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.
The off-menu chain burger
Double Double "Animal Style," In-N-Out Burger
California to Texas
"I like that they make this not-so-secret off-menu order sound so insane, but also that they can replicate it so perfectly at so many places – from California to Texas," Motz says. The chain, beloved by westerners (and 'Big Lebowski' fans), is known for its freshly ground, never-frozen beef; a semi-sweet, toasted bun; tangy Thousand Island sauce; and super fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, all sourced from the same farms for half a century. Order its double-double "animal style" and the cooks will sub out raw onion rings for caramelized chopped onions, more pickles, and the patties get fried with mustard right on the flattop. "It's a thing of beauty," says Motz of the nifty lo-fi technique that fries mustard flavor right into the burger.
Credit: George Motz