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The 5 Best Burgers in America

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Are there any foods that are more quintessentially American than the burger? The simple act of cooking a patty of ground beef and putting it on a bun is arguably even more American than apple pie, and when done properly there are few foods more delicious. In order to not only honor this magical sandwich but also the restaurants that serve the finest examples of it, this year we decided to expand our ranking of America's best burgers from last year's list of 40 to a comprehensive 101.

Click Here to see the Complete List of The 101 Best Burgers in America

But first, a little history. The burger traces its roots all the way back to the Mongol Empire, where their tradition of mincing horsemeat was passed onto the Russians, who in turn brought it to the major port of Hamburg, Germany, in the early 19th century. The most common destination for ships departing from Hamburg was New York, and by the late 1800s, restaurants in New York began serving what they called Hamburg steaks, seasoned and cooked patties of ground beef, to German immigrants. According to Josh Ozersky's The Hamburger: A History, the oldest mention of a Hamburg steak on a menu was at New York's Delmonico's, a recipe developed by one of history's greatest chefs, Charles Ranhofer.

The exact origin of the modern-day hamburger unfortunately remains a mystery, but there are several contenders. Perhaps the most well-known is Louis Lassen, who introduced a hamburger steak sandwich at his New Haven, Conn., restaurant Louis Lunch in 1900. Others claim that "Hamburger Charlie" Nagreen actually invented the dish at Wisconsin's Outagamie County Fair in 1885, and still others claim that the Menches brothers did it at an 1885 fair in Hamburg, N.Y. Regardless of whoever first applied ground meat to bread, today the burger is one of the most beloved, comforting foods in existence. You could actually argue that the cult of the burger has never been stronger. New and long-beloved regional burger chains you once had to travel to specific states to enjoy have broken out of their regions, events like Burger Bash at the South Beach and New York Food & Wine Festivals have made competing for the title of the best burger an annual affair, George Motz's Hamburger America has done much to popularize and make more known the lesser-known treasures across the country, and every restaurant nerd knows that high-end chefs have long felt the need to put their own stamp on this American icon (Jose Andres is the latest to take another high-profile turn with it).

This rise in quality and awareness even has put longtime burger barons like Burger King and McDonald's back on their heels. Burger King has been experimenting with unsuccessful rebrandings (they did away with the King, renamed their French fries "Satisfries," and changed their motto to "Be Your Way"). McDonald's has given Ronald a new look and turned to avocados to save them, testing out a new guacamole burger. However, they're both missing the point that chains like Five Guys, Shake Shack, and Umami Burger have taken advantage of: Americans want quality. They know a great burger, and they'll see some of the country's greatest on this inaugural list of the 101 Best Burgers in America.

Click Here to See the 101 Best Pizzas in America

But what exactly defines the perfect burger? To answer this question we enlisted none other than Pat LaFrieda, butcher extraordinaire and the creator of some of the meat blends that have gone into making some of the most heralded burgers served in America today, including Shake Shack's and the legendary Black Label burger served at New York's Minetta Tavern.

"The perfect burger, in my view, is one that satisfies what I am hungry for at that moment," he told us.

And thankfully, there are plenty of different varieties of burgers around: There are the inch or so-thick patties that drip juice down your arm and give you that "rare beef buzz," according to LaFrieda, with "a beautiful sear on the exterior, and a bright red, yet warm center," like the one found at New York's Spotted Pig.

Next up are the "smash burgers," sometimes called fast-food style burgers, thin patties cooked on a griddle that get an ample crust and are "stomach pleasers, fast and effective," according to Pat, like the one he created for Shake Shack. Finally, there's what LaFrieda calls the "aged steak in a burger experience," masterpieces that raise the humble burger to fine-dining status, the best-known most likely being the aforementioned Black Label, which sells for $28.

In order to compile our ranking, we assembled a list of nearly 200 burgers from all across the country, from Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Hillsboro, Ore. Building upon last year's suggestions from authorities including John T. Edge and Josh Ozersky, we combed existing best-of lists both print and online, dug through online reviews, and left no stone (bun?) unturned. Even though each of the burgers we found was unique, certain qualities were universal: high-quality beef, proper seasoning, well-proportioned components, and an overall attention to detail that many would call "making it with love." In order to keep the playing field even, we didn't include chains that have expanded outside of their home cities and have lots of locations, meaning that chains like Shake Shack and In-n-Out will be left for another day's ranking.

We then divided these burgers up by region, and compiled a survey which was then taken by a panel of 50 noted writers, journalists, bloggers, and culinary authorities from across the country, asking them to vote for their favorites, limited to the ones that they've tried. We tallied the results, and the 101 burgers that received the most votes are the ones you'll find here today.

Click Here to See America's 20 Best Steakhouses

The final list spans the country, from sea to shining sea: New York leads the way with 15 entries; there are seven from the Los Angeles area; five in Atlanta and Philadelphia; four in Boston, Nashville, and San Francisco; and three in Chicago, Miami, the D.C. area, and Memphis. But great burgers aren't limited to just the big cities; other locations include Royal Oak, Michigan, Ocoee, Florida, West Lafayette, Indiana, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There's a peanut butter-topped burger in Nashville; one smashed with onions onto the griddle in El Reno, Oklahoma; a 13-ounce behemoth in Florida; and two cheese-stuffed patties in Minneapolis. We know that there are certainly plenty of other great burgers out there, however; if we missed your favorite, let us know in the comments below.

So read on to take a tour of the U.S. through the lens of its best burgers. We'll let the great Pat LaFrieda get the last word:

"Americans love burgers because we see them as something that our country has pioneered. They are inexpensive, they fill our bellies, and most importantly, they carry a link back to a memory of comfort and safety at some point in our lives. That all equals fun in eating, making it no longer a comfort food, but instead an American pastime."

  • #5) Green Chile Cheeseburger, Santa Fe Bite, Santa Fe, N.M.
    Down the Old Las Vegas Highway (the original Route 66), the green chile cheeseburger served at Bobcat Bite, founded by Mitzi Panzer in 1953, has been hailed by Hamburger America's George Motz, Roadfood's Jane and Michael Stern, Food Network, and even Bon Appétit as not only the zenith of green chile cheeseburgers, but perhaps one of the greatest burgers, period, in the country. A recent dispute between the Panzer family and John and Bonnie Eckre, who took it over 12 years ago, forced the Eckres to move to a new location on Old Santa Fe Trail and adopt a new name, Santa Fe Bite, but the restaurant’s legendary ginormous burgers — 10-ounce house-ground, boneless chuck patties cooked to temperature preference and blanketed with green chiles under white American cheese on huge, ciabatta-like buns — remain. And for that we should be very thankful. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Marshall Astor Click Here to see More of the 101 Best Burgers in America
  • #4) The Father's Office Burger, Father's Office, Los Angeles
    What do you get when you go to Father's Office, chef Sang Yoon's gastropub in Los Angeles (now in both Santa Monica and Culver City)? No table service. And no pretention. There's a wood-paneled, comfortable vibe of a great local lived-in spot, but it's clean, to the point, and one of The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants of 2012. There are great craft beers and small bites (think smoked eel, sobrasada, Spanish mushrooms, and white anchovies). You can also "Eat Big" and opt for the spicy oatmeal stout ribs or the bistro steak. But let’s face it, you're there for the Office Burger, which many people in LA refer to as the city's best burger. There's nothing bougie or frou-frou about it, just caramelized onion, bacon, Gruyère, Maytag Blue, and arugula. It's a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness, and great flavor. Checklist item? You bet. Photo Credit: Father’s Office
  • #3) Black Label Burger, Minetta Tavern, New York, NY
    Sure, the côte de boeuf, roasted bone marrow, and various ungodly delicious potato renditions are big reasons why Minetta Tavern was called the city’s best steakhouse and awarded three stars by The New York Times. But no less the stuff of legend is the Black Label Burger. Prime dry-aged beef sourced and aged for six to seven weeks by Pat LaFrieda is well seasoned and cooked on a plancha with clarified butter, developing a glorious exterior. The fussed-over burger is nestled onto a sesame-studded brioche bun designed specifically for it, topped with caramelized onions and served with pommes frites. Juicy, funky, salty, soul-satisfying, these words lose meaning in the presence of a burger this good. Minetta is a bit of a scene, and it’s going to cost you $28, but if you consider yourself a lover and connoisseur of the country’s best burgers and you have yet to make this pilgrimage, you better get moving. Photo Credit: Sylvia Paret Click Here to see More of the 101 Best Burgers in America
  • #2) Luger Burger, Peter Luger, Brooklyn, N.Y.
    Because of this burger’s location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and its lunch-only appearance on the menu, out-of-town visitors are likely to have an easier time than New Yorkers experiencing New York City’s best burger. There are no bells and whistles, but Peter Luger has been handling meat since 1887 and its rich, ½-pound Luger Burger made from porterhouse and prime chuck roll trimmings is worth New Yorkers figuring out how to sneak out of the office for a long lunch. Burgers are molded into a coffee cup, emptied onto the high-temperature broilers used for the restaurant’s steaks until they develop a dark crust, and then settled into a sesame-studded bun. For a few dollars more you can have cheese and thick-cut bacon, a bit more of a chewy affair, but either way, if the famed gruff waitstaff unsettled you when you sat down, you’ll have forgotten them after the first bite. Just make sure to arrive before 3:45 p.m. when they stop serving it. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Robyn Lee
  • #1) Kuma Burger, Kuma's Corner, Chicago
    It’s the sign of a great food city when you can find two crazy restaurant waits within three blocks of each other. So it is in the case of Hot Doug’s (closing later this year) and Kuma’s Corner, some would argue Chicago’s best hot dog and burger joints. It’s not a quiet place to eat — the restaurant’s ethos is "Support your community. Eat beef. Bang your head." But with all the pyrotechnics that go off when you take a bite, the heavy metal doesn’t just make sense, it’s a perfect fit. There are burgers with tomatillo salsa and fried chiles, burgers with Sriracha and grilled pineapple, but if you have to choose just one, go for the signature, the Kuma Burger: bacon, sharp Cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a fried egg. It’s not as though there’s not enough flavor in the burger, but that egg... whoah. It’s nothing short of burger perfection, and it’s the best burger in America. Click Here to see More of the 101 Best Burgers in America Photo Credit: © Flickr / kahvikisu

Click Here to see the Original Story for 101 Burgers on The Daily Meal

-- Dan Myers, The Daily Meal

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