If you’re like most people, you probably think that a burger isn’t a burger if it doesn’t have some cheese on it. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of amazing cheeseburgers out there, and — from an Atlanta legend served on a home-baked bun to a no-frills burger that’s been a Kansas City staple for more than 70 years — we’ve tracked down the country’s 25 best.
Every year since 2013, we’ve set out to find the best burgers in America, and in June we named the top 101. Our system for ranking these burgers is extensive and thorough: We started by assembling a list of nearly 250 non-chain burgers from all across the country, made up of suggestions from burger authorities, online reviews, and existing best-of lists both in print and online. We then compiled these into a survey which we sent out to a panel of 70 noted writers, journalists, bloggers, and culinary authorities from across the country, asking them to vote for their favorites, limiting their votes to ones that they’d tried within the past two years. The results were tallied, and the burgers that received the most votes made the ranking.
In order to distill that list into a ranking of the top cheeseburgers, we first needed to ask ourselves a question: What exactly is a cheeseburger? For our purposes, we’re defining a cheeseburger as a burger patty that’s topped (or stuffed) with just cheese, as well as the usual condiments and the optional lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions. No bacon, no green chile, no mushrooms, no egg, no avocado. To be a great cheeseburger, the emphasis needs to be on the meat and the cheese, period.
Read on to learn which cheeseburgers are America’s best. It’s easy to make a cheeseburger, but it’s a lot harder than it looks to make one that’s truly great. All of these burgers are made with high-quality beef (no lamb or turkey here), and they’re all properly-proportioned, well-seasoned, nicely seared, and made with love (or at least with skill). We apologize in advance if you read this before eating lunch, because by the time you’re through, you’re going to be starving.
#25 Burger Joint, New York City
To New York burger-lovers and the tourists lining up in front of the ridiculously tall curtain it’s “hidden” behind, the idea that Burger Joint is a secret is, well, silly. Still, you could argue it doesn’t have the national renown that it should. This is a very simple burger, folks. And in a very satisfying setting: a fancy hotel’s corner pocket of dive bar with scribbles on the wall, signs asking you not to scribble on the wall, bare booths, paper wrapping, servers who are rude (with good reason… depending on your perspective), and buns taken straight out of the bag. The Burger Joint’s namesakes have all their components on point, which makes for one of the best total-package cheeseburgers you’ll ever taste.
#24 Winstead’s, Kansas City, Mo.
Winstead’s is a household name in the Kansas City area, serving diner staples and "steakburgers" for more than 70 years. These burgers are what the locals crave when they leave the city: fresh-ground Choice beef served with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and a thick slice of onion (along with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and/or bacon if you want it), served on a soft white bun. Order the double, comprising two 2-ounce patties, smashed down on the griddle until they’re essentially just crust, but retaining moisture. If this is your preferred type of burger, then you probably agree with Kansas City native Calvin Trillin, who proclaimed Winstead's burger one of the best in the world. Add cheese, order a limeade and fries, take in your surroundings, and enjoy what Hamburger America author George Motz calls "the perfect diner eating experience."
Find our entire ranking of the 101 Best Burgers in America here. Additional reporting by Arthur Bovino, Kate Kolenda, and Colman Andrews.