We Went to 8 Drive-Thrus to Find the Best Fast-Food Burger

Before you hit the drive-thru, find out which fast-food burger is the best fast-food burger. Our top picks might surprise you!

Cropped hand of person holding burger,San Francisco,California,United States,USAZak Nuttall/Getty Images

The Quest for the Best Fast-Food Burger

I’m not ashamed to say it: I love a good fast-food burger on occasion. And some fries. Ooh, and a Coke, too. When I’m craving something quick for dinner and I don’t have time to prep even one of these 15-minute meals, I head right to the drive-thru.

Like most folks, I’ll go wherever’s closest if I’m in a hurry, but that means I’ve ended up with some pretty lackluster cheeseburgers. To avoid that disappointment—and to help all you out—I decided to test every fast-food burger I could find. I crossed my fingers that I’d taste a new favorite and pulled up to these fast-food joints:

  • A&W
  • Burger King
  • Culver’s
  • Dairy Queen
  • Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr.
  • McDonald’s
  • Sonic
  • Wendy’s

Let’s see how they all ranked!

Burger King burger
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8. Burger King

It pains me to say that although it has the nation’s fastest drive-thrus, Burger King was not the king of the fast-food burger—at least not the basic cheeseburger. The chain’s burger was very small and thin. The beef was dry and tasted like it had been frozen. Outside of that charbroiled flavor, the beef didn’t have a lot of taste. When it came to condiments, this burger was a bit sloppy—there was a lot of ketchup running out the sides making this on-the-go meal kind of a mess.

Bottom line: Stop for a Whopper or a crispy chicken sandwich, but skip the basic cheeseburger.

McDonald's burger
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7. McDonald’s

When it comes to fast-food fries and an ice-cold Coke, McDonald’s reigns supreme. However, in this quest for the best fast-food burger, McDonald’s didn’t secure a spot in the top. The burger was fine—exactly what you expect from McDonald’s: very thin, mild in beef flavor with plenty of ketchup, mustard and onions. Compared to other burgers in this test, McDonald’s single cheeseburger was also quite small, so it’s definitely not for those with large appetites.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t go out of my way for this burger, but I’d order it with my favorite fast-food fries and a Coke.

Dairy Queen burger
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6. Dairy Queen

Let me say this: I love Dairy Queen. I love a good Blizzard, a soft-serve cone dipped in sprinkles and any kind of Dilly Bar you throw my way. As familiar as I am with their ice cream options, I can’t say I knew a lot about the food side of things, so I didn’t know what to expect when ordering a cheeseburger. What I got was an OK fast-food burger. The patty wasn’t overly thin like other competitors and the bun was pretty good too, but the burger itself was dry. Along with an excess of mustard, I couldn’t call this one a favorite.

Bottom line: A burger is fine if you need a pre-Blizzard meal. Otherwise, I’d stick to the soft serve.

Hardee's & Carl's Jr. burger
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5. Hardee’s & Carl’s Jr.

Ranking just slightly above Dairy Queen was Hardee’s (or Carl’s Jr. depending where you live). This burger had a nice, mild charbroiled flavor which took it up a notch from the most basic fast-food burgers. I definitely appreciated that subtle addition, however, the patty on this burger was pretty darn thin. I felt like the proportion of patty to bun was off balance.

Bottom line: Not a bad burger if you’re in the neighborhood, but not worth a special trip.

Wendy's burger
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4. Wendy’s

When it comes to Wendy’s, there’s a lot of talk about fresh, never frozen beef, not to mention the signature square burgers. In my book, fresh ingredients are always preferred, so I expected a pretty decent burger from this fast-food chain. What I got was just that: a pretty good burger. The beef tasted fresh and had a bit of a grilled flavor which I really enjoyed. I also liked the proportion of most toppings, including the nice rings of onion (instead of diced bits) that came with this burger. The only drawback was that the cheese wasn’t melted at all and the mustard was pretty heavy handed.

Bottom line: 99¢ is a pretty good deal for a fresh, never frozen burger. They’re small though, so if you’re hungry order a double—or just grab a Frosty for dessert.

A&W burger
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3. A&W

I’ll be honest with you, when I think of A&W, I don’t really think of burgers. Root beer? Obviously. Carhop classics like corn dogs and chili cheese fries? Yep! But not burgers. After tasting their cheeseburger, though, I have to say I’m thinking twice on that one! This chain’s cheeseburger offering was pretty darn good: the beef tasted fresh (not frozen), the bun tasted like it came right from the bakery, the cheese was nicely melted and the condiments were perfectly portioned—no sloppy burger here!

Bottom line: If you’re craving a burger fast, do not forget about A&W! You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Sonic burger
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2. Sonic

Sonic is synonymous with carhop service and all kinds of slushies—even pickle-flavored slush. After testing, maybe the chain should be most associated with cheeseburgers. My first impression with this cheeseburger was that it was huge! It was easily the largest of any I tried and one of the tastiest. The beef in this burger was really flavorful and well seasoned with salt and pepper. On top, there was a slice of American cheese (not as melted as I wanted), mustard, pickles and a few additions unique to the fast-food burgers I tried: mayo, lettuce and tomato. I was a bit hesitant about swapping ketchup for mayo, but once I tried it, I didn’t much miss the ketchup.

Bottom line: If you’re in the mood for a generous burger with all the fixings, make your way to a Sonic.

Culver's burger
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1. Culver’s

At the end of the day, though, nothing could beat a Culver’s ButterBurger. The chain’s trademark burger is made with fresh Midwest-raised beef and Wisconsin cheddar stacked up on a lightly buttered bun. The result was the best fast-food burger you could hope for. This option offered me the juiciest burger with the best beef flavor—not too salty, just perfectly savory. I also liked how the crispy toasted bun paired with the melted cheese and that extra layer of flavor courtesy of the butter.

If there’s any drawback to Culver’s it’s that there’s occasionally a little wait (I waited about three minutes) for your food, but that’s because your meal is being made fresh to order, and I think that’s worth it.

Bottom line: Culver’s offered up a juicy, satisfying burger that’s worth the wait. Pair it with their signature frozen custard or fried cheese curds and you’ve got fast-food heaven.

eating a burger
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The Verdict

When it comes to fast-food burgers—or any food—the quality of the ingredients is key. Culver’s was the champ in the end and I have to think a lot of that has to do with fresh beef, great cheese and good butter. If you’ve got one in your neck of the woods, it’s worth a little extra trip for a burger that’s tastier and more satisfying than all the rest.

And grab a scoop of custard while you’re at it! You can’t beat their Flavor of the Day options—my favorite: Bonfire S’mores. If there’s no Culver’s near you, make one of these at-home Culver’s copycat recipes.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.