For more than 100 years, the hamburger has made many millions of people very happy in America. That should come as no surprise. Regardless of age, wisdom, or financial status, people are drawn to its everyman appeal. What began as a culinary afterthought— the castoff bits of unusable steak trimmings sold to wage earners—has become a thing of legend found in every corner of America, from Michelin-starred restaurants to greasy-spoon diners. Today, your options are out of control.
That’s why you’ll need some help. Fear not, I am here.
I’ve been just about everywhere in America for burgers, and in the name of research consumed well in excess of 14,000 of them in the past 20 years. My focus tends to skew ‘old-school’ by default, because longevity and simplicity create the greatest burgers. My ideal old-school burger is nothing more than beef-cheese-bun. Add pickle, onion, and mustard, but that’s all. The flavor of beef must shine through. A burger with more than eight different condiments can never achieve this. Balance is everything, and my default ideal has become the standard by which all other burgers are compared.
With the lowly burger seeing a recent renaissance worldwide, I’ve noticed that some of the new players are creating burgers that are an obvious nod to the classics with upgraded ingredients. I’ve made room for them at the table, and you should too. Shake Shack is a perfect example of this new world order, though they are not included on this list because they are far too corporate.
Let’s get one thing straight though: The following burgers on this list are by no means my "favorite" burgers across the land. Rather, these are the places that I would most likely migrate to first after touching down in that state. These are the daily beaters, the burgers I turn to which are free from silly gimmicks, the ones that consistently put a smile on my face. Put simply—these are the burger joints I can trust. They also embody the truest sprit of the Great American Hamburger, and in most cases, share common DNA with primary-source burger joints.
I’m sure you’ve already asked yourself—does the burger-loving public need another list? Of course it does. I’m not sure who makes those other lists, so in an effort to provide some clarity and sift through the rubble, I offer this heartfelt, well-researched guide. The American burger is not simply one thing. Regional methods for cooking and slight tweaks to ingredients have created a diverse and tasty array of burgers all over America.
One thing to remember—with this list you’ve only just scratched the surface. Go deeper, get in there, meet my hamburger heroes, hear their stories, and walk away with a better understanding of why Americans identify with this proletarian comfort food. Then go eat a kale salad.
Here are the best burgers from each of the 50 states.