A former employer had a useful annual performance review system for end-of-year appraisals, whereby staff earned a rating on a five-point scale. I’ve adapted it for burgers, from worst to best:
These are burgers that are terrible failures – I guess they’re acceptable to eat if you have a desperate need for calories, but they’re made by people who basically have no interest in producing high quality food. To be fair, they can be convenient and accessible, but they’re not burgers you should ever seek to travel to obtain. They are like the Jehovah’s Witnesses of burgers: you don’t seek them out, they sometimes arrive in front of you, and most of the time you won’t want them, but they serve a purpose.
The bun is basically never toasted (because that would require effort and burger-understanding), the patty is almost always overcooked, and the cheese is typically not melted.
This sort of burger is most often found in small pubs where overworked staff are focused on serving drinks, and food is but an afterthought.
This category will often encompass the traditional fast food burger: patties are thin (because they need to be cooked according to head office guidelines that seek to minimise the risk of food poisoning rather than maximise taste) but can be serviceable, especially when blackout drunk at 3am on a Friday or Saturday night.
These burgers tend to be pretty decently balanced, since they’re often the product of extensive focus group testing by the franchise head office. This can lead to generous and decent sauces to cover up the bland patty, so they’re not terrible.
This level of burger is most obviously found at big chains like McDonald’s, or Burger King, and are best avoided while sober. If you’re on a cross-country road trip, get fried chicken instead.
Good burgers are the workhorses of the burger world: they’re solid, they’re not going to harm you, and they’re reliable to get the job done. Good is better than a pass mark, however: to earn a Good rating, the burger will need to have a sense of character and depth.
These burgers are designed – and cooked – by people who know what they’re doing. The staff and management will typically have a commitment to quality which shines through the burger.
An excellent burger is a joy to behold: these are burgers that have interesting flavours, and often interesting textures. The buns are always toasted, the meat is very well cooked, and they are fun to eat.
However, they won’t always be perfect: they might be a little bit dry, they might be a little overcooked, or the ingredients might not be amazing – but if you enjoy an excellent burger, you can be confident that you’ll have an excellent meal.
If poor and basic burgers should only be consumed while drunk, excellent and outstanding burgers should only be consumed while sober: otherwise you’ll miss out on a special experience.
Only a small and illustrious group of burgers can earn the “Outstanding Burger” rating from michaeljosem.com. These are burgers that are worth travelling long distances for: the very best of the best, where you can build a weekend trip around enjoying one (or more) of them.
The patties are juicy, the buns are toasted, the other ingredients are high quality and fit with the rest of the burger. They don’t just have great flavour: they also have great texture.
So far, only Bad Egg and Bleecker St have earned “Outstanding” ratings in my mind.