The Quest for the Best Fast Food Burger
When Halifax ReTales announced that he was gonna do a fast food burger tour in preparation for Halifax Burger Week, I was so down. His plan was to sample and evaluate a bargain burger from each of the 6 major chains. He even brought a scale to weigh the burgers to compare price/weight/quality.
This is something I’ve always wanted to do – except I was more interested in the full sized burgers. So we did both! We pulled together a team of 4 (with MJ and James from the Dive Bar Dining Society) to complete this burger madness in a day. Who makes the best fast food burger? Here are our findings:
Best Bargain Burgers
* Ranked in terms of our combined preferences
1. A & W’s Buddy Burger
The patty may be small but the buddy packs a flavourful punch. “Caramelized onions make this burger rock!” says MJ. It is dressed with ketchup, mustard and mayo. Cheese is an extra 60 cents.
While this burger may be a flavour bomb, there’s a whole lotta leftover bun. You can add another patty for a dollar, but then we’re in the $3+ range for a baby hamburger and the value is lost. Oh, and there’s still leftover bun.
Those onions, tho.
2. Dairy Queen’s Cheeseburger
This basic cheeseburger had a nice fresh bun and a sizeable patty with a good meaty texture. Dairy Queen’s burgers don’t really have their own signature fast food taste – they are rather neutral and inoffensive which is why there was some consensus about this burger. It is somehow wholesome and balanced. A good tidy burger that fits snug in your hand, perfect for any Jughead poseur.
3rd Place Tie!
3. Burger King’s Whopper Jr.
Aww cute! The Whopper Jr. looks exactly like a miniature, smushed little Whopper! It comes fully equipped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, sliced onions, cheese, ketchup and lots of mayo in a sesame seed bun.
Opinions were heavily split on this one. ReTales is a BK guy – this was his favourite, whereas it was James’ least favourite. The scores average out to a middle-of-the-road tie with Wendy’s.
3. Wendy’s Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe
The Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe is basically a scaled down version of Wendy’s classic stackers, with lettuce, tomato, pickles, sliced red onion, cheese, ketchup and mayonnaise. As you can see, the bun-t0-meat ratio is entirely wrong here. Thick bun + thin patty = sadness.
We didn’t do Wendy’s any justice by snubbing the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger (we didn’t do any burgers with bacon) which would have been the clear winner IMHO.
5. McDonald’s McDouble
The regular cheeseburger from McDonald’s is basically just a ketchup sandwich. Thankfully, the McDouble is a great deal for only $1.99 (take THAT, $3.55 Buddy Burger!) With the McDouble, you get a proper sized hamburger with that “McDonald’s Factor”.
These burgers are the “basic bros” of the fast food world, with just pickles, ketchup, mustard, and diced onions. They are consistent and well constructed. They satisfy in a way that only the most successful fast food company in history seems to have mastered. But they are exceptionally boring.
Same as regular burger, only smaller (see rant below).
1. Harvey’s – 166g (this was mostly pickle) ($2.99)
2. Whopper Jr. – 152g ($2.99)
3. Dairy Queen – 143g ($2.99)
Cheapest (but also good) Burger:
Wendy’s Deluxe (or JBC) $1.89
A&W’s Buddy Burger (no cheese) $1.95
Overall Best Value:
McDouble ($1.99) or Wendy’s Junior ($1.89)
Dairy Queen ($2.99)
Best Quarter Pounders
This is where it matters, my friends! Those bargain burgers are great if you’re broke or if you want to eat a lot of something. But to me, a burger is about the BEEF so we’re gonna have to pay a little more and apply a two hand grip. No more foolin’ around counting our pennies. Let’s get HUNGRY!
1st Place: Dairy Queen (1/4lb Grillburger w/cheese)
Dairy Queen really surprised us! I wasn’t at all expecting them to win, and I acknowledge that DQ is probably the most inconsistent fast food joint from location to location. But hey – here we are!
We really enjoyed the fresh bun and the meaty texture of the beef with its “grill” flavour. While ketchup was present, mustard and a sweet mayo figured prominently. The tomato and onion slices were thickly chunked which was an awkward point-against. But we generally found this to be an inoffensive, fresh-tasting and satisfying burger. It almost tastes homemade, hugging your insides.
Halifax ReTales says “meh”.
2nd Place: Wendy’s (Dave’s Single)
Full disclosure: I am a hardcore Wendy’s fan (and so is James). I used to work at a Wendy’s back in 2004 and fell in love with the whole menu. The patties are really never frozen, seasoned just with salt, and yes, the leftover burgers are chopped up to make chili. It’s awesome.
There never used to be a fast food burger as good as a Wendy’s double. Until now…
Dave Thomas died in 2002 and the menu started changing, culminating in the pickle tragedy of 2011. The inexplicable switch to bread ‘n butter pickles makes me want to punch red headed mascots (sorry Ronald!) and scream into the abysmal sky, “WHYYYYYYY?!”
To make matters worse, there is no mustard. Wendy’s used to proudly squirt a “W” of mustard on top of the cheese. Now the dreaded sweet pickles and sweet ketchup overpower the damn thing. If I want to eat something sweet I’ll go to Dairy Queen for some cool treats, amirite!?
Wendy’s still got 2nd place, perhaps because James and I are desperately clinging to the Wendy’s of yore. Or perhaps it is because Wendy’s does have the best meat. Fresh. Never Frozen.
ReTales complained endlessly about the dry, sweet buns. They used to be great when they were just nuked kaiser buns, but now they are wannabe artisanal bakery buns. Yawn…
People say that Wendy’s burgers are notoriously cold, but I would rather a fresh patty topped with cold, crisp vegetables and let the cards fall where they may, rather than a microwaved patty soaked in ketchup.
3rd Place: Burger King (Whopper)
Why Hello, Sir Cumference! This is the widest, roundest patty of them all. Rather than going for vertical majesty, the BKingdom is vast and has lost control of the border walls! This burger was just oozing with condiments (mostly mayo) and the lubricated vegetables were threatening to jump ship.
I did not care for the Whopper Jr. and I thought it was because BK was our last stop and I was full. You can imagine my surprise when I totally fell in love with this burger?!
It’s big and messy and I don’t even like sloppy burgers. But do you know what I do like? Mayonnaise. And I’m pretty sure the Whopper produces it. I really liked the interplay of mayo, tomato, cheese and grill marks.
The patty had a nice grilled flavour and while it wasn’t the best texture of the day, it was pretty satisfying. BK fanboy, Halifax ReTales, says: “Even though that charbroiled taste is emulated there something about it that makes it feel more real”.
MJ and James did not like Burger King. “Burp factor overwhelming,” noted James.
4th Place: Tie!
4. A&W (Mama Burger)
I’m going to take some flack for this one! I know my readers well enough to know that ya’ll are in love with A&W. I thought for sure they’d be my runner up.
Here’s the thing…
The stand-out flavour on the Mama Burger is salt. Seriously, an order of onion rings with this might very well be a lethal injection.
I know what you’re saying: “You should have ordered the Teen Burger!” and I’m sorry but bacon is cheating. As for the beef, it was sorta chewy. Not our favourite texture. It definitely screams, “I was frozen once!”
Whereas we adored the Buddy for its caramelized onions, the Mama Burger had raw onions. The flavour profile is otherwise overrun by ketchup and mustard, even though mayo is present.
4. McDonald’s (Quarter Pounder)
I always joke that McDonald’s burgers are like eating sawdust and ketchup, but I will give them credit for consistency and uniformity.
The McDouble may be a great deal, but the Quarter Pounder is a better burger. You get the sesame seed bun, an extra piece of cheese, and a bigger, meatier patty with more of a grill flavour.
Last Place: Harvey’s … not a beautiful thing!
Wherever there is a discussion about the best fast food hamburger, there’s inevitably that person who says, “Harvey’s makes a really good burger”. Next time that happens, please show them this picture:
Okay, so Harvey’s has nice fresh buns and excellent toppings. It’s like they spent so much time slicing vegetables and creating condiments that they completely forgot about the beef! So they sent someone to the store for a package of Sunrise frozen patties, threw them in the microwave and viola!
Seriously. There is such a juxtaposition of greatness and grossness going on here. The freshest of ingredients are smothering a highly processed patty (containing “toasted wheat crumbs”) that was fooling no one. It looks like a Fischer Price plastic hamburger and it tastes about the same. This would be a good sandwich if you took out the patty. +1 for the pickles.
When it comes to who makes the best fast food burger, everyone has their preferences and its hard to come to a consensus. We would like to see Wendy’s beef stacked into a Harvey’s bun with all the Harvey’s fixin’s but that’s not gonna happen.
ReTales is a BK guy.
James and I love our Wendy’s.
MJ was kind of all over the place.
But if we had to agree on one place to go as a group, it would be Dairy Queen.
If Wendy’s keeps disappointing me, Dairy Queen will be my new go-to. BK’s Whopper will be a once-a-year guilty pleasure but I couldn’t possibly eat these on the regular. I’m surprised that I didn’t like A&W as much as I thought I did. I do like the onion rings and root beer, and I miss the Whistle Dog.
Before I make any sort of final declaration, I will need to compare signature burgers, burgers with bacon, and other random menu items. But let’s be real – this is all garbage food and I have better things to do!
Much thanks to Halifax ReTales and MJ for helping with the photography.