Is there any food more quintessentially American than the burger? The simple sandwich of ground beef on a bun allows for considerable creativity from the chef or home cook 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. We recently published our annual ranking of the 101 Best Burgers in America, and these are the 14 California burgers that made it onto the list.
So what exactly defines the perfect burger? To answer this question we enlisted none other than Pat LaFrieda, butcher extraordinaire and the creator of some of the meat blends that have gone into making some of the most heralded burgers served in America today, including Shake Shack’s and the legendary Black Label burger at New York’s Minetta Tavern.
“The perfect burger, in my view, is one that satisfies what I am hungry for at that moment,” he told us.
Being more specific, he identified the three main burger styles: There are the inch or so-thick patties that drip juice down your arm and give you that “rare beef buzz,” according to LaFrieda, with “a beautiful sear on the exterior, and a bright red, yet warm center.” Next up are the “smash burgers,” sometimes called fast-food style burgers, thin patties cooked on a griddle that get an ample crust and are “stomach pleasers, fast and effective.” Finally, there’s what LaFrieda calls the “aged steak in a burger experience,” masterpieces that raise the humble burger to fine-dining status.
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 two years ago, we took it up to a comprehensive 101. In order to compile this year’s ranking, we assembled a list of about 250 burgers from all across the country, from Hollywood, Florida, to Anchorage, Alaska. Building upon 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 2015 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 non-beef burgers in our ranking, save for the occasional lamb or buffalo [bison] burger), 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 celebrate the best chain burgers annually as well — choosing instead to focus on smaller-time restaurant owners. We compiled a survey which was then taken by a panel of 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.
“Americans love burgers because we see them as something that our country has pioneered,” LaFrieda added. “They are inexpensive, they fill our bellies, and most importantly, they carry a link back to a memory of comfort and safety at some point in our lives. That all equals fun in eating, making it no longer a comfort food, but instead an American pastime.”