My standards for how a burger should taste are (and have always remained) high. Growing up with a father whose grilling skills were, in my opinion, unmatched, and an aunt who owned one of the best burger joints in New Jersey, it’s easy to understand why. Some may call my expectations snobbish; I prefer “selective,” because the truth of the matter is, not all burgers are created equally. This is especially true for chain restaurant burgers that each have their own unique spin on the classic burger.
That being said, similar to how you take your coffee or whether you’re team ranch or blue cheese, I understand that an individual’s burger order comes down to personal preference. Taking that into consideration, we felt it was time to put popular chain restaurants’ burgers to the test. I tasted five burgers and rated them based on the flavor of beef patty, choice of toppings, condiments, and overall dining experience to spare you a subpar meal.
So without further ado, let’s get to the meat of it. Ranked from the just OK to the best, here’s how popular burgers from chain restaurants stacked up. (And if you’re in the mood for something quick, check out: We Tried 7 Fast-Food Cheeseburgers & This Is the Best.)
Shake Shack Single Shackburger
Shake Shack has a cult following of hungry loyalists who willingly stand in lines that zig-zag out the front door, all for a taste of a classic Shackburger and fries. Maybe you’re one of them. I, though, am not.
Void of the burger and shake joint’s special shack sauce, Shake Shack’s beef is dry, bland, and void of flavor. Even if you get a bite topped with cheese, you’re going to need a sip of something—be it one of the chain’s decadent shakes or fresh lemonade—to wash it down. I was a third of the way through my burger before I got a taste of Shake Shack’s famous shack sauce which, I can honestly say, does makes the burger worth eating.
Make sure you ask for extra, because not only is the sauce as delicious as they say, it’s the only reason I’d keep coming back for more.
Applebee’s Classic Cheeseburger
Applebee’s is a solid choice when you’re in the mood for a basic cheeseburger, but that’s really all it is. Basic.
The massive, flattened patty sits between a brioche bun and spills out on all sides, so you know you’re getting a nice portion of meat. It’s dressed with two slices of American cheese that kind of meld together to create one giant-looking slice, along with some lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles.
Notice a lack of condiments on that list? Well, that’s because the Applebee’s Classic Cheeseburger comes plain. Though I wouldn’t describe it as dry, as the meat is flavorful regardless. Diners who appreciate restaurant-crafted special sauces are out of luck here. But those who prefer to pack on their own condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustard, BBQ sauce, a mixture, etc.) will likely appreciate the blank, beefy canvas.
TGI Friday’s Signature Whiskey-Glazed Burger
I waitressed at a TGI Friday’s back in college, and while I wasn’t a big burger eater back then, I was a big fan of the chain restaurant’s signature sesame Jack strips, aka chicken strips coated in a Jack Daniel’s whiskey glaze. So, I had high hopes for the Signature Whiskey-Glazed Burger.
Overall, it wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned it would be, but it wasn’t a complete letdown, either.
I really love the flavor of Friday’s signature sauce—in moderation. It’s a very sweet glaze, so the flavor overpowers the taste of beef. The sauce also ended up soaking through the bottom half of the burger bun, making it very messy to eat. It’s a good burger, but one I’d have to have a very specific craving for if I were to order again.
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Chili’s OldTimer With Cheese
You probably don’t think of burgers when you think of Chili’s, but you should definitely start. I was pleasantly surprised with Chili’s Oldtimer with Cheese!
The beef itself is just flavorful enough that it has a distinguished taste, but it’s not overly seasoned. This lets the flavors of the burger toppings come through each bite. The burger is dressed with pickles, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and, wait for it, mustard. Prior to this experiment, I would never have thought to put mustard on my burger. Now that I’ve tasted the heavenly combination, I’m not sure I can ever go back to solely ketchup and mayo.
The only con worth mentioning here is that there wasn’t enough cheese to satisfy my craving. But, weirdly enough, the addition of mustard really picked up the slack for me.
Habit Burger CharBurger
I don’t hear about Habit Burger nearly enough, so consider this my way of tossing the Habit hat in the ring of contending chain restaurant burgers worth biting into.
The restaurant’s signature CharBurger beef patty comes charred as its name would suggest, and is fantastically flavorful on its own. I ordered it with cheese out of personal preference, but if I had to do without the dairy, I could and probably would enjoy it.
I also really appreciated the assembly of toppings on this burger: The shredded lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, pickles, weren’t overwhelming. What was overwhelming was the liberal amount of mayo dripping out the sides of the seeded bun. But I’ll forgive it, as this burger was the best from this batch.
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