The Great Burger Debate

We’re roughly 4 months away from the opening kickoff for Ole Miss Football. Our baseball team appears to have used up every bit of magic in last year’s miracle College World Series win. The Diamond Rebels just gave up 38 runs in 3 games to a lowly Missouri team, so for all intents and purposes, it’s the offseason. If you’re like me, you’ll spend these next several months enjoying the summer, counting down the days until football, and finding random things to keep yourself busy. My fiancée I love to try new restaurants and compare them. There’s no shortage of food blogs, food reviewers, and influencers weighing in the best places to grab a bite to eat. I have no interest in becoming any of those. For years now, I’ve only wanted to be able to confidently answer one question: Which fast food chain has the best burger and fries in America?

I had the ̶m̶i̶s̶f̶o̶r̶t̶u̶n̶e̶ pleasure of living in Kincannon Hall my freshman year at Ole Miss. Our floor seemed to be comprised of at least 50% guys from Texas. If you know anything about Texans, you know they’ll do two things: tell you they’re from Texas and tell you how good Whataburger is. Being a self-proclaimed burger aficionado myself, I was very excited to hear about this chain. The only problem was there were very few states with locations. It wasn’t until my junior year that I was able to go to one in Panama City. I left feeling very disappointed. Maybe it was over hyped by my neighbors. Maybe it was a bad location. Whatever the case was, I was not ready to completely write it off without at least trying it again.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and we are now living in Scottsdale. One of the first things I did when we moved here was check where the closest In-N-Out is, which is in Tempe. It’s not within 5 minutes, but we’ll take what we can get. I also noticed we have almost every major burger chain within 15 minutes of our house. I decided to finally settle the debate I’ve heard for years. I narrowed the list down to 8 chains: Culver’s, In-N-Out, Five Guys, Sonic, Johnny Rockets, Whataburger, Shake Shack, and Steak ‘n Shake. The only restaurant I was not able to review the same day was Steak ‘n Shake. There used to be a location in Tempe, but it sadly closed in 2020 due to Covid. I’ve had Steak ‘n Shake dozens of times in several different states, so I’m confident in my ability to compare it to the other 7 I tried this past Saturday. It’s also just too important to leave out of the discussion.

The Scoring System

When you ask someone about their order at Whataburger, they may tell you to get it with jalapenos, bacon, and the spicy ketchup. People rave about the “animal style” fries at In-N-Out. Most of these chains offer some special additions to the burger and/or fries. That’s great, but any burger restaurant should should be able to square off against its opponents with just the basics. That’s why, for the sake of consistency, we ordered each burger with just cheese and ketchup. The fries would need to be plain, salted fries to compare them. To avoid any bias in the scoring, I scored each burger and fries separately 1 to 10, had my fiancée do the same, and averaged them. The price was also included as a third score from 1-10, based on each chain’s affordability compared to the others. We Doordashed two of the orders and picked up the other 5 in person. Luckily, Five Guys, Johnny Rockets, and Shake Shack are all in the mall across the street. None of the burgers were any less fresh than the others. Below are the reviews for each chain, along with the list of the average scores for each one.


I chose to try this one first because of my experience in college, and I was eager to see if it really was that average or I just visited a bad location. At first glance, it looks exactly like a wider version of a McDonald’s cheeseburger. The bun was the same style and consistency. It was slightly hard and crumbly. The patty was extremely dry and flavorless. If you put a blindfold on me and had me take a bite, I’d bet anything this was a regular burger from McDonald’s. The fries, on the other hand, were very crispy and delicious. They were thin cut, not too salty, and just the right amount of soft and crunchy. At $12.46 for both, this was the second most expensive order of the 8.

  • Burger – 3.5/10
  • Fries – 7/10
  • Price – 4/10

Johnny Rockets

This burger chain is scattered across the U.S. in various theme parks, casinos, and malls. I had it in 2016 at Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans after Ole Miss demolished Oklahoma State in The Sugar Bowl. I must have been too happy to complain back then, because this was not nearly as good as I had remembered. The bun was very soft and sweet, but the burger was dry and the fries were boring. It’s a fun experience to eat at one of their old-school diners and order a milkshake, but don’t bother getting it to go. The total for this order was $11.88.

  • Burger – 5/10
  • Fries – 2.5/10
  • Price – 5/10

Five Guys

I’ve had Five Guys burger a few times. They’re one of the chains that offers different toppings, vinegar and cajun seasoning for the fries, and other variations. Five Guys was easily the longest wait of all 8 spots. If you haven’t been, they give you a hilarious amount of fries with your order. I got the “little” fry, and they gave me roughly enough fries to fill a bath tub. The sesame seed bun was very soft, the patty was thicker than the others and juicy, and I like how it comes wrapped in foil to melt the cheese. The fries are hand cut and fried in peanut oil. They were also very good. The only downside, and it’s a major one, is the price. It was a whopping $19.66 for a single cheeseburger and their smallest order of fries. For nearly $20, I can buy a pound of ground beef, some buns, and whatever toppings I’d like and cook for a family of four. The food was great, but the price is criminal. It’ll be a long time before I eat here again.

  • Burger – 7/10
  • Fries – 8.5/10
  • Price – 1/10


In-N-Out is to the West Coast as Whataburger is to Texas. Everyone out west has something to say about this chain. In-N-Out is only located in five states. It’s known for its very simple menu, low prices, and efficient service. They are very particular about quality control, namely their beef. It’s never frozen. None of their food is, actually. They don’t have any freezers or microwaves in their restaurants. The burger is a smash burger with a thin, crispy patty. The fries are hand cut and fried right in front of you. The bun is similar to Whataburger’s but smaller and a little less dry. It’s worth noting that you can order both your burger and fries “animal style,” which includes a special sauce, cheese, and caramelized onions. The fries by themselves are super plain, but the animal style fries are incredible. If the scoring was based on animal style, In-N-Out might have won the whole thing, but fair is fair. The below is for just a normal order. The burger and fries were just $5.80, which is a steal. It’s the second-cheapest spot on the list.

  • Burger – 8/10
  • Fries – 5.5/10
  • Price – 9/10


Culver’s is a Midwest staple, which is why I was surprised to see locations in Arizona. They’re famous for their butter burgers and crinkle-cut fries, both of which were solid. The bun is soft and the patty is a smash burger style. It had great flavor. The fries were a bit plain, but still good. Culver’s definitely deserves to be in the conversation for the best burger in America. The total came out to $9.78.

  • Burger – 9/10
  • Fries – 6/10
  • Price – 7/10

Shake Shack

Shake Shack gets a ton of hype, particularly in the Northeast. They offer smash burgers with crinkle-cut fries, cheese sauce, shakes, and now even chicken sandwiches. Their burger is soft and full of flavor. The fries are crispy, but very salty. Your blood pressure will definitely go up a few points after eating here. This was easily one of the best burgers. Their normal burger comes with “shack sauce,” which is a must try as well. The total for this order was $11.48, which definitely reminds you of New York prices.

  • Burger – 9/10
  • Fries – 6.75/10
  • Price – 5/10


We included this one solely to include a dark horse in the race. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard anyone say Sonic has the best burger, but I’ve heard many say it’s underrated. Considering they offer so many great drinks and other food items, Sonic’s burger is surprisingly decent. The fries were crispy and above average as well. It was one of the cheapest orders at $9.68.

  • Burger – 4.25/10
  • Fries – 5.5/10
  • Price – 7/10

Steak ‘n Shake

I saved perhaps the most controversial one for last. As I mentioned earlier, Steak ‘n Shake is the only one I didn’t get to try next to the others. What I lack in recency for comparison, I assure you I make up for in volume. Steak ‘n Shake was founded in 1934, and if you visit one of their diners, you’d think you took a step back in time. They offer smashed steak burgers, shoe string fries, and delicious milkshakes. If you get it to go, your bag will almost certainly have a grease spot or two. The burger comes wrapped in paper, with melty cheese and a soft bun. The patty is crispy and flavorful. The shoe string fries are the perfect combination of crispy and soft. After trying all 7 other chains, it was clear that Steak ‘n Shake had the best combination of burgers and fries. The best part? The price for both was just $4.44. I’m not sure how they pull off such a deal in this economy, but I’m not complaining.

  • Burger – 9/10
  • Fries – 8/10
  • Price – 10/10

The Moment of Truth

The overall averages are below.

  1. Steak ‘n Shake – 9/10
  2. In-N-Out – 7.67/10
  3. Culver’s – 7.3/10
  4. Shake Shack – 6.92/10
  5. Sonic – 5.58/10
  6. Five Guys – 5.5/10
  7. Whataburger – 4.83/10
  8. Johnny Rockets – 4.17/10


There is obviously a lot to consider when scoring these. In no way is Five Guys’ food worse than Sonic’s, but it’s also just an absolute ripoff. You can get a burger and parmesan truffle fries at Fleming’s Steakhouse for less than that. There’s also quite a bit of subjectivity in the testing. A greasy smash burger may be appealing to some, while others may prefer a regular patty. If you feel compelled to weigh in on this debate, try out as many burgers as you can and let us know your thoughts.