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Which Fast Food Burgers Taste Best Delivered? (A Quarantine Era Ranking)

Which fast-food burger tastes the best after it travels all the way to your house? That is the question.

Okay, not the question. There are much bigger questions right now. But it’s the question we’re willing to tackle at the end of another long week, during a rough era, in a scary season of our collective existence. That’ll have to be enough for now.

As we adjust to our new locked down lives, we’re gradually becoming accustomed to eating all of our purchased meals at home in a lukewarm state. Sure, drive-thru’s have always been a thing, but in the old days when we ranked our favorite burgers no one was thinking about what they’d taste like after sitting in your car for 15 minutes while you or a delivery driver raced back to your quarantine pals and performed whatever self-sanitization rituals you put yourself and your food through in order to feel clean enough to eat something that someone else touched during a global pandemic. That’s a whole new ballgame.

In May of 2020, the biggest question to ask when ranking fast-food cheeseburgers is “which one travels the best.” Because it turns out, not all delicious burgers stay delicious once they aren’t hot anymore. How a burger is packaged, the quality of the ingredients, how hot it is when it comes off the grill — if it comes off a grill at all –, and the texture of the meat as it cools are crucial factors on what your burger tastes like when you finally eat it.

It’s a whole new ballgame. The past is prologue. So here’s our ranking of which fast-food burgers taste best after being delivered or driven home during quarantine.

Carl’s Jr.

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By far, Carl’s Jr travels worse than any other burger. Something about the way Carl’s cooks or wraps their burger results in a cool-down process so quick that you’d have to live directly next-door to one for that mess to stay hot. By the time you unwrap a Six Dollar Burger the thing is a straight-up mess.

WHY?! Is it the box? Is it a local thing? Because I’ve had Carl’s Jr. up and down the entire state of California and it’s ALWAYS been a lukewarm experience. Is it because the person cooking my burger isn’t a person at all, but a giant yellow star with a face and the reason the burger is so cold is that the star takes its sweet time wrapping the burger because it doesn’t have opposable thumbs, just crispy crunchy nubs? Probably that.

The Verdict: Wait until after quarantine. Or just get the chicken stars.

Burger King

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Burger King is a solid “I’m being irresponsible during the quarantine by recklessly ordering a ‘just okay’ burger, not reckless like endangering the lives of others”-pick. It’s mid-level reckless. Like buying with stimulus checks, or accidentally forgetting that you ordered weed from two different dispensaries because your placed both orders while high, and now two delivery drivers are on their way and you only have enough cash on you for one of them so you have to slip on gloves, put on a mask, race to the bank, pull out another $60.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: get high and go to Burger King. They’ll serve up a better-charbroiled experience than Carl’s Jr.

The Verdict: Charbroiled done right… ish! It’s better than Carl’s Jr. Does it taste as piping hot as the burger from your local burger joint? Not even close. In fact, go eat there instead. Burger King is rich fam, they’re owned by a freaking king.

McDonald’s

In a pre-COVID 19 world, if you asked me to rank fast-food cheeseburgers, McDonald’s would be at the bottom of the list. But for whatever reason the few times I’ve had McDonald’s while in quarantine — and trust me, this was only because I missed El Pollo Loco by five minutes in one instance, and couldn’t handle the grueling grind of the 23-times-as-long In-N-Out line in the other — they’ve been killing it.

McNuggets have been piping hot, the fries in particular travel well, their ice cream machine mysteriously works for once and isn’t “out of order,” but the cheeseburgers? They’re so good that you’ll actually turn to the person nearest you — which might just be a houseplant…sorry — and say, “Did McDonald’s change shit up or am I going stir crazy?”

The answer to that question might very well be “you’re going stir crazy,” but, so long as we’re in quarantine, there is nothing wrong with living that truth. A quarter pounder travels excellently, the insulation melts McDonald’s plastic-y American cheese by the time you get home, and the beef patty holds heat decently. Skip the Big Mac though, that middle bread is useless after an 8-minute car ride.

The Verdict: Hey not bad, look at you McDonald’s! Quarantine has made some of us better people, the same applies to the old burger flippin’ clown.

Jack in the Box

Maybe it’s because Jack in the Box is a stoner paradise, or maybe it’s just because I have mad respect for them for choosing a literal faceless corporate stooge as the avatar of their company, instead of a creepy King, a little girl in Pigtails, a totally not mean or threatening clown, and an evil living chicken star, but gotdamn does Jack in the Box travel well. The paper boxes the burgers are packed in is so thicc that I’m convinced it traps the heat inside.

Hitting Jack in the Box can be tricky though, some of the burgers on their line are wrapped in paper instead of boxes, and I can’t attest to the quality of those burgers. From what I can tell it’s the special burgers like the Buttery Jack or the Bacon Triple Cheeseburger that get the box treatment. You could always ask the drive-thru person if your burger comes in a box, you know, in case you want them to KNOW you’re insane rather than just finding out by looking at your unshaven face and unruly quarantine hair.

The Verdict: Better from the drive-thru and very solid when driven home. Don’t even bother ever eating inside a Jack in the Box again. Everything on that menu is better from the bag.

In-N-Out

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Sure, third place isn’t so bad, but this in In-N-Out we’re talking about folks. The burger chain that people argue over, a cheeseburger so delicious that it has inspired a coastal rivalry every bit as intense as Biggie vs. Pac. Having to eat a drive-thru Double-Double from In-N-Out has us looking at the beloved chain the same way the Rebel Alliance looked at Chewbacca at the end of A New Hope. Which is to say, if we were handing out medals to the best burgers on this list, we’d let In-N-Out stand with the other two winners, but we wouldn’t go as far as to give them a medal.

So what’s the problem? Traditionalism. In-N-Out is so obsessed with their own “California in the 50’s” aesthetic that they refuse to advance their packaging beyond simple paper wrappings. I can’t believe I’m saying this but In-N-Out? That’s some boomer-ass shit.

The Verdict: Get it “for the car.” In-N-Out offers two options for take out orders, getting your burger “for the car” will have it boxed up rather than in a bag. You could opt to eat it right there in the parking lot — it’ll be delicious — but having it travel in an open box rather than a steamy bag will help retain the experience of eating it in the restaurant. It’ll be slightly colder, but it’ll still taste like In-N-Out, which is still pretty damn good.

Wendy’s

Wendy’s snagging spot number two on a list where In-N-Out is at three is pretty damn good if I do say so myself, and I know, I made this list. Wendy’s saving grace is their weird paper aluminum hybrid wrapper that they wrap their burgers in. It improves the burger tenfold.

Once wrapped up, the soft and buttery brioche bun soaks up all the burger juices of a Dave’s Single resulting in a juicy and savory flavor bomb in your mouth. The only downside of the experience is that that weird single piece of slippery almost-white iceberg lettuce that pops up in every Wendy’s order is slippier than ever after a five-minute car ride.

The Verdict: For the money? It’s your best bet. Wendy’s may not have claimed the top spot, but at just over $8 for a whole meal? It’s the best your money will buy. Unless…

Five Guys

That aluminum paper that Wendy’s uses? That was inspired by the idea of wrapping a burger in aluminum foil and now I’m convinced that like a burrito, a burger is best wrapped in foil. Five Guys pre-COVID-19 was a three-and-a-half star experience at best, but now? I’m all about those dudes. The burgers emerge from the bag hotter than if you had unwrapped it immediately, the flavors perfectly melded together, working in tandem with Five Guys’ central gimmick of letting you pile an endless amount of ingredients on your burger.

I use to view the gimmick as a hindrance, a powerful suggestion to load up, only for the burger to be a haphazard mess once you open it at your table. Now, the TIF — time in the foil, for you laypeople — pulls your entire creation into a single juicy entity. This week you kept it simple with grilled jalapeños and onions. Next week you can go for a mushroom, bacon, BBQ burger. Five Guys offers enough variety to always feel like a fresh experience, even if you make it a once a week habit.

There is also something insanely appealing about the greasy bag that Five Guys’ food comes in. By the time you arrive at your house, the bag is practically transparent with oil. It makes me feel like I’m at a county fair — which I miss, believe it or not.

The Verdict: Better in quarantine! In summary and summation — Five Guys should be your lockdown burger spot.

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