If you're planning a road trip this spring or summer, this list of best burgers by state is a short list of must-tries. While you won't find all 50 states represented, these 20 burgers rise to the top of my list.
A Lifelong Burger Enthusiast
I moved to the USA in 2011 and lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for three glorious years. A lifelong burger devotee, when I went across the pond, my appreciation for the great American burger went into overdrive. Since then — and several countries later — my enthusiasm morphed into an obsession.
During my American stint, I used to love looking for mom-and-pop restaurants. Although my mainstay in the high desert was exquisite Mexican food, Bobcat Burgers in Santa Fe became a favorite pilgrimage.
Now, I live in Spain. While you can find a decent burger here, I prefer making my own blend of burger meat and experimenting with different recipes, many of which are here.
A Dream Road Trip For the Burger Lover
I cannot claim to have been to every state on this list, but I have recreated most recipes at home, aside from the the steamed cheeseburg or the vertical broil original burger. Until then, I can only drool at these recipes from afar.
One day, I would love to return to my old home and try each burger for real on a statewide pilgrimage. This list of 20 American classics represents the route I would take when that day comes.
1. Hawaii: The Teriyaki Burger
I would begin the trip of a lifetime in the beautiful 50th State. Hawaii isn't a place renowned for burgers — more so for starting the pineapple on a pizza feud that still bubbles away today.
Unsurprisingly, Hawai'i makes the list with an Asian twist — specifically, Japanese. Japan influences many recipes in the archipelago.
Some restaurants marinate their beef in teriyaki, while others add a teriyaki sauce on top of a cooked patty. Pineapples: optional.
The place to try one is the W&M Bar-B-Q in Honolulu next time you can escape to paradise.
2. California: The Bacon Avocado Toast Burger
Next, we fly to California. If anyone was going to boast a burger containing avocado, it would be California. Avocado has a strong Hispanic influence from the south, and the state now produces most of the ‘green gold' for the country.
The largest American population gets a thick beef patty under its bacon and smashed avocado topping. Some may even feel they are eating something healthy. Howard's Famous still serves up this treat between its traditional toast casing.
3. Utah: The Pastrami Burger
A drive across Nevada to Utah comes next. Surprisingly, the pastrami burger doesn't hail from some Kosher deli in Brooklyn but was born in Salt Lake City, Utah via Anaheim, California.
Jewish settlers who began life in New York and then moved to California brought with them pastrami, making the very first pastrami burger from the Golden State. However, it wasn't a Jewish chef responsible; this lies with Greek restauranteur James Katsanevas, who brought the pastrami burger with him to Utah, where it is still found.
Although he wasn't the first to cook them; he imported the normal patty and cheese, topped with sliced pastrami on top of slaw, which can still be found at his Crown Burgers restaurant in the capital.
4. New Mexico: The Green Chile Cheeseburger
We go southeast now to neighboring New Mexico. I was once a resident of the Land of Enchantment and spent some years teaching at Santa Fe Community College.
During this period, if I happened to have a lecture near lunchtime, this burger was my choice every time.
The canteen at SFCC employed culinary arts students and had an incredible grill chef who pumped green chile cheeseburgers out all afternoon.
A beef patty is seared all over before being smothered with fire-roasted Hatch green chile and covered with jack cheese before serving.
Green chile cheeseburgers are fiery but delicious and anybody visiting New Mexico will not be disappointed. Sparky's Burgers and BBQ down south in the village of Hatch holds the most recent New Mexico State Fair title.
5. Texas: The Smoked Burger
Once I've said my goodbyes to old friends in Santa Fe, Route 66 will take me to Texas, and here begins the American Burger Belt. The Lone Star state doesn't mess about when it comes to beef — and it doesn't do smash burgers.
A Texas smoked burger must be a thick patty, which is cooked in woodsmoke first before being transferred to a potato roll and covered in barbecue sauce. The tang of the sauce compliments the depth of smoke from the meat.
Nothing can beat beef juice burning on the grill, turning into smoke, and adding aroma to the patty, so the Texas burger doesn't disappoint.
6. Oklahoma: The Fried Onion Smash Burger
I stay on Route 66 for the next call, then the line northwards begins. I have sampled parts of it already, and there can't be a more romantic part of the road trip. This stage brings me to the fried onion smash burger.
Of course, nothing beats fried onions as a garnish on a burger, but the good people in Oklahoma invented something different.
This recipe incorporates the onions into the frying of the beef patty, transforming the taste and texture. First, you slice white onions into razor-thin discs, then layer them on one side of a thin beef patty.
Fried beef side-down, the onions are pressed into the patty and then flipped to caramelize on the other side before serving in toasted plain buns. I love this burger.
7. Missouri: The Guber Burger
Now, we head north to the Gateway Arch and west to Sedalia, MO. Created in the kitchens of the famous burger joint The Wheel Inn in 1947, the guber burger is a smash burger with a layer of hot peanut butter on the top.
Sadly, the restaurant finally shuttered after numerous attempts to reopen, but places still serve these famous sandwiches.
Goody's Steakburgers and Kehde's Barbeque still offer their version of this Missouri classic, though this is a simple recipe to recreate. You just need some good beef and heated peanut butter — be sure to toast the buns too.
8. Nebraska: The Bierock
Moving east now toward another Midwest state, Nebraska is famous for its Nordic heritage, and its settlers brought many recipes from the homeland. Like a Russian runza (a rectangle version of this snack), the bierock is a round bread roll packed with ground beef, melted cheese, onions, and cabbage.
This meat roll pre-dates the American hamburger. Much like English pasties, Argentinian empanadas, or Polish perogies, German farmers and settlers needed a transportable lunch for a day of hard graft. These are best filled with cheese to stick the contents together.
9. Iowa: The Loose Meat Sandwich
On our next stop, we drop in on Iowa. The Hawkeye State designed a burger that isn't a burger, although it tastes like a burger and has all the same ingredients.
They serve the loose meat sandwich in a burger bun with pickles and mustard, the meat cooked in its ground form before being drained and packed into a soft roll.
These sandwiches are common in the surrounding states, though the original recipe comes from the still-standing Taylor's Maid-Rite in Marshalltown. There is something romantic about a pioneering burger restaurant in a small town.
10. Montana: The Nutburger
This journey leg would be a slight detour, though the drive up into the Rockies must be spectacular. But if you want nuts and mayonnaise topping your burger, you must visit Butte, where the Montana nutburger still lives.
A nut burger is a simple smash burger topped with a Miracle Whip (or any other mayo you like) and crushed peanuts topping. Matt's Place Drive-In in Butte still serves these rarities.
The burger is another transplant story — this time, Matt Korn loved a peanut burger from California so much, he brought it north. Now, there are few places outside Montana where you can find them.
10. Minnesota: The Jucy Lucy
Now, we drive through the Land of 10,000 Lakes, where the Jucy Lucy was designed in 1953 by the bartender at Matt's Bar in Minneapolis after a customer asked for ‘something special.'
Little did Matt Bristol know he would make history in the Twin Cities that night as he created his state burger.
Putting American cheese between two preformed patties and grilling them, he locked the melted cheese inside the burger.
The Jucy Lucy (the misspelling a remnant of its original conception) is available across the country, but if you want to try the O.G. version, Matt's Bar is still open today.
Staff members wear tee shirts with the slogan: “Fear The Cheese,” a reference to the molten-hot cheese that explodes when you bite the patty. Disclaimer: eat with caution!
11. Wisconsin: The Butter Burger
By this point on my pilgrimage, I may be getting weary of burgers, but I will press on — to Wisconsin, where melted butter poured over a fried burger is next. My coronary arteries may not be happy, but who cares?
With a smash burger as its mainstay, the butter burger is best served with caramelized onions and cheese, though a straight-up patty and butter work just as well.
The recipe's origin stems from Solly's Grille outside Milwaukee in the 1930s, and any visitor to the Badger State can find them today. However, Midwest restaurant chain Culver's is perhaps better known and has a butter burger on the menu.
12. Michigan: The Olive Burger
I will jump on a ferry for the following installment, the Michigan olive burger.
This burger is a definitive Michiganders' recipe and uses a smash burger technique, though this time, with a liberal dollop of chopped olive mayonnaise. It isn't one for the kids' menu!
Numerous outlets in the Detroit area serve the local delicacy, but olive burgers are hard to find out of state.
Mercury Burger Bar in Detroit seems to be highly rated for theirs, though this recipe's origin is in Grand Rapids, sometime in the 1930s at a burger joint known as Kewpee.
13. Tennessee: The Deep-Fried Burger
While we're fantasizing, I would love to journey down south on the Mississippi, so why not entertain such a romantic idea?
In the deep south, deep-frying is par for the course. Therefore, Tennesse's deep-fried smash burger (essentially, a ball of ground meat flattened into a thin patty) fits the culinary heritage well.
The lazy brainchild of Elmer Dyer in Memphis, this recipe was conceived in 1912. Dyer, finishing off for the night, fried one last burger order in all the leftover dripping in his skillet, as he was too busy to drain it.
The result is a crispier patty that adds a great texture to every bite. Dyer's in Memphis still serves this recipe today.
14. Mississippi: The Slug Burger
The river romance continues with another short tugboat ride into Mississippi, where the slug burger awaits.
Mississippi is one of the least affluent states in the land, though its culinary culture would not suggest as such. The land of soul food, biscuits and gravy, and world-class barbecue has a slightly different take on its beef patty.
A remnant of the Great Depression, the Mississippi slug burger is made up of ground beef mixed with fine breadcrumbs and made into a thick patty. The result is a rich texture; the breadcrumbs absorb the beef juices and dry the edges, making a crispier exterior.
If this piques one's foodie interests, Bill's Hamburgers in the city of Armory are famed for their adherence to this old recipe — which is where I will go.
16. Florida: The Cuban Frita
Florida is so close to Cuba, both physically and culturally; therefore, the state's favorite burger makes perfect sense. Cuban frita carts are found all across the state, though Miami's Calle Ocho is famous for them.
The Cuban Frita was once a popular mainstay of street food before the communist revolution on the island. However, Castro's loss was America's gain, with refugee Cubanos bringing their frita recipes.
Beef mixed with chorizo spices is fried and smothered in frita sauce, then served in a roll with skinny fries, raw onions, and layered with ketchup.
17. South Carolina: Pimento Cheese Burger
A short commute south now. The Palmetto state maybe wanted a burger that sounded like their famous state tree, but who knows? This burger's appeal is the local Palmetto cheese, a concoction of shredded American cheese, diced pimentos, and mayonnaise that sits atop a fried smash burger.
Head to Steve's Classic Burgers for the best-rated pimento cheese burger in South Carolina. However, there is no shortage of restaurants to find this classic.
18. North Carolina: The Carolina Slaw Burger
A long drive down the I-95 brings us to North Carolina. The bigger Carolina and its southern sister have been duking it out over the best recipes for centuries. Whether it is the supremacy of their barbecue or college sports, these two always enjoy sparring.
With burgers, we have two distinct differences between the garnish. While southerners prefer the pimento cheese, up north it is cabbage slaw that gets the nod. First served in 1951 at Duke's Grill in Monroe, the recipe comes in two variants — red slaw with ketchup instead of mayo.
Who knew this was even a thing? In any case, white slaw appears to dominate most restaurants' versions of the slaw burger.
19. Massachusetts: The Hamburger Parm
The penultimate burger pit-stop finds me in Massachusetts. There is something about the history of the American burger that is alluring, especially the one hailing from smaller, provincial towns.
One such place is Fitchburg, MA, which claims ownership of another classic, the Italian burger. A recipe that would be expected in New Jersey is still found in many places, including its birthplace, The Italian Burger in Fitchburg.
This patty is served on toasted baguettes, with a thick dose of marinara and melted provolone on top. Much like its chicken cousin, this one is comfort food 101. I recently cooked this burger and I rate it highly!
20. Connecticut: The Original
We end this odyssey in Louis Lunch, Connecticut. Legend has it that some of America's first burgers came from this place, where they still serve the original patties on toasted bread, using the same devices that have graced the kitchen for 130 years.
Louis Lunch still makes their burgers with a difference — they use a vertical grill. This contraption gives them a moist texture and means the burgers don't have any contact with the flame.
They come with perhaps a squeeze of mustard and a pickle or two — nothing else. Ketchup at Louis Lunch is prohibited: anyone caught smuggling their own will receive a ban or fine!
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.