The burger is one of the staples of American popular cuisine. The simple recipe allows for considerable creativity from the chef who's making it, and there are thousands of variations, from one end of the country to the other. And when done properly, there are few foods more delicious.
In a recent interview, meat-blending master Pat LaFrieda shared some of the key characteristics of the foundation of a great burger: the patty. LaFrieda has found that “An eight-ounce burger, inch-thick, is perfect for a barbecue — it can get a good sear without overcooking it.” What it’s actually made of, or not made of, matters, too; the butcher likes to keep it an all-beef affair and thinks that mixing in additions such as beans and red peppers makes it “taste like meatloaf. It no longer tastes like a burger.” Finally, not all meat blends are created equal, and he warned us that the meat-to-fat ratio should be 80/20 because “Anything else is a marketing ploy.”
We at The Daily Meal began ranking our country’s burgers back in 2013, when we detailed what we had found to be the 40 best, and last year, we took it up to a comprehensive 101. In order to compile this year’s ranking, we assembled a list of nearly 250 burgers from all across the country, from Hollywood, Florida, to Anchorage, Alaska. Building upon last year’s suggestions from various authorities on the subject, we dug through online reviews and combed existing best-of lists, both in print and online, that were published since our 2014 burger ranking. Even though each of the burgers we found was unique, certain qualities were universal must-haves: high-quality beef (you'll find no turkey or black bean burgers here), proper seasoning, well-proportioned components, and an overall attention to detail that many would call “making it with love.” As usual, we didn’t include large chains like Shake Shack and In-N-Out — we celebrated the best chain burgers earlier this year — choosing instead to focus on smaller-time restaurant owners. We compiled a survey which was then taken by a panel of 50 noted writers, journalists, bloggers, and culinary authorities from across the country, asking them to vote for their favorites, limited to the ones that they’ve tried.
We divided these burgers by region and compiled a survey that was taken by a panel of 70 noted writers, journalists, bloggers, and other culinary authorities from across the country, among them Hamburger America author George Motz, along with the knowledgeable Daily Meal staff, City Editors, and contributors. Participants were asked to vote for their favorites, limiting themselves to places they’ve actually visited. We tallied the results, and the 101 burgers that received the most votes are the ones you’ll find in this story.
This year’s list spans the country, from sea to shining sea. New York City gained the most ground over last year, garnering three new spots to lead the way with 18 entries. Los Angeles edged up just slightly with one new spot to claim eight burgers joints on the list. Texas gained substantial ground; last year, there were only six burgers from the state that made the cut, whereas this year, there are five in Austin, two in Houston, and three others from smaller towns, which brings the grand total number of spots given to Lone Star State burgers to 10.
Atlanta and Philadelphia each lost two spots since last year, winning three each out of 101. And San Francisco and Seattle lost ground as well. But great burgers aren’t limited to just big cities; other locations include Hackensack, New Jersey; Lake Oswego, Oregon; Meriden, Connecticut; Roanoke, Virginia; and Salina, Kansas.
Regionally, the Midwest slid from eight spots to 11 this year and the Southeast also lost ground, going from 27 to 21 spots. Conversely, the Northeast held steady at 30 entries, the West gained four to bring its total to 23, and the biggest gain was seen in the Southwest, which doubled its representation from eight spots to 16.
One question is: Why do burgers hold such a high place in the American culinary psyche? We think Mr. Motz said it best when he told us that “Americans are intensely proud of their hamburger heritage, probably because it’s widely known that the burger is an American invention. The burger also carries a lot of weight in the nostalgia department and is the ultimate portable comfort food available everywhere.” So, did your local favorite make the list? (If not, let us know and we'll add it to our list to consider next year.) What about that burger you crave from that certain spot back in your hometown? You’ll just have to read on to find out.
#101 No. 5 Double Meat Special, Keller's Drive-In, Dallas
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the first Keller’s (there are now three locations around Dallas), and after one bite of their No. 5 Double Meat Special, it’s easy to taste why they’ve enjoyed such longevity. The burger is two grilled patties of fresh-ground beef with a slice of American cheese melted between them, topped with lettuce, tomato, and a Thousand Island-like dressing, which is all sandwiched between two halves of a poppy seed bun. For those who like to “go big or go home,” so to speak, we suggest adding bacon, which they pile up under the two patties.
#100 Edmund's Bacon Egg & Cheeseburger, Edmund's Oast, Charleston, S.C.
This clubby brew pub, the preserve of craft-beer advocates Rich Carley and Scott Shor, is named for Edmund Egan, an English brewer who started making beer in Charleston in the mid-eighteenth century (an oast is a kiln for drying hops). The beer selection, not surprisingly, is extraordinary, and there are interesting wines and seductive cocktails. The food is surprisingly varied (curried squash custard, pickled shrimp, whole fried flounder), but for many Charlestonians, it's all about the burger — a beautiful construction of thick burger patty, melted cheese, crisp bacon, a sunny-side-up egg, and all the usual trimmings on a smoked-salt-and-black-pepper brioche bun. It towers so high that some diners eat it with a knife and fork.