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Best Fast Food Burger


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#1 Chris Hennes

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 09:16 AM

It seems like every time I drive down the street a new fast food place is opening in my town. Of course, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, etc. And Carl's Jr, and now Jack in the Box, and a couple others I can't even remember the names of. Back on the East Coast I was fond of Backyard Burgers and Five Guys, but we don't have either of those here. Which places should I try for the best fast food burger?

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#2 Rico

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 09:31 AM

Well, I think Five Guys just showed up in Dallas; they might get to Norman pretty soon (no place better for good fast-food burgers than a college town, right?)


So, my anaylsis of fast-food burgers, keeping in mind that they are all decidedly fast food:

I don't know if Norman has a Burger Street, but that's No. 1 on my list by a mile, as it seems to me to have the freshest vegetables and the best ratios of meat to veggies to bun size. I'll go ahead and throw in the note that I can't really tell a massive difference between the flavors in any fast-food hamburger meat; it just tastes to me like ... fast-food hamburger meat.

I'd say Braums is next on my list - again, because of freshness of the veggies. To me the bun is not particularly memorable, but it's not memoarably bad, either. And they serve the burger in the little-paper-holder-napkin-sack thing (what's that really called?). Because the stuff might fall out without it when you eat the burger. I like that.

Next, Whataburger. Because I'm from Texas and I'll get shot if I don't put it on the list. Not making it No. 1 was a risk in itself ...

#3 Chris Hennes

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 08:50 PM

We don't have Burger Street here, but we do have Braum's and Whataburger (neither of which I've tried). I've read some good things about Wendy's, too, but I've never been there, either. I'm suspicious of square hamburgers, though. I don't have a rational reason for that.

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#4 robirdstx

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 09:17 PM

Maybe a bit off topic but I love the WhatAChicken with cheese at WhatABurger.

#5 Pierogi

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 11:40 PM

We don't have Burger Street here, but we do have Braum's and Whataburger (neither of which I've tried). I've read some good things about Wendy's, too, but I've never been there, either. I'm suspicious of square hamburgers, though. I don't have a rational reason for that.

Of the national chains, I'd choose Carl's/Hardee's hands down, although I hear they've just been sold, so I fear they'll get shoved into the BK/MickeyD model. Jack in the Box used to be good too, but lately they've moved more to the held-way-too-long-in-the-steam-table end of the spectrum. Carl's, at least out here on the Left Coast, still runs their burgers under a live flame, and you can taste the difference. Even if they sit for a few minutes, they still taste pretty good.

Wendy's I think, uses a flat-top, which puts them above MickeyD's (well, that don't take much....) but I don't think in a class with Carl's. However, I do think they make them pretty much to order, which also gives Wendy's points.

Of course, the best bet is move to where In-N-Out operates.
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#6 Chris Hennes

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 01:21 PM

It's my understanding that Carl's Jr. purchased Hardees at some point in the recent past, and that the trend is to make Hardees more like Carl's Jr, rather than the reverse. That said, it's interesting to me that you are a fan of Carl's Jr.'s burgers: they get a pretty bad rap over at A Hamburger Today.

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#7 Porthos

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 03:52 PM

It's my understanding that Carl's Jr. purchased Hardees at some point in the recent past, and that the trend is to make Hardees more like Carl's Jr, rather than the reverse. That said, it's interesting to me that you are a fan of Carl's Jr.'s burgers: they get a pretty bad rap over at A Hamburger Today.

I'm in my late 50's and Carl's by far is my goto burger and has been since I was a teen. The flame char-broiling produces a much better flavor (IMHO) than you can ever get from a grill. In-n-Out is #2 for me because of the grilled onions they offer (yes - I now they're grilled).

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#8 ScoopKW

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 11:12 PM

As far as beef patty quality -- Fatburger. Fatburger makes as good a burger as I do (unless I feel rich and hand chop wagyu.) It's big and thick and hand formed so not perfectly round. And they know how to actually brown beef. So it's a damned fine burger. If aliens came down and asked me to show them this "hamburger" they hear so much about on our radio commercials, I would take them straight to Fatburger. And I'd order two 24-oz "Triple Kings" and challenge them to a burger eating contest -- my car's pink slip against their spaceship's pink slip.

As far as "total package" -- Tommy's Original Hamburger Shack. I think they're only CA and NV though. It's not so much the burger (which is about the same as an In-N-Out). It's the chili they put on top of it. That addictive, addictive chili. I have them slather it on the burger, the fries, and then I take some more chili to-go.

In-N-Out is OK. But only if everything is ordered "Animal Style." They treat their employees really well. (In fact, if I can't find work on a line sometime soon, I plan on applying.) So I feel good when I plunk down my $7 for a double-double and some animal style fries.


Those are the only three burger joints I will visit. The rest are merely fast-food, and not worth the money (or empty calories) to me. If I'm going to consume that many calories -- and have to bike it off later -- those are the only three that are worth my time and money.
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#9 Pierogi

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 12:09 AM

It's my understanding that Carl's Jr. purchased Hardees at some point in the recent past, and that the trend is to make Hardees more like Carl's Jr, rather than the reverse. That said, it's interesting to me that you are a fan of Carl's Jr.'s burgers: they get a pretty bad rap over at A Hamburger Today.

Interesting. I wonder if it's a regional thing? In SoCal, Carl's has always been outstanding.

Yeah, like all fast-food burgers, they're cooked to well done, and yeah, that's not how I'd do it at home. But, then *I'm* not worried about 7 million suit-happy consumers thinking they got E. coli from my food.

But dry and chewy, nah, not so much. At least the meat has a definative flavor from the live flame, which is more than can be said for the other national chains.

Certainly, the regional chains, (Tommy's, Fatburger, In-N-Out) do a better job. And certainly the Mom & Pop one-ofs do an even better job (usually). But nationally, I'd pick a Carl's/Hardees any time.
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#10 ScoopKW

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 12:29 AM

Certainly, the regional chains, (Tommy's, Fatburger, In-N-Out) do a better job. And certainly the Mom & Pop one-ofs do an even better job (usually). But nationally, I'd pick a Carl's/Hardees any time.


I haven't found a good Mom & Pop in my area. And if I'm in an unknown area, it's hard to tell if the local Mom & Pop "brings it." Even a parking lot full of classic cars doesn't mean much. There's classic cars at my local Sonic once a week. 'Nuff said.

Also, I think you have the benefit of being in SoCal -- birthplace of all three of my favorite joints. SoCal is to burgers what New York is to pizza. Other places might make a good pie here and there. But there is no comparison of any region's pizza scene to New York's pizza scene. (Stop howling, Chicago. That isn't pizza. It's good. But it's not pizza.) Same with greater Los Angeles and burgers. Lots of people are going to think, "We have a great burger over at fill-in-the-blank." But they know in their hearts that In-N-Out, Tommy's and Fatburger didn't just spring up miraculously -- LA rules the burger world.
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#11 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 08:19 AM

FInding a mom-and-pop anything here in the southern midwest is challenging. And most of them are crap, sometimes even crappier than the major chains. I make a pretty wicked burger at home (following paulraphael's suggestions here) and I know I can't hold fast food up to that standard, but the burgers you guys are describing sound great, for what they are. How are Sonic's burgers, since you mention them? I've never been there (I know, I know, bad Oklahoman...).

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#12 ScoopKW

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 09:00 AM

How are Sonic's burgers, since you mention them?


Better than the bigger chains -- McD's, BK, Wendy's. Not nearly as good as Carl's Jr./Hardees. Not in the same league as the California triumvirate. I've never had a Five Brothers or Whataburger, but I will certainly pull in if I ever see one.

I won't eat at Sonic. Because for the same money I can get good Mexican at one of the taco stalls that Las Vegas ordinance require to be placed no more than 1,000 feet apart. I'd rather have good Mexican than an ordinary burger, any day.
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#13 gfweb

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 09:33 AM

Hardees taste of flavor enhancers to me..soy perhaps (or a yeast hydrolysate that is a way to sneak in glutamate without the label). Having said that, I do like them.

The new BK burger, whatever they call it, it a really big simple hamburger. It is not bad.

#14 tino27

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 11:11 AM

If my dining options are limited to the big boys, my preference is for a Wendy's double with cheese. And their fries, when done well, are also quite good.

However, if I'm home in Akron, when my craving for a good burger rears its head, it is usually satisfied by a Swenson's Galley Boy. Something about the combination of the meat, the cheese, the two sauces and the toasted bun. In fact, I even wrote about it on my blog.

Crap, now I'm suddenly craving one. :biggrin:
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#15 Chris Hennes

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 11:22 AM

I had a bacon cheeseburger at Braum's, a regional chain, this weekend, at it was indeed very good. Thanks for the recommendation, Rico, I don't think I would have tried them otherwise, I associate them with ice cream, and place that specialize in ice cream rarely seem to have good burgers, in my experience.

And, count me in favor of flavor enhancement! If it tastes good, it tastes good, and I don't want to know what's in it, or how many calories it is. It's not like I'm eating these things every day...

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#16 Porthos

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 12:07 PM

If my dining options are limited to the big boys, my preference is for a Wendy's double with cheese.

My DW likes them but I won't touch a Wendy's burger. For years when we went there I would get the chili. Now they have a passable chicken sandwich.

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#17 Fat Guy

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 12:38 PM

Red Robin is not terrible.
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#18 Porthos

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 01:33 PM

Red Robin is not terrible.

My problem with Red Robin is that I've turned into a cranky old man. The RR near us is really noisy and that, for me, ruins being there.

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#19 Toliver

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 08:56 AM

Red Robin is not terrible.

I once had a "pot roast" burger at Red Robin that was quite delicious and total comfort food. It certainly didn't qualify as a true hamburger, but oh my, it was pure genius. Alas, it's no longer on their menu in my area. :sad:

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#20 JAZ

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 09:08 AM

Does Red Robin count as fast food, though? Isn't it a sit-down restaurant?

#21 Dave the Cook

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 10:01 AM

Does Red Robin count as fast food, though? Isn't it a sit-down restaurant?

I'd ask the same question about Five Guys. Perhaps we should define "fast food."

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#22 Chris Hennes

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 12:13 PM

Well, as I originally intended it, I really wanted places with a drive-through window. But that crosses Five Guys off the list, despite their burger being distinctly "fast food-esque" (albeit very good for a fast food burger). I think everyplace else mentioned has a drive through window, though.

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#23 vice

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 06:39 PM

How about using the lack of table service as the the criterion?
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#24 Dave the Cook

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 07:27 PM

That might work, or maybe that you don't have to get out of your car to get your food?

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#25 Fat Guy

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 07:29 PM

I took Mr. Hennes's meaning to be "chain restaurant" as opposed to a formal definition of fast food as in "QSR" or some other industry category. Also there has been a lot of line blurring over the past few years especially with the rise of the "fast-casual" category.
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#26 weinoo

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 05:31 AM

Defining a "fast-food" burger has been much discussed - simply click here.
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#27 Chris Hennes

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 08:34 AM

I suggest for the purposes of this topic we go with "it must have a drive-through window" and I therefore withdraw Five Guys from consideration. As the discussion Mitch linked to makes abundantly clear, this is no easy distinction, and the line has definitely been blurred by the "fast casual" places. Perhaps a "best chain burger" discussion is in order, too. But I personally am looking for a burger I can grab and run with when I'm in a hurry. No waiting in line for 20 minutes, no 10 minutes to cook it to order, etc. FAST food.

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#28 Dave the Cook

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 10:41 AM

That might work, or maybe that you don't have to get out of your car to get your food?



I suggest for the purposes of this topic we go with "it must have a drive-through window" and I therefore withdraw Five Guys from consideration. As the discussion Mitch linked to makes abundantly clear, this is no easy distinction, and the line has definitely been blurred by the "fast casual" places. Perhaps a "best chain burger" discussion is in order, too. But I personally am looking for a burger I can grab and run with when I'm in a hurry. No waiting in line for 20 minutes, no 10 minutes to cook it to order, etc. FAST food.

Upon further reflection, these proposals leave out restaurants that are indisputably fast-food places if they're located in dense urban areas. New York and San Francisco are two places I know of where real estate is often too expensive to allow parking, let alone a driveway and window.

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#29 NadyaDuke

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 01:19 PM

Well in Oregon and Southern Washington we have Burgerville, which not only has a drive-thru lanes, it has bike-thru lanes. But that won't help you, Chris, in Oklahoma :-(. Which is a shame because their sweet potato fries and blackberry milkshakes (both seasonal items) are fabulous.

#30 Chris Hennes

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 02:33 PM

Having a drive-through is just a proxy for being fast enough that the throughput is about one order per minute per line, and probably no more than five minutes to complete one single order from start to finish (and even five minutes is a long time). Fast. No broad philosophical questions: if Thomas Keller will make me a burger in that timeframe, he counts.

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