Legit burgers at home.

the dz burger

Being a group of hardcore burger critics, we like to think we know what it takes to make a killer burger.  This weekend we set out to prove it.

The beef was freshly ground just before we cooked it.  It was a mix of roughly 50% sirloin, 30% chuck, and 20% brisket.

The cheese was Beecher’s Flagship.  We had three different kinds of bacon – Whole Foods Maple, Whole Foods Pepper, and Niman Ranch Maple that we pulled from my fridge at the last minute for comparison.  For veggies we had both red and sweet yellow onion, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and homemade pickles.  To finish things off there was ketchup, dijon, and a homemade “secret burger sauce”. Finally, the buns – Rudi’s Organic White lightly toasted in the oven.

the array

The patties were formed into 1/4 pound pucks and cooked with the smashburger technique.  As always, it worked beautifully – here’s a look at the patties after flipping and just before I threw the cheese down:

smash

Honestly, it’s difficult for me to find things I’d do differently next time.  I’ve got some ideas but they’re really more for educational “what will happen if I…” purposes than because I think it’ll improve the final product.

+ Amazing beef, cheese, and toppings. A burger done right, IMO.

– Having to clean the kitchen afterwards.

These were certainly the best burgers that I’ve ever made. 

Rating: ★★★★½ 

(if you’re interested, find the full set of photos here.)

John Howie Steak

John Howie Steak  

John Howie Steak in Bellevue is the latest restaurant from one of Seattle’s premier chefs.  An earlier visit delivered one of the best steak dinners I’ve had in years.  That experience combined with a mouth-watering description on the menu made this a must-try burger:   

USDA Prime Beef Bacon Cheeseburger, ½ pound ground prime sirloin, Beecher’s cheddar, Kurobuta bacon, Brioche roll,drive-in sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickle and sliced red onion  

Prime sirloin?  Beecher’s cheddar?  Kurobuta bacon?  Sign me up!  When the burger was placed in front of me I was excited.  Everything looked top-notch, and every bit as good as I’d been hoping for.  

The patty was excellent.  It was clearly high-quality beef that had been cooked just the way I wanted it, and I’d put it in the top 10 patties you’ll find in the Seattle area.  Sadly, everything that went with the patty was unable to hold up in comparison.

I’m not a huge fan of brioche buns, and this was a good example of why.  The burger was juicy but not sloppy, as it should be – but even that level of juice quickly dissolved the bottom of the bun, making the last half of the burger a little challenging to eat.  The cheese was a real disappointment – I’m a huge fan of Beecher’s and use it on my burgers at home, so I was really looking forward to what it would bring to the table.  As you can see in the photo, the slice was extremely thin which resulted in the taste of the cheese being completely lost.  When I could taste the bacon it was very good, but there weren’t a lot of bites where I could taste the bacon.  The red onion was fine, but the wedge of lettuce was big enough that I wound up setting it aside halfway through.  The “drive-in sauce” tasted like a typical smoky mayo-based sauce, and was quite good.  

With all that said, I really liked the burger and will be going back – but it didn’t deliver on my admittedly high expectations.  Taking this burger to the heights it could reach wouldn’t be hard – a better bun, make the cheese three times thicker, another slice of bacon, and better lettuce would result in a simply astounding burger.  

The fries were solid.  Crispy with fluffy texture inside, and with what tasted like sea salt sprinkled on them.  Definitely above-average.  Even the ketchup was a notch above what you’ll get most places.  The house-brand amber beer was good, and if you’re a dessert person check out the exceptional pear and raspberry sorbet.

  + Really dig the beef, the burger was solid, and everything that wasn’t between the buns was top-notch  

  –  The bun and the toppings keep the burger from being everything that it could be  

The burger at John Howie Steak

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Teddy’s Bigger Burgers

Teddy's Bigger Burgers

Teddy's Monster Double

Inconveniently located in Woodinville, Teddy’s Bigger Burgers live up to their name, weighing in at 5, 7 and 9oz sizes, with the option to double up. Claiming to have “reinvented” the burger, the Teddy’s franchise originated in Hawaii and has since spread to the mainland, we put them through the rigorous test of our digestive systems.

The beef is cooked to order, medium with a nice char on the outside. The quality of the meat is good, well above average, but no Jak’s. The bun gets the job done and the sauce which adorns it is alright, however both are otherwise forgettable. Most impressive was the bacon, which was cooked to chewy but not crispy and never left its rightful throne atop the melted cheddar. The lettuce, tomatoes and pickle were all fresh and a-okay in my book, but Teddy lost me at the onions. A cold mess of raw, thinly sliced white onions sits in the middle of your burger, begging to be released from their prison to die a lonely death in your fry basket. If you’re in the area, stop by for a burger and you won’t be disappointed, but don’t expect a transcendent experience.

Unbeef: fries are very good, menu has great variety, friendly staff, seating area is large and clean (unlike 90% of burger-dedicated shops).

+ Good beef, good cooks, great bacon.

– Cold, raw, hateful onions. Bun, sauce, cheese, veggies are bogged down by mediocrity.

The monster double bacon cheese burger at Teddy’s Bigger Burgers

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

www.teddysbiggerburgers.com/

Red Mill

Red Mill

Double Bacon Deluxe w/ Cheese

Red Mill is a Seattle joint devoted to the art of the burger and what we call the greater burger experience, a staple among Seattle’s “best burgers” lists. We’re not out to shatter anyone’s perception of the world, this is a quality burger, but how does it stack up to a beef enthusiast’s lofty expectations?

The bun is the standard sesame seed fare, seemingly untoasted. The beef is nothing special, a couple 1/4 lb patties cooked to medium-well. Things begin to pick up with their accompaniments; the bacon is well-cooked but still chewy, the lettuce, tomato and pickles are fresh, crisp and working in perfect harmony. The sauce is good, with a slight kick, however it is slightly overwhelming at times. They absolutely nail the cheese, ooey gooey goodness, barely congealing along the sides of the burger.

Unbeef: Fries were quite good, onion rings were different, but good, milk shake was excellent.

+ The pieces fit: the burger is held together by the exceptionally fresh veggies, bacon and heavenly cheese.

– The bun isn’t anything special and the beef is not the star. That would be okay if we were called Legit Condiments.

The double bacon with cheese at Red Mill Burgers

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

www.redmillburgers.com

The Brown Bag Cafe

the brown bag cafe

The Brown Bag Cafe in Kirkland WA, a place better known for their Buick-sized portions than their burgers, was not my idea of a good burger house. Large portions tend to scare me off for fear the chef respects quantity more than quality. I don’t want a giant pile of food if it’s mediocre food I’m in store for. Known for their giant breakfasts and housemade breads, could they really do a proper burger?

Well,the buns are delicious, made in-house, grilled then buttered and are easily the highlight of the burger. The burger meat is nice with a pretty slice of melted cheddar. Nothing outstanding but nicely done. The bacon is crispy, heavy on the hickory flavor, and a nice touch. Liberally sauced with simple mayonnaise spread evenly. But then in march the stock vegetables. The lettuce, insipid and bland like all pre-shredded bagged lettuce is. The tomatoes, off colored and watery in flavor. The pickles, well, as stock as stock can be. The onions, however, are nice but do little in the way of making up for the rest of the garden. A nice effort, a decent all around burger that actually exceeded expectations.

+ We give hooves up for the baked in-house buns, delicious and well toasted, and a cooked-to order beef patty.

– We give hooves down for seriously insipid vegetables, a tad too much mayonaise, and a slightly forgettable burger.

The bacon cheese burger at the Brown Bag Cafe

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

www.brownbagcafes.com

Jak’s Grill



Jak’s Grill in Issaquah, WA is notorious for having one of the best burgers around. Period. Some of the best ground beef anywhere, cooked to order with a limited selection of toppings to get in the way. Nice vegetables, nice toppings, and reasonably priced. There really isn’t much not to love.

But this legendary burger does have some room for improvement. The bun, primarily, is very ok and made more glaringly ok by the quality of the beef. The sauce on the bun is globed in the center and not spread evenly. And the cheese, though excellent, is inconsistent. Sometimes fully melted, sometimes not. And the fries. Well, we recommend the onion rings or potato pancakes instead.

In the end, the Jak’s burger is still a giant among burger legends and showcases all that is good and decent in the burger world. If you eat meat, like burgers, and dislike the Jak’s burger – you have no love in your heart.

+ We give hooves up for remarkable beef quality, cooked to order, nice veggies and toppings, all at a reasonable price.

– We give hooves down for an ok bun and inconsistent cheese meltage.

The Jak’s burger at Jak’s Grill

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

www.jaksgrill.com

Mad Cow, and what a burger is NOT

gordo's in ballard

In the interest of semantics let’s define what a burger is NOT. This list is not exhaustive, but any place reviewed and scored well by me will refrain from the following.

Bad beef. Or previously frozen beef, which is bad by another definition. Grey beef, that crap we’ve all seen and eaten, albeit drunk at 2am. Overly processed beef, and by processed I mean containing beef from more than 2.5 million anabolic cows. Beef that is artificially greasy, like a lard burger with pockets of ground beef. Beef that is overly cooked. This is legitbeef, not legitpuck. Treat your beef properly by cooking it to order, unless that order happens to be well done in which case shoot the customer. In short, I want clean, fresh, tasty beef cooked properly by someone who cares.

Bad cheese. Fake cheese. The crap that comes wrapped in plastic like a bad gift. Cheese from a can. Pre-shredded cheese that belongs on an angry bad taco. Cheese that is melted on the outside yet cold and hard in the middle. Folks, cheese is an art. Put Pollock on my burger and I become angry.

Bad sauces. Old sauces. Separated sauces. Gimmicky sauces. No one wants to see chipotle vanilla beam cream fraiche burger sauce despite the fact that it legitimizes the $18 price tag. It’s crap. We don’t want it. Trust me. If all else fails, relax, you have a fail safe back up. Simple proper mayonaise is always welcomed.

Bad vegetables. Old vegetables. Brown vegetables that are not normally brown. Dirty vegetables, unless you are aiming for a themed dirt burger, then maybe but it will very likely still suck. Improper vegetables, such as but not limited to carrots, radishes, beats, and turnips. They don’t belong here. Ever.

Bad miscellaneous toppings. For instance, fried mozzarella sticks dipped in mariana sauce with pickled hot chili peppers and sad pepporoni have no place in the burger world. And trust me folks, I saw this with my own eyes. I couldn’t make this one up if I tried.

Bad buns. Soggy buns. Stale buns. Stupid-encrusted buns with far too many crushed macadamia nuts adorning the outside.

To close, I learned years ago that what comes off as rant is merely passion and love in disguise. Don’t be fooled. These are burgers folks. They deserve it.

Burgers are serious business.

Lunchbox Laboratory

I worship the bacon cheeseburger.  Medium-rare, of course.  Over the last year or so my take on this American icon has gone from love to obsession.  I’ll go much farther than I would’ve thought possible in search of my next fix, and I can’t eat it without taking pictures and grading the experience for whoever’s eating with me.

I’ll start with a few stakes in the ground (beef):

Bacon is magical.  If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume that I don’t have to explain this to you.  It should be crisp without being burnt.  Pepper adds a great touch.  Premium producers like Niman Ranch deliver superior pig.  Sadly, some restaurants manage to screw up bacon.  I’d like to make them all do penance at Red Mill to learn how it’s done.

Cheese!  For years I was a fan of sharp Tillamook cheddar, and I still am – but recently I’ve learned of the bliss on a burger that’s Beecher’s Flagship.  There’s also a type of burger that simply requires the Kraft single.

Sides matter.  Fries, rings, tots, mac-and-cheese, potato salad – I love them all.  If it’s lame, I’m going to be hard-pressed to bother coming back when Seattle has so many great burgers to offer.

You can’t have a great burger without great beef.  Freshness matters.  Grind matters.  Fat ratio matters.

There’s so much more – griddle vs. grill, the importance of good tomato, letttuce and onions, the art of the smashburger – but those’ll have to wait for another post.  For now I’ll simply leave you with eight key words to help guide you to burger bliss:

Red Mill.  Five Guys.  Lunchbox Laboratory.  Palace Kitchen.  They know the way of the burger.  Stick around and I’ll explain why.

Forming the Patty

lunchbox laboratory

We searched and we searched but the Seattle area apparently lacks sufficient blog guidance on the art of regional hamburgers. Clearly, burgers are an art. And with every art there follows a parade of sites. Or so we thought.

So we decided to throw our beef hats in the ring and legitimize Seattle’s burgerdom with our own beef. Crafting our reviews and itineraries to find Seattle’s best hamburgers so you don’t have to.

No cow is safe.

*If you’ve got a Seattle area burger joint you’d like to see reviewed, hit us up.

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