Say what you will about sodium, mystery meats, calories or fat. Call it the Crunchburger, the Shackburger, the classic Smash or the Whopper. No matter what anybody throws at it, the cheeseburger can do no wrong. But some are better than others.
As customers line up for meat patties cooked on a griddle or grill, blanketed with melty cheese, stacked with sliced onions, tomatoes, shredded lettuce and secret sauce, fast-food chains duke it out, crafting plans to steal the masses and maintain loyalty by switching up buns, offering more toppings, sauces, sizes and shapes.
Which one has found the formula for the best fast-food cheeseburger? Here are our picks:
10. White Castle
White Castle’s double cheese sliders are hardly fit for a king, with greasy meat, cheese like a sheet of plastic and a bun so processed it will never go bad. A 300-calorie double cheese slider is about 4 ounces, has 940 mg of sodium and costs $1.78. You get what you pay for.
Sure, you might be able to recite every McDonald’s commercial from your childhood, when the Quarter Pounder with cheese seemed like the biggest burger on the block. Today, it’s not really dressed to impress, with barely melted cheese, a tired pickle and chopped onions that look like soggy rice. The saving grace is consistency: You always know what you’re getting. The Quarter Pounder clocks in at 540 calories with 1,110 mg of sodium and costs $3.79. Familiarity breeds business.
8. Burger King
The Whopper Jr. is the storied villain to McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. These days, it is the better burger, an advertised flame-broiled number with the ketchup-mayo combo that may be a near-perfect condiment. The 4-ounce, 350-calorie burger has about 400 fewer mg of sodium than the Quarter Pounder and costs $2.22. Less is more.
Named after founder Dave Thomas, Dave’s single cheeseburger features flavorful toppings — lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, pickles, ketchup and mayo — on a salty 4-ounce burger (it has 1,180 mg of sodium). The saving graces are a better bun and a more generous slice of American cheese on a 550-calorie burger that costs $4.19. Dave tries harder.
You’ll be eating this burger out of your lap, in your car, at Sonic Drive-In. A regular cheeseburger clocks in at 9 ounces ($3.89), with 720 calories and 1,180 mg of sodium while the junior ($1.89) weighs in at 5 ounces, with 420 calories and 830 mg of sodium. Both are on the dry side, with American cheese, pickles and tomatoes for toppings. Kudos for chopped onions and shredded lettuce. Turn off your engine before eating.
5. Five Guys
The little cheeseburger is big on flavor. At about 6 ounces, it taunts with a laundry list of free toppings from lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, grilled onions, raw onions, grilled mushrooms, jalapeño peppers, green peppers, barbecue sauce, A.1. Original Sauce or hot sauce. With all those variations, it’s tough to note a calorie count, though it starts at 550, with 690 mg of sodium and costs $5.29. Both hands required.
The customers aren’t drunk. Nor do they smash their burgers. But the employees do as they cook, to allow more browning, which makes the meat sweeter and forms a light crust. A regular-size, 4-ounce cheeseburger is a bit over 650 calories, has more than 1,000 mg of sodium and costs $5.89. Better burgers through smashing.
With a name that plays on the Marines’ “Always faithful” mantra, the Florida-based company starts with burgers made of hormone- and antibiotic-free beef. Aspects of the company riff on Shake Shack and California’s In-N-Out Burger, but no matter: The 4-ounce cheeseburger with lettuce, tomatoes and BurgerFi sauce has won many fans. The BurgerFi cheeseburger clocks in with more than 1,300 mg of sodium and 650 calories, and costs $7.37. Forever yours.
2. Shake Shack
The grass-fed, hormone-free Shackburger has a cult following, and it’s one of the most impressive fast-food burgers on the list. How it’s served also makes it a standout, in a parchment sleeve so the cheese, special sauce, lettuce, tomato and onions can commingle, seeping into the Martin’s potato roll. Yet sometimes it’s hard to eat and the condiments aren’t always pleasing, with the film of onions still on rings on one visit, so it can be like eating floss. The 4-ounce Shackburger, with 550 calories and more than 800 mg of sodium, is one to revisit for $5.29 a pop. Are you worthy?
1. Bobby’s Burger Palace
Turns out, burgers from a palace are better than those from a shack. Especially on Long Island, where Bobby Flay opened the first Bobby’s Burger Palace at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove in 2008. The BBP Crunchburger starts with certified Angus that’s blanketed with entirely melted American cheese, served on a perfectly toasted sesame bun and topped with a (free) handful of Lay’s potato chips for crunch. As for the other toppings, they’re prepped with the experience of the diner in mind. At 6 ounces, the griddled burger logs in at about 560 calories and about 300 mg of sodium for $6.75. Bet you can’t eat just one.