Why are we doing this?
In Spring of 2011, one of the group-buying sites on the Internet sent out an email for a deal on a burger joint. That email got forwarded among our group of friends and inadvertently stirred up a discussion on the burgeoning burger scene in the DC area. We commented on the burger joints that keep popping up in and around the city (not that that’s a bad thing) and our experiences with each of those burgers. Then, we argued: Whose burger was the juiciest? Whose bun couldn’t hold up? If the burger was as good as we said — was it worth the price being asked?
Being the lot of sports-loving and competitive guys that we are, we couldn’t settle for “oh, they’re all so great in their own right... Everyone is a winner!” The question of “What’s the Best Burger in the DMV” had to be answered the only way stats-junkies know how: quantitatively.
What’s the point?
If you’re here, you probably share our love for the good old American hamburger patty sandwich, and you get why we’re doing this (outside of giving ourselves justifications to eat more burgers).
But for those needing more explanation: We initially started the project with the notion that we were going to determine, once and for all, what is the greatest burger in all of Washingtonland! Since then, the project has evolved. This isn’t about finding the absolute, #1, no-questions-asked burger in the area (as you see, each of us have our own personal favorites), this is about separating the wheat from the chaff and also about determining the best bang for your burger buck. Most people aren’t future heart disease cases like us, so when they order a hamburger, they want to make it count. Make it the tastiest, juiciest or freshest burger they can find. We want to help you out. If you don’t agree with us, even better...
let us know what you think!
So... How is this any different than Yelp?
Let’s make ourselves clear: what Yelp does is quite impressive. They get real reviews of businesses from the public, giving ratings based on location, service, ambiance, and whatever else a user might think of. If you think about it, that’s a wealth of information presented very cleanly. While there’s undeniable value in all aspects of the dining experience, we didn’t want to be just another review site competing with Yelp. This site has a different focus. Simply put, the meat (pardon the lame pun) of this project is solely the burger.
Our Rating System
Our philosophy on rating burgers comes from the basics. You could call us purists in our approach because we’re not out there to rate the new specialty burger topped with onion rings, candied bacon, foie gras, or any other “innovative” or “gourmet” ingredient. We’ve created a “control burger”, if you will, that we order at every place we choose to rate; A cheddar cheeseburger, cooked to a perfect medium. Lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, or some variation of the aforementioned veggies. If the place we rate has a sauce or condiment that comes on the burger as part of it’s standard preparation, so be it; we aren’t here to tell a place how to make their burger, just to sample and rate their burger offering. We’re looking for the place that is making the best burgers using the highest quality ingredients, and the place that is going to make our mouths water just by looking at it.
Of course, every one of us has our own opinions, so we hold off on displaying ratings for a burger until at least half of us have tried it out.
We rate these control burgers based on seven basic criteria:
From Kobe to Kirkland’s, the meat quality is a huge factor in our ratings. We’re looking for fresh, hand-formed burgers that have the right amount of fat content to be tasty and juicy as well as firm to the bite. Does it melt in your mouth on that first bite, or does it make you think you’re chewing on a piece of sofa? We believe a burger should be cooked either medium or medium-rare. For our purposes, we decided on medium as the standard (warm, pink center) since it fits into the ideal criteria of many and also makes spotting an over- or under-cooked burger that much easier.
For some burgers, we’ve had to ask “where’s the beef?” Others force us to nearly unhinge our jaws to get a bite. A truly perfect burger has a patty large enough to fill every bite with delicious, meaty goodness. We hate a burger that’s dominated by the bun. We’re here to rate meat, and are severely disappointed when the meat disappears behind the bun and a few toppings.
A true American hamburger uses salt and pepper, and they use it generously! If you can’t taste some salt and pepper to bring out the natural flavors of the meat, then someone in the kitchen needs to be fired. The flavor of the grill and the searing of the meat from an open flame also adds to the overall seasoning. The best burgers have it. The others flat out don’t.
This one is easy. Was the burger given the respect and admiration that it deserves by being nicely perched on top of a bun, stacked high with all its fixings in order, or was it haphazardly thrown on a bun next to a pile of fries with no sign of adequate burger love?
The final verdict. Did it taste good to us? Of course, this is going to be subjective to each taster, but in the end, if the burger’s well seasoned, cooked to a nice medium, and not made of Styrofoam it’s usually going to taste darn good!
Buns can be a tricky item. They serve a purpose - the means for getting the meat to your mouth! However, not all buns are created equal. Some come buttered, grilled, made from brioche, topped with sesame seeds, etc. The bun gets its highest rating when it can handle the burger that sits atop it, holds up to the juicy goodness of the meat and adds to the overall flavor of the burger without overwhelming it. They shouldn’t be too thick to the point where they overwhelm the meat, or be too thin to the point that they fall apart.
It’s amazing to note how many times we’ve eaten a cheeseburger and not even noticed that there was cheese on it. Cheese should bring a level of flavor that is missing from the burger. The cheese usually gets high marks if we notice that it’s there from a flavor standpoint.
Seven Burger Truths
1. Hamburgers are delicious.
It’s such a simple concept if you think about - a chunk of beef, salt and pepper, some bread, and a couple of raw vegetables. But somehow, these basic ingredients have come together to define American cuisine.
2. The burger is the ultimate American food.
While there may have been beef sandwiches and there may have been hamburg steak, only in America would you find such a stroke of sheer gluttony, in putting one with the other, creating the supermultibillion dollar industry that burgers constitute today.
3. A hamburger is made from beef.
Ground lamb, turkey and bison sandwiches can all be tasty - they’re just not hamburgers. Just as a hamburger is not a “burger made from ham”, a “salmon burger” is not a “burger made from salmon” — it’s a salmon sandwich.
4. Burgers are a great restaurant barometer.
The way a place prepares, cooks, tops, dresses, and serves the burger quickly tells you a lot about the venue as a whole. And when it comes to some of the "nicer" restaurants around town, a burger is a perfect (and relatively inexpensive) way to purchase a little bit of the place's "sizzle" without emptying your wallet for the whole steak.
5. The vegetables matter.
We can all agree that a burger should be topped with lettuce and tomato. But, the vegetables shouldn’t taste like they were manufactured in the ruins of Chernobyl, completely devoid of taste. So, please keep your carelessly thrown-on shredded lettuce off our burger before it gets all wilty in the kitchen window. If we’re getting lettuce, give us the good stuff with a cool, crisp crunch that allows us the delusion that we’re getting something healthy out of this heap of greasy goodness.
6. On a good burger, liquid condiments should not be needed.
While condiments can certainly enhance the overall flavor, the true test of a really good burger is if it can stand on its own.
Among the DMVBW staff, there’s no consensus about which condiments are preferred, though we all agree that the only noticeable contribution mayo has to a burger is lubricating a dried-up, overcooked patty. If a burger joint wants to throw in some fancy special sauce or herb-infused aioli, more power to them - but the dish’s highlight is the burger, not the sauce.
7. A burger should be cooked as ordered.
You couldn’t imagine how many different venues we’ve been to where, after being asked our preferred cooking preparation (medium), we were left disappointed. In those joyous occasions that we did receive a burger cooked perfectly, it made us want to spontaneously bust into the Sun Drop guy
, right in the middle of the dining room.