If America has a national sandwich, it's unequivocally the hamburger. But deciding what particular combination of ground beef, seasonings, toppings, and bun is the best is sheer folly once you bite in and discover the various regional and even hyper-local variations from across the country that all go by the name burger. So to guide us through this varied landscape – and provide us with a short list of truly notable entrants from across the country – we enlisted the help of George Motz, noted host of Travel Channel's 'Burger Land,' and author of 'Hamburger America' (and producer of a film by the same name).
Motz says there are a few key components to any great burger, but the most important is that it's made of freshly ground, single-source beef. He's also especially fond of shining a light on classic spots that frequently go unmentioned in gourmet top tens. "When you walk into a burger restaurant, and all they're talking about is their beef blend or how much they love their butcher, you know you're in the right place," he says. In that spirit, here are 18 dining spots that Motz says make burgers that deserve special recognition – some classic, some exotic, some bizarre, all delicious – and that should be on any devotees burger bucket list.
"No one knows about this place," Motz says about Bill's, a rural joint a few hours southeast of Memphis founded in 1929 and now owned by pastor Reid Wilkerson. For burger devotees, though, Motz recommends a pilgrimage because Bill's offers up a peerless version of tthe Southern "slug burger." As he explains: During the Depression and then WWII, cooks would turn to fillers and "extenders" to make scarce beef last longer. Today, the practice is frowned upon by many purists, and there's no longer a beef shortage, yet Bill's is one of the old-time places that still keeps the extender tradition going, to marvelous results (and, yes, his extender recipe remains a secret). Motz says the appeal derives from the slug burgers' texture: They are soft and greasy in the best way. "Grease is one of the greatest condiments," he says. "And simplicity is key here: pickles, mustard, white squishy bun – that's it. No cheese or mayo because the mustard-onion-beef combo is hard to beat."
$1.95 ($2.15 with cheese)
Credit: George Motz
310 Main Street North, Amory, MS 28821