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Who Has The Best Fast Food Beef? We Tasted Patties Plain To Find Out

A great burger is more than a delicious slab of beef — it’s obvious that the fixings are crucial. But just how crucial are they in shaping the fast food burger hierarchy? Can good bread make or break a burger? What about the cheese? Can a fast food chain overcome trash patties? These are the questions that keep a food/ weed writer up at night.

In truth, I’m not sure if I was stoned when I got the idea to follow our epic double cheeseburger ranking by grading fast food burgers on the quality of meat alone. No sauce, no onions, we’re not even interested in the bread! Whatever its origins, this experiment gave us the chance to zero in on one element to see how much it affects the whole burger experience. (Besides, we’ve done crazier things, like ranking fast food napkins.)

In the end, this exercise revealed four things:

  1. Every single fast food burger is painfully overcooked. (“Something something legal department” is surely the root of this and it’s annoying.)
  2. A good half of them aren’t seasoned — this blandness is usually masked by sauce.
  3. Burger meat looks disgusting naked. (Our photo editor hates me now.)
  4. My favorite burger… is actually pretty middling. Most diners and one-off burger joints could beat it in a “just beef” taste test, if only because they aren’t as scared of a lawsuit.

This was an odd experience taken all around and I got a lot of sideways looks from cashiers who thought I was insane for asking for “just the meat.” Most wouldn’t do it, so I ended up purchasing a lot of hamburgers with nothing on them and removing the dry meat from the equally dry bun to taste it. After a few bites, I’d reassemble my sad burgers to recover some sense of normalcy.

Ready to find out who won?

11. Jack in the Box — Hamburger

Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

Generally, Jack in the Box is pretty average. It’s never cracked the top five in any of our fast food rankings but it never lands at the bottom of a list either. It was reliable in its basicness — that is, until I ditched all the sides. This meat has no flavor, aside from the dull taste of overcooked, previously frozen, cheap hamburger. It’s grainy, full of chunky pieces of fat and other mealy bits, and it’s bone dry.

Congratulations Jack in the Box, you have the worst beef in fast food.

The Bottom Line:

It’s like pet food… if you hate your pets.

Find your nearest Jack in the Box here.

10. Rally’s/Checkers — Rally Burger

Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

This burger patty was incredibly flimsy — a sixth of a pound, if that. Quality-wise the beef was a bit of a step up from JiB’s offering — it didn’t have that same awful chunky mouthfeel and Rally’s actually bothered to put salt on this one. But just because the texture was better, doesn’t mean it was great. This meat was really spongey, it takes a while to chew through it which really allows you to focus on just how mediocre the flavor is.

The Bottom Line:

Salty and yet still somehow underseasoned. Overcooked, despite its light tan appearance.

Find your nearest Rally’s here.

9. Carl’s Jr/Hardee’s — Famous Star

Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

Carl’s Jr charbroils its meat, so right off the bat, this one is practically bursting with flavor compared to the other two. The texture is… alright. It’s not too grainy, there are no hard-to-chew knots of fatty meat, but it’s waaaaaaaaaay too dry.

On top of that, it’s completely underseasoned. It tastes like Carl’s Jr is relying solely on the char for its taste.

The Bottom Line:

Dry and underseasoned. Far from the best-charbroiled meat your money can buy.

Find your nearest Carl’s Jr. here.

8. Del Taco — Hamburger

Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

Fully dressed, Del Taco actually makes a surprisingly delicious double cheeseburger. Add slices of avocado to it and you’ve got an amazing burger experience that you can’t get at almost any other fast food joint. But I guess I must’ve been really wowed by that avocado option, because this meat has no flavor to it. The texture is leagues better than JiB’s or Rally’s, it has an appetizing mouthfeel giving you beef that breaks apart like meat should, but it has no seasoning whatsoever.

Not even salt. Just the taste of Del Taco’s flat grill.

The Bottom Line:

It tastes like a burger patty, which shouldn’t be too hard to achieve but proved beyond the reach of our lower-ranked entries. Unfortunately, aside from the flavor of cooked beef, this has no other flavor notes or redeeming qualities.

Find your nearest Del Taco here.

7. Burger King — Whopper

Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

This one really shocked me. Burger King is without a doubt the worst fast food restaurant in the entire fast food universe The chain frequently lands in the last place spot in our fast food rankings and for good reason — the King does almost nothing right. Bad burgers, bad fries, horrible chicken nuggets, and pretty shitty chicken sandwiches as well.

But the Whopper served with nothing on it and removed from its bun? It’s not bad. Burger King does the charbroiled thing better than Carl’s Jr. — it’s way less dry and hey, look at that, they actually added salt.

The Bottom Line:

A better charbroiled offering than what you’ll find at Carl’s Jr.

Find your nearest Burger King here.

6. McDonald’s — Quarter Pounder

McDonald

Tasting Notes:

I’ve never been a big fan of McDonald’s burgers. I know the value double cheese has its fans, and there are a few weirdos out there that like the Big Mac (middle bread? GTFO), but to me, I’ve always viewed the Golden Arches as purveyors of mediocre burgers.

Strictly speaking beef, I was wrong. This is a good grilled piece of meat. It’s perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of salt, it’s slightly juicy, and it has a great texture that melts in your mouth as you chew through it. I have nothing bad to say about this burger, which is something I never thought I’d feel about a McDonald’s burger.

The Bottom Line:

A shockingly solid fast food slab o’ beef. I promise it’s better than you think it is. I might’ve been underappreciating McDonald’s burgers my whole life.

Find your nearest McDonald’s here.

5. In-N-Out — Hamburger

Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

This one was downright heartbreaking to me. When I witnessed this solo meat patty I couldn’t believe how small it actually was, and how sad it looked. This is hard for me to say but, In-N-Out burgers, taken on their own, are pathetic. This has always been my favorite burger chain (yes I’m one of those, deal with it), and I’ve always reasoned that In-N-Out is so good because the meat just tastes better than all of the competition.

I couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s not bad by any means, it’s juicy and well-salted, but there isn’t much to it. While the middle of the burger tastes great, the edges are overcooked, giving the burger a dull dry ring around it that reminded me of bread crust.

The Bottom Line:

I guess where In-N-Out shines is with their spongy buns and perfectly melty American cheese. The weakest link is the beef.

Find your nearest In-N-Out here.

4. Wendy’s — Dave’s Single

Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

I’m not at all surprised to find Wendy’s in the top five of this ranking. The Dave’s Single is great — the burger is greasy and salty, with a juicy texture and a great mouthfeel, despite it looking like it was burnt to a crisp. I’ve always viewed Wendy’s as a beefy burger, it’s a place I almost never order a double cheeseburger because it’s just too much meat to handle, but viewing it all on its own, it’s not really that much bigger than the other burger chains out there.

I wouldn’t ever think to describe this burger as thicc.

The Bottom Line:

Wendy’s burgers are so good that it’s incredibly easy to forget someone made the dumb decision to cut these into squares. Buns are round, Dave.

Find your nearest Wendy’s here.

3. Five Guys — Hamburger

Five Guys

Tasting Notes:

Shout out to Five Guys for actually selling me just a piece of meat. They wrapped it up in a ridiculously large tin box, but I really appreciate that they didn’t force me to buy a bun.

This one had many of the qualities you’d get at a good roadside non-chain burger joint — it looked like beef, it had beef texture, it was nicely seasoned without being overpowering, and it was one of the least overcooked. Just by getting those elements right, it was in the upper echelon.

The Bottom Line:

Got a lot right, though nothing was overly noteworthy. In the world of fast food beef with no other accouterments, that’s enough for the three spot.

Find your nearest Five Guys here.

2. Fat Burger — Original Fat Burger

Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

An actual conversation I had at Fat Burger: “Hi, would it be possible to just order a patty of meat?” “I’m sorry?” “A patty of meat, just on its own.” “You mean a hamburger?” “Just the meat though no bun.” “I’m sorry we can’t do that.” “No worries, can I just have an Original Fat Burger? Plain please.” “No cheese?” “No, just the meat and bread.” “Okay. Just meat and bread, right? Nothing else? No sauce, or pickles, or lettuce?” “Right.”

I ended up also ordering a Coke just because of how embarrassed I felt.

Aside from the fact that Fat Burger charged me fucking $8 for a hamburger, I have little to complain about with this one. It’s great, a little over-salted but it has a great caramelized outer surface that provides a nice crunch and keeps those delicious burger juices deep within the meat. This is so good I almost ate the entire patty without reassembling the burger.

The Bottom Line:

One of the best patties of beef out there. I’ve never considered Fat Burger one of the best burger joints, but after this experience, I might need to spend more time with the menu.

Find your nearest Fat Burger here.

1. Shake Shack — Shack Burger

Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

I had a prediction that Shake Shack would end up dominating this ranking, so I’m not surprised to see it in the number one spot. I am taken aback at just how much better this meat is compared to everything else out there. It’s not even close, Shake Shack blows our number two pick out of the water. It’s juicier than Fat Burger’s meat, with that same caramelized crust that keeps those savory juices locked in, but the flavor and texture of the meat are just so much better. It almost melts in your mouth without the need to chew it, with just the right amount of salt that enhances the flavor, rather than masking it.

This meat is so delicate and sumptuous that I’m pretty sure your saliva alone could break it down. The burgers at Shake Shack are made using a proprietary meat blend courtesy of New Jersey-based butcher Pat LaFrieda, so it’s no surprise that what you get from Shake Shack tastes far more “bespoke” than what you get from the competition.

No other fast food restaurant that I’ve tried is doing beef like this.

The Bottom Line:

Hands down the best burger meat you can buy at a fast food restaurant. It’s amazing that a Shack Burger doesn’t cost more than $10, every bite is luxurious.

Find your nearest Shake Shack here.

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