya, but no.
MOST DISAPPOINTING BURGER OF THE YEAR
It coulda been a contender. It tapped into the black-bun craze at just the right time, but there was one problem: Burger King’s A.1. Halloween Whopper reportedly turned poop green. Not good.
SIDE DISH OF THE YEAR
Canada has poutine; the U.S. has loaded fries, which this year became the gotta-have side. Wendy’s led the charge with Baconator Fries, Ghost Pepper Fries and Pulled Pork Cheese Fries, but others had a go with the idea, too. Carl’s Jr. even tested Pizza Fries topped with pepperoni and cheese.
CONDIMENT OF THE YEAR
Pickles have gained a hip cachet and often brand-name billing on menus a well. Those fried pickles with chipotle aïoli at burger joint Local 186 in Provincetown, Mass., are Grillo pickles. Kooper’s Tavern in Baltimore used to serve Tanner’s pickles (as with the BBQ Burger above) but now puts Schwartz’s pickles alongside. The Avenue in St. Petersburg, Fla., did an April special burger that was paired with a Surrealist IPA pickle from local Green Bench Brewing Co.
BURGER AD OF THE YEAR
McDonald’s “We hear you” ad campaign that preceded the October 6 introduction of all-day breakfast brought to life actual tweets from customers pleading for the menu expansion. But more impressive is that McDonald’s built a database of all the thousands and thousands who ever posted similar tweets over the years calling for all-day breakfast. Then it tried to respond to each of them with alerts about the rollout.