“I’m not mad about this assignment.”
~AFFotD’s Food Critic
Full disclosure—we are straight up stealing an article here. It’s theft, pure and simple, taking this list from our friends at The Classic Dad and rewriting it, while keeping the rankings exactly as they were. Now normally we’d view that as a Christopher-Blair-level of douchbaggery, but hear us out. Okay, it’s pretty hack on our part, but one of our writers actually wrote the original article, and we asked him if we could use it. He said no, but then we asked him if we could use it if we gave him a bottle of whiskey. He asked, “What kind?” We said, “Jim Beam.” He said, “I don’t get out of fucking bed for less than Woodford Reserve.” We told him to fuck off, we’re not made of $30 whiskey. Then we stole the article and posted it here.
Okay, so maybe he didn’t give us the okay…meh. This is the internet it’s the Wild West out here baby.
Anyway. Fast food hamburgers. You know them. You love them. They are literally in your arteries right now, which, holy shit, go to a doctor get that looked at, you might need a bypass. There are a lot of fast food chains out there that make cheap, unhealthy, delicious meat pucks for your consumption on the daily. But which fast food chain reigns supreme? Well, we (read as, our writer who is so mad at us right now he is literally threatening a lawsuit, haha, good luck finding any assets we can even liquidate, buddy) set out to determine, once and for all, who makes the best Fast Food burger in the United States.
A few notes. First, it was with heavy hearts that we had to omit Steak ‘N Shake from this list, because the mere mention of its name led to an hour-long argument about if Steak ‘N Shake counts as fast food or not. Secondly, while some of these are in fact regional chains, we set an arbitrary rule that you have to be in at least five states and, oh, let’s say over 150 locations, for us to include you on this list. So that knocks off Fuddruckers, for example. Also, we just didn’t want to go to Fuddruckers. And there is a good chance that one of your favorite fast food chains did not make this list somehow. There’s a very good explanation for that if that is in fact the case. It is because we have a strong personal dislike of you. Yes, you. Remember 7th grade? We do, fuckko.
Anyway, to the list!
The 16 Best Fast Food Hamburgers in America: A Stolen List
16: Dairy Queen
Dairy Queen opened in Joliet, Illinois in 1940, and as you tell by the name, their first impulse wasn’t to lean hard into the hamburger business. They made Ice Cream, and apparently the name Ice Cream King was already stolen so they had to improvise. But as a general rule, if you find someone going to Dairy Queen specifically for their burger, run away, you’re about to witness a mass shooting. The Dairy Queen burger exists so you can have an excuse to get a Blizzard, as if you ever needed one. This is America, if you’re an adult, you can have ice cream whenever you fucking want. Feel like getting some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups mashed in there? Go for it, you’re a winner! You should be allowed to eat ice cream for goddamn breakfast if you want, but the cowards at Dairy Queen only open at 11.
Anyway, their burger isn’t necessarily trash, it’s just wholly unnecessary. And last place on our (Classic Dad’s) list.
15: Sonic Drive In
Sonic Drive-In, or “that one chain that did like a million commercials with those two guys in a car are supposed to be funny?” as you probably know it, has been slinging burgers since ever since 1953 when it started as a root beer stand called Top Hat, eventually changing its name to Sonic in 1959 and establishing itself as a one of the largest drive-in fast food establishments in America. Now they have over 3,500 locations all over America where people can not give a shit about their completely-fine-but-nothing-special burgers while they admit that they only showed up for the Limeade. As the original writer of this article pointed out, you’re generally not going to find a mind-blowing burger at a drive-in restaurant. That’s not really what drive-in restaurants are there for. They’re for necking and smoking cigarettes while slicking back your hair and planning drag races. Keep in mind we honestly have not actually seen a drive-in restaurant outside of re-watching the film American Graffiti.
Checkers (and Rally’s) has been around only since the mid 80s, which is relatively young as far as national chains go. There’s a fair chance that your experience with this restaurant has fallen somewhere between “I do not live in one of the 28 states that has a Checker’s Drive-In” and “I haven’t been because it’s in one of those neighborhoods where the street lights flash yellow at night so you don’t slow down there.” But if you have been a Checkers, congrats! You made it back! How was the burger? Like, only fine? That’s what we thought!
It’s kind of surprising how many fast-food restaurants started as root beer shops. Well, okay, there are two that started that way, but still. A&W was founded in 1919 in California, and we’ll give you one fucking guess why root beer was such a big deal back then. But yeah, again, no one is swarming A&W for the burgers. The burgers are fine, but half the people there are just getting the cheese curds and a frosty mug of root beer, which admittedly is amazing but has nothing to do with its burger. Which is fine. Like, you won’t see us calling a hamburger bad. Just boring.
12: Jack in the Box
If you find yourself suddenly in a Jack in the Box, don’t panic, just assess your surroundings. You clearly are drunk, and probably a little high. You’re in the West Coast, and probably in California. And you’re just destroying a plate of cheap ass tacos. Did you go here for a burger? Fuck no you did not.
Also, can we talk about Jack in the Box’s marketing department? They do so many national ads that are useless to people in the Midwest and the East Coast. Is there a way they can target that shit better? Also, their horrifying mascot…why does he always wear a suit and tie? Like, he’s an upside down ice cream cone with a face. Why did you also make him a businessman? We hate him so much, and every time we close our eyes we see his haunting visage, whispering, “I don’t even go here for the burgers.”
11: Burger King
The first Burger King was founded Miami, but its predecessor was Insta-Burger located in in Jacksonville. When Insta-Burger King (which is a trash name) went out of business, one of its franchise owners purchase it and named it Burger King. So technically Burger King started in Jacksonville. Listen, if you’re an international chain that was founded in Jacksonville, you should consider yourself lucky you made it this high on the list. Honestly, if you didn’t know we were talking about Burger King and we said, “Yeah it’s a burger place from Jacksonville that’s been around since the 60s” you probably would have assumed that every location was next to a tattoo parlor and that it’s only customers were teenagers looking to score weed from the cashiers. And while that actually is true for the Jacksonville location of Burger King, the rest of them are fine, but nothing to write home about. Like, hey, we like the whole “flame-grilled” thing, but the last time any member of our staff actually went to a Burger King by choice it was because Burger King was the only place open 24 hours in Evanston, and he wanted to get drunk after being forced to watch a Big 10 football game in a venue that doesn’t sell beer.
Listen, there are people who are very obsessed with Burger King. Like, they wear Burger King shirts, they go every day. They also have glasses that are about three inches thick and blow spit bubbles in public. These are not the people to listen to in terms of burger preferences.
Ronald McDonald is a creepy clown (murderer?) who only associates with fucking mutants, and the “I’m Loving It” jingle was directly responsible for a 20% rise in domestic abuse reports in the state of Alabama alone, but they still make a slightly better burger than Burger King. Like, the single hamburger on their value menu might be the most depressing thing ever, but at least some of their locations (not all) are using fresh meat, and the Big Mac is pretty okay. Plus, most of you grew up eating McDonald’s, so it’s got that nostalgia factor going for it. Anyway we’re not going to spend any more time talking about McDonald’s, they’ve got all the free publicity they need anyway.
Wendy’s recently bested Burger King in terms of total sales, and as you can see in this list they make a better burger. Like, listen, you go here for the spicy chicken sandwich, except for when the baconator is on the menu, but their burgers are still good. Definitely the best of the “Big Three” as far as hamburger joints go. Wendy’s is the place that saves you from mediocrity when the rest stop only has a Subway and a McDonald’s Express, and we’re going to ruin your day by asking you to picture Dave Thomas in a sexual situation. Why did we do that? Ugh, that’s awful. Ugh, he’s wearing briefs. The man is dead, this is so disrespectful, it really shows how far downhill we’ve come as a publication that we had to tag that on there because this section was feeling a little light on the jokes front.
8: White Castle/Krystal
The first time our editor-in-chief heard about White Castle, it was about their sliders, and well, it was a diarrhea reference. Which is bullshit. Wait, not the best curse word choice there. It’s fucked, because White Castle is pretty goddamn delicious. And, they were the first ever fast food hamburger chain in America, so maybe try having a little respect for your elders. When you’re talking about the most influential burger of all time, you’ve got to show some deference. You know these guys. They’re steamed patties with holes (that let the steam come up and cook the burgers faster) with onions and pickle that we’d still eat even if you told us it was made out of dryer lint.
Anyway, if you’re reading this in the South and are thinking “huh that sounds a lot like Krystal” well that’s because they’re pretty much the same fucking burger.
7: Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s
Carl’s Jr. was founded in 1941 in Los Angeles as a hot dog cart. Normally, if you started off selling “not burgers” and then transition to burgers later, you won’t be too high up on this list, but Carl’s Jr. is the exception to that rule. Helping matters is Hardee’s, which was founded in 1960 in North Carolina and did actually start off as a full-fledged restaurant. When Carl’s Jr. purchased Hardee’s in 1997, the two maintained separate, largely regional franchises, but the burgers are the same. And they are monsters. Carl’s Jr. tends to get itself in the news for one of two reasons—they either just did an ad that pissed a lot of people off (like, we don’t even care about the male gaze issues at play, just don’t give work to Paris Hilton, goddamn it) or because they released a new burger that has enough calories to feed the entirety of Latvia. And that’s the kind of shit we can get behind.
Whataburger is one of the more regionalized items on this list, operating mostly in the Southeastern and Southwestern parts of America, but for you godforsaken Yankees out there, we’ll give you a basic run down. It’s been around since 1950, when it opened in Texas, they make damn fine burgers, their name is honestly pretty fucking awful (“heh heh get it, what a burger? Get it?” shut up forever, Harmon Dobson) and they’re typically open 24 hours, and you can customize that shit to your heart’s content. So yeah, it’s pretty damn good. We’re in the good burger territory, in case you haven’t noticed.
Every few years, it’s randomly decided by the powers that be that a certain thing that like, 10% of all burger places were already doing, is the “new way” to do a burger. Like, remember the late 2000s and early 2010s when the idea of a burger on a pretzel roll was like some sort of revelation on par with God handing Moses the ten commandments? Well, now that trend is going towards smashed burgers, which is exactly what it sounds like. You take a burger, you smash it on a hot griddle, it gets all flat and shit with caramelized edges that are really fucking good. Steak N’ Shake basically does it this way, and we love Steak N’ Shake but can’t include it in our rankings because fucking Karen thinks that having a waitress or not is a more important indicator of a place being Fast Food than a goddamn drive-thru lane. If there’s a drive-thru that means the food has to be cooked fast, Karen. Goddamn it.
Sorry, we got off track a bit. Sorry. Anyway, Smashburger has not been around for a long time, it opened in 2007 in Denver, but their focus is, shockingly, the smashed burger. Compared to your typical fast food burger, smashed burgers are a revelation. It really elevates shit up a notch. There are only about 370 locations, but it’s spread out over 37 states so you can probably find one in or near a major city. But why are we telling you this, is Smashburger giving us money? No? Fuck them then, next burger.
Here’s a message for the people of Southern California. In-N-Out is fine, but you guys need to chill on that shit. It’s a good burger, but it is not “wait in line for twenty minutes at 10 o’clock in the morning even though there are like a dozen locations with a three mile radius of LA” good. And you gotta stop pretending that’s not the case. The secret menu is bullshit—they post that shit on their own website. Ordering from the “secret menu” on In-N-Out and feeling all “in the know” because you got it Animal-style (when literally no one does not get animal-style) is even lamer than going to those speakeasy bars that require you know a password to get in (that also is on their website) because at least you can get drunk at the speakeasy. In-N-Out is a cult, and all you California readers who are rushing to defend it clearly have been brainwashed by living your whole lives in a city with no seasons. When you don’t have a winter or a summer, it eventually fucks with your perspective.
That said? In-N-Out is still pretty great. As far as fast food burgers go, it’s one of the best. It’s a simple but nearly perfectly executed burger. So we kind of get it. But also, calm the fuck down. Its fries are trash and animal-style is just fucking mayo, ketchup and mustard mixed together. Calm the fuck down.
This is one of the smaller chains that we’re talking about, and if you don’t live in the Midwest you’ve yet to experience the joy of a ButterBurger and frozen custard, so folks let’s just say that this chain was founded in 1984 in Wisconsin, so yes, of course Wisconsin is going to be responsible for the chain that slathers their buns in delicious melted butter and uses that to assemble an A+ burger. They’ve been expanding lately, so you have more of a chance to try it for yourself, but it’s a damn good burger. We don’t have anything funny to say about this one. Like, does Culvers have a mascot or spokesperson we can talk about in a sexual setting, like how we ruined Dave Thomas for you? They don’t, huh. Well damn. Looks like we’ll just have to again force you to close your eyes and picture Dave Thomas, in sexual congress. He’s not doing anything illegal, immoral, or even kinky. Just some slightly creative coitus for about three minutes with his gym socks still on. This guy. Yes. Picture it. We are monsters and hacks, we know this, picture it you cowards.
2: Shake Shack
There’s been some articles lately saying that Shake Shack is the most overrated fast food restaurant, but as we’ve established that title goes to In-N-Out. That said, we don’t disagree with the assessment. Shake Shack started 14 years ago in New York, and New Yorkers never overhype anything that originates there, no siree. New Yorkers lose their shit over Shake Shack almost as much as Californians with In-N-Out, but at least an IN-N-Out Double Double sets you back $3.50, as opposed to how every single time you go to Steak Shack you somehow manage to spend exactly 18 dollars. But that said, we still are willing to go in and spend that 18 dollars, which is probably tells you all you need to know about this burger.
Shake Shack might be the smallest of the fast food chains on this list, but it’s also the fastest growing. Right now it’s got 136 locations, and we’re almost tempted to bump them up a bit because they serve beer. But this isn’t a “best fast food restaurants that also serve alcohol” list (which, holy shit, is an article we might have to write now). It’s a best burger list. And we can’t see them overtaking the next guy(s) on our list, because even the bacon-covered SmokeShack can’t quite compete with…
1: Five Guys
Five Guys really had a moment in 2010, when they saw a 30% sales growth over the course of a single year on their way to expand to their current size of over 1,500 locations. It’s been around since 1986, but they didn’t start franchising until 2003 when they really blew up. Here’s a crazy fact—in 2001 there were exactly five locations of Five Guys, even though it had been open for over 15 years. In the next 15 years, it multiple its number of stores by three hundred. And why’s that? Is it because people like walking into fast casual places filled with random bags of peanuts? Of course not, it’s amazing we haven’t heard of a kid go into anaphylaxis at one of their locations yet.
No, it’s the burger. They use a fluffier, sweeter and “eggier” bun than their competition, and they only use 80/20 ground chuck that only includes steer and heifer meat—basically, you won’t find any added trimmings or pink slime in the burgers. It used to be a treat only for those in the Washington D.C. area, but now that it’s expanded worldwide just about anyone can sit down, order a burger, wait like fifteen fucking minutes (the one downside to this place is how long they take to make a damn burger) and come away with what we have (not) scientifically proven is the best fast food burger in America.
Also, apologies to “Jeff G.” for Classic Dad for stealing your article. But that’s your own fault. You could be sipping some smooth Jim Beam* right now. But you missed your chance and we stole your article. We regret nothing.
*This article was sponsored by Jim Beam, as soon as they start paying us