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With grilling season underway, it’s only fitting that Thursday is National Hamburger Day. The fast food staple has a rich history both in the United States and internationally, making it one of the few culinary options that you can find basically anytime, anywhere.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a simple creation. While sampling the five national burger chains that were part of this test, I encountered four types of hamburger patty, three varieties of condiments, two different types of bun and, of course, one burger to take home the Yahoo Food crown.
The parameters of the test were simple, order one hamburger from each establishment — no special requests — and rank them based on taste, size, temperature, price and overall satisfaction.
Editor’s Note: One very popular hamburger joint you won’t see in this list is Shake Shack. With arguably the best burgers out there, they just have 40 locations in 12 states and Washington, D.C. — so they don’t quite hit the bar as a national chain just yet. Also, this taste test took place in New York, so we weren’t able to include Carl’s Jr or Hardee’s.
The sliders at White Castle come in a cardboard box rather than a regular burger wrapper. (All photos: Anthony Sulla-Heffinger)
Price: $0.78 per slider
Order time: Less than 1 minute
Review: White Castle had the most unique burger out of any of the five restaurants I sampled, serving miniature burgers, a.k.a. sliders, rather than offering a full-sized option. Because of this, White Castle will always bring up the rear in the size department, but what the mini burger was lacking in stature, it nearly made up for in flavor and aroma. The moment you open the bag and grab one of the savory burgers, you understand why an entire feature-length film was based on two stoners venturing to White Castle. The scent hits you hard and then the first bite packs an even heavier wallop. White Castle serves its burgers with grilled, diced onions, pickles and ketchup, all of which do an excellent job of masking the slider’s shortcomings. First, the bottom half of the bun was soggy, nearly soaked through with the grease and drippings from the patty, if you can even call it that. White Castle’s second big strike was its lackluster meat patty, which was smaller, thinner, and had less flavor than any of its competition. I’m not asking for much, but any sort of stimulation of my taste buds would have been much appreciated. That, combined with its small size and soggy bun, leave it finishing in dead last.
Final Ranking: 5th
Order time: Two minutes
Review: To say I was disappointed with McDonald’s showing would be an understatement. The fast food giant, which basically invented the fast food hamburger in America, presented me with what could more accurately be described as a bread sandwich with a taste of beef. A good hamburger will not only fit on its bun, but it will often times be larger than its carbohydrate counterpart, offering a hearty amount of meat in every delicious bite. While McDonald’s whiffed on the size of the patty, there was a nice flavor to the meat, and it even appeared as if they attempted to season the beef before it was cooked. I was pleasantly surprised to see what looked like black pepper and maybe even a hint of oregano in the burger. In addition to that, McDonald’s served its burger with its classic diced onions, ketchup and pickles, offering a nice compliment to the beef and bread. With a comparable price point, overall size, prep time and temperature, McDonald’s was able to leapfrog White Castle, but until it addresses a clear bun-to-patty ratio, the golden arches will look just a little duller.
Final Ranking: 4th
Order time: Two minutes
Review: I put the asterisk next to “warm” in the temperature category because while the meat at Wendy’s had a perfectly acceptable temperature, the toppings on the burger were ice cold, which brought down the overall experience. Taking my first bite, I thought Wendy’s had a chance at finishing in first or second place. The burger’s bun was soft, similar to a potato bun, the patty had an excellent flavor, and it meshed together in a way that made it taste fresher than any of its competition. Then, on my second bite, I was stunned to find that the pickles and raw onion were cold, sapping heat from the delicious patty and dominating the battle for my taste buds. That said, while the toppings would have worked better on the burger had they been warm, the raw onion and pickles did add a nice crunch and you could tell that they were fresh. When compared to McDonald’s and Burger King, I believe Wendy’s used the freshest ingredients, and I could have easily slotted it into a higher position, but for now it has to settle for the bronze medal.
Final Ranking: 3rd
Order time: 10 minutes
Temperature: Very hot
Review: For the majority of the time I spent eating these burgers and writing this piece, I believed that I was going to crown Five Guys as the winner of this taste test, but then I thought about the parameters. Five Guys had the highest price point, longest prep time, and, due to the constraints of the ordering process, was the most plain burger I was served. I couldn’t let my past experiences with the chain cloud my judgment in this case. Five Guys easily had the largest burger, and served me two patties (a Little Hamburger is a single patty), so the quantity was there. The bun was delicious, toasted to perfection and was even seeded, which definitely worked in its favor. The patty was fresh, hot and cooked perfectly to the point where the fat that seeped out of the meat while it was being cooked created a nice crust that provided a nice crisp outer layer. I know it sounds like there were no downsides to Five Guys, and I understand their quality in terms of meat is top notch, but for just a plain hamburger, I was left wanting more. The burger was dry and even a little bland for my liking. Any sort of condiment or seasoning would have been just enough to push it above this competition’s winner.
Final Ranking: 2nd
Order time: Two minutes
Review: It’s good to be king, huh? Burger King finished first in this taste test because of its overall excellence. There was nothing negative I could say about the hamburger I was served at Burger King. The bun was soft and seeded; the patty had a good size and offered a strong flavor; it was served with pickles and ketchup; and it had a very reasonable price point. Burger King’s major selling point with its burgers, starting with the Whopper all the way at the top, is that they are flame-broiled. There were literally grill marks on my patty and it tasted closer to what you would enjoy during a summer barbecue than any of the other offerings. While the patty was good, it still did not compare to Five Guys’, which was easily the best of the bunch. What pushed Burger King into first place were the toppings, which added a dimension of flavor that Five Guys didn’t have, and the price, seeing as I could have bought six Burger King hamburgers for what one from Five Guys cost me. Overall, Burger King provided a product that surpassed expectations and did not fall
Final Ranking: 1st
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