The burger looked as if it were forged from the heavens, cheese melted, oozing between a mouthwateringly hot bun. I could still imagine the sizzle of the griddle as I inhaled the irresistible aroma. I unwrapped my burger and anticipated the amount of grease that was about to come seeping out of the center. My waiting mouth was ready to savor the flavors until I finished every bite and licked my fingers so as not to waste. My imagination seemed to slow time, and the thoughts of devouring the treasure were endless. Before I knew it, I had eaten the whole thing and was staring into space with a satiated grin on my face. I cleared my throat, ignored my friends’ puzzled looks and waited for them to slowly finish their meals.
So goes the typical burger adventure for me. A burger is not just a food item. It is a science. So many nuances go into making the mouthwatering flavor you find in each bite. Sometimes the burger takes on an eclectic flavor combination, say avocado and grilled onions or bacon and a quail egg. Sometimes it just takes a top quality meat and a savory bun. The more unique the burger, the more impressive the flavors.
I am a self-proclaimed burger connoisseur, having tried over 60 burgers in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Around the metroplex, I have tried upwards of 30 more. From a Portobello mushroom patty to a full pound Kobe beef double patty, I have had almost every burger imaginable. Through my experiences with the vastly different realms of the burger, I have realized that it is not just about slapping meat and cheese on a bun.
Gordon Ramsay, a world-renowned chef who recently opened a burger joint in Las Vegas, said in a video clip from his show "Kitchen Nightmares" that the secret to a good burger is simple. It begins with the seasoning, and with a few other little things, a burger can be transformed from average to incredible.
TCU sophomore strategic communication major Ryan Sigman recently traveled to Las Vegas for the sole reason of eating at Ramsay’s new restaurant, BurGR. Sigman raves about his burgers.
“Being one of the top chefs in the world, he obviously knows what he’s doing,” Sigman said. “But even the simple burgers were amazing because of things like a toasted bun and the freshest ingredients.”
Kate Meiresonne, TCU student and food management major, has worked in a bar specializing in burgers for several years now. She said she learned that the secret to making the perfect burger lies in the preparation of the meat.
“It’s so important to cook the meat perfectly,” she said. “If it’s juicy and has a nice grill flavor, people will love it; but it will be people’s first complaint if it’s not cooked to the right temperature.”
So as not to skew the winners to my personal preferences, I asked random people at two Dallas Stars hockey games to tell me what the most important part of a burger is. Their preferences ranged from the bun to the pickles- but there was a common theme. The overall blending of ingredients was important to 29 people, suggesting overall taste rather than the individual contents is more important.
At the Love Shack, TCU sophomore Spanish major Christine Stockslager paused between bites of her burger to indicate that bacon makes an amazing burger for her.
“If it’s flavorful bacon, it can send the burger over the top,” Stockslager said. “However, it’s got to gel with the rest of the ingredients or the burger can get bad fast.”
TCU sophomore studio art major Will Jenkins said his critical judgment of a burger came with the overall taste.
“I love it when I bite into a burger and I can’t taste any of the ingredients but only the flavor that everything melds into,” Jenkins said.
Armed with the survey results, I determined an overall grading scale for each burger I tried. The main grade comes from the overall taste. Secondary grades come from the taste of the bacon alone and the juiciness of the meat. A final grade comes from the level of satisfaction once the feast is complete. Bonus points can stem from any above-and-beyond feature.
Research finished, it was time for my favorite part–the user tests. Many meals and a few pounds later, I settled on my favorite burgers in Fort Worth.
Best Burger Overall
The Love Shack takes my top award for its specialty burger, the “Dirty Love.” Owned and created by renowned Fort Worth chef Tim Love, the joint has two locations–the original in the Stockyards and a 109 location on Bluebonnet Circle.
The Love Shack is a “funky, eclectic place” where "Love takes prime beef tenderloin and brisket and grounds it into a delicious burger,” according to online restaurant guidebook Zagat and its reviewers.
I was quite hungry, and I was in a mood to try a burger with an eclectic topping–a fried quail egg. The kitchen delivered a burger so tall and massive, I had to stop and think about where to begin. For once, the meat was larger than the bun, and cheese and egg were oozing out the sides. “Love Sauce” coated the top bun and mixed perfectly with the egg yolk that flooded my mouth with the first bite. My taste buds went into sensory overload and rocketed into the heavens with every bite. The only thing that ended my enjoyment was the inevitable last bite. When I found my hands empty of anything to bite but my fingernails (which is frowned upon), I leaned back in my chair and took a few moments to bask in the aftermath of what was the most incredible burger I had ever eaten. I recommend you come hungry, for you will leave positively satiated.
Charley’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers takes my award for its sloppy number three special. Charley’s is a local favorite and somewhat of a secret to outsiders, located on the 109 border on Granbury Road just south of TCU. Just a little shack with less than 10 tables inside, it is the perfect example of a hole in the wall. And like most holes in the wall, the food carries a reputation as old as the building it is cooked in.
A tip before ordering the number three special: Don’t eat for two or three days because this burger will fill you up beyond what you have ever imagined. Double meat, double cheese, bacon on top and bottom, mayo, lettuce and the kicker: canadian bacon in between the patties. This is a heart attack waiting to happen, but it is absolutely worth it.
The taste is an explosion of meat and godly goodness in what can only be described as a pool of amazing. It is truly unexplainable. You better eat it fast because the patty will begin to crumble in your hands, and you will end up having to spoon the fallout into your already full but beckoning stomach. One last tip: Go without a side. There is not enough room in your stomach for anything else.
M&O Station Grill hangs a boastful banner proclaiming that it has the best burger in Fort Worth. They should keep it hanging. Ranking only slightly behind the Love Shack, their “King George” burger earns my second place nod.
Just a few blocks north of Montgomery Plaza, M&O Station Grill is as classic a burger joint as you can find in the area. Upon entering, it is like a flashback to my rural Tennessee diner days, and the smell of especially amazing burgers floods your nose.
The “King George” features double meat, double cheese, bacon and grilled onions slathered in barbecue sauce. The meat is sensationally charred and the bacon could stand up to any Southern style greasy diner. The simple ingredients let the more important elements shine, and the combination of the incredible taste of the bun, sauce, bacon and fresh meat will make you sigh in happiness from the mouthwatering flavor. The burger has the ability to make you pause and utter an incomprehensible grunt of satisfaction after each and every bite.
THE BEST EVER?
My burger experiences are not unique to Fort Worth. I have had burgers as far away as London and Paris. Believe it or not, there are burgers much better than those I described above. So where is the best in the world? Luckily, only three hours away.
Austin–the home to South by Southwest, the University of Texas, the State Capitol and Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill. Located on famous 6th Street, the Southwestern and Mexican cuisine is normally what attracts customers, but only the locals know the truth about what to order. Eight years ago my friend and Austin local persuaded me to do the unthinkable–order a burger at a Mexican restaurant. The next day when I went back for lunch, I was not too ashamed to order the same thing. The memory of it stuck with me for seven years, and when I finally made the trek down I-35 to try it once more, it was better than I remembered. Recently, I went to Austin to remind myself just how good it was.
The specialty “Z’ Burger” comes loaded with bacon, cheese and an incredible jalapeño mayonnaise on a hot, toasted bun. Upon delivery, I wasted no time to dive into the burger. I closed my lips around the tender bite, allowing my eyes to close and a soft sound of delight slip from my mouth as I swallowed what could possibly have been the best bite of any kind of meat I could ever dream of. Each bite was better than the last, and when finished, my eyes were glazed over with a look of satisfaction. It was obvious that this reigned supreme as the best burger in the world.
IT’S NOT SO SIMPLE
The simplest of classic American food goes much deeper than surface level. There are rivalries between joints and implications in choosing one over the other. There are flavors that can only be captured between a bun. And perhaps most importantly, there is no way to even write or read this without craving a burger afterward.
Justin Adams, executive chef at Walnut Creek Country Club in Mansfield, summed up what a burger signifies in American culture.
“The burger is the perfect symbol of America,” Adams said. “Simple yet layered with complexities; together yet comprised of all kinds of fascinating elements.”