The Best Burgers in Wisconsin
The history is a little blurry, but ask a seasoned Wisconsinite and they’ll tell you that the first hamburger was created right here in a little town called Seymour in 1885. Whether that’s actually true or not, Wisconsin has a first-rate burger legacy to uphold. While no-frills, blue collar diner burgers are the norm, there’s no shortage of fancy-pants patties either. Here are 16 that would make the ultimate Wisconsin road trip.
The little sister of powerhouse restaurant L’Etoile, Graze has a menu of upscale pub fare, including some amazing burgers. The Graze Burger grinds sirloin, ribeye, short ribs, and bacon into a thick patty and tops it with soft caramelized onions, Worcestershire cabernet sauce and Emmental compound butter --because it wouldn’t be a burger in WI without butter. Even the brioche bun is made in-house. It’s the most expensive burger on this list but worth every penny.
First things first: There are two Monk’s locations in the Dells. We’re talking only about the downtown location on Broadway. The other one is just a glorified Shenanigans, and no one wants that. Follow the smell of griddled beef and fryer grease to this narrow bar tucked in between terrible souvenir shops. The kitchen is right there behind the bar when you walk in, and they’re cooking up huge, cheesy burgers. There isn’t much else on the menu, so the burgers get all the love and attention they need from the cooks, ensuring great results.
The quintessential Wisconsin bar, Fred’s has lots of beer, great bar food, and Packers memorabilia in abundance (OK, some Tony Romo gear too). Signs everywhere state “World’s Best Burgers,” which no one can argue since it’s impossible to verify. They’re definitely some of the best in Wisconsin, since they’re freshly ground, hand-pattied, and served up on toasted Kaiser rolls. Vampires beware: the roasted garlic burger is a customer favorite. Don’t skip the homemade curly fries.
Only open on Fridays during the summer, this stand is really just a walk-up window. But what goes on inside that window is pure magic: deep-fried sliders. Instead of steaming or searing them on a grill, the raw beef (from a local butcher) bobs up and down in a pan of hot oil. They’re seasoned heavily with black pepper and served with or without fried onions, in usual slider fashion. They were doing the greasy bag thing long before Five Guys came around. Don’t forget to thank the workers; they’re all volunteers and veterans.
Perhaps the only thing better on burgers than butter is lard. Every morning (spring through fall only) Wedl's starts out by melting lard on the century-old cast iron griddle in this teeny-tiny stand. A pile of onions is added to slowly cook all day, and then the burgers are smashed thin to order. All the seasoning that has built up on the griddle melds with the beef and lard into an unholy union of deliciousness. Just don’t tell your cardiologist.
Butter burgers in the shadow of Lambeau Field? Yes please. The place is bigger than it looks from the outside, so they are actually pretty efficient in getting game-goers in and out before and after Packers games. The quarter-pound burgers are topped with a good heap of butter on toasted hard rolls, which make fantastic burger buns with their thin, crisp crust.
This quirky, vaguely nautical-themed bar serves up third-pound, hand-formed burgers and freshly cut fries way up north. There are lots of burgers to choose from, but they’re all no-frills standards with just a couple of toppings. If you’re feeling ravenous or just plain stupid, you can always go for the Galley Buster with 1lb of beef. The best part? Even that’s only $6.50.
This old-timey diner has something unusual: a charcoal grill built right into the wall behind the counter. That gives these burgers a charred, backyard cookout flavor that you don’t get at most diners. Add the obligatory butter and plop it all on a hard roll and you’ve got diner heaven. Get the double for the optimum meat-to-bun ratio, along with a malt to wash it down.
You’ll find all sorts of people chowing down on burgers here: Marquette students, local aldermen, cops on their beat, Downtown workers, and families with little kids. The burger offerings are just as eclectic, with Mexican and Hawaiian flavors on huge half-pound patties and pillowy buns. It’s a local neighborhood tavern on steroids that made a name for itself quickly after opening only a few years ago in a city rife with good burgers.
Unlike most diner burgers, these puppies are huge. (Breakfast lovers, take note, the pancakes are massive too.) They’re easily pushing a pound, though you can get a more manageable size if you like. They have a nice crust from the griddle, and because they’re so large, they can be cooked to a perfect medium or med-rare if that’s how you roll. The beef dwarfs the hard roll, but who’s complaining?
If you can look past the lighted display cases filled with creepy, wide-eye dolls, then you’ll be rewarded with great little burgs. Fun fact: it’s actually a chain restaurant, and the second-known fast-food burger chain in the US. At one point in the 1930s, there were over 400 locations, though there are only five left. The beef is ground fresh, smashed on the griddle, and served with pickles and raw onion. Order a double, which will be about a third-pound.
Though Dotty’s doesn’t have quite as long a history as some places on this list -- only 40 years -- it feels like it’s been a Madison institution for as long as Bucky Badger. The burger menu seems modern, though, with toppings like haystack onions, pesto, and fantastic homemade sauces. Get the Gladiator with Muenster, bacon, red onion, and Boomerang sauce: an umami bomb of mustard, anchovies, and black pepper.
Pete's started as a little hamburger cart serving picnics and events in 1909 when owner Pete Gokey figured out that people really enjoyed steamed burgers after he added water to the griddle out of necessity to keep leftover patties from drying out. They’re still being steamed and simmered today, along with lots of sliced onion for the best slider on the planet. White Castle ain’t got nothing on Pete’s.
Still going strong since 1934, Mazos grinds its meat fresh every day. Not much has changed since it opened, including the menu that offers basic burgers, homemade sides, and thick malts and shakes. You don’t need fancy, newfangled toppings here. Give us a cheeseburger with American cheese, crispy American fries, and a cup of soup, thank you very much.
The burgers served at this diner are sort of a Smashburger and slider hybrid. Before they’re smashed, a layer of thinly sliced onions is placed on top, then smashed into the raw beef. When it’s flipped, the onions caramelize on the griddle while the bun steams on top. It makes for wonderful, crispy bits of beef and onions on a soft, warm bun.
A golden puddle of butter pools on the plate of Solly’s butter burgers; it comes from the thick smear that goes under the top bun that melts within a minute or two of delivery to your counter seat. It needs to be tried at least once, but if you decide it’s a little too decadent for you, you can order easy butter and still enjoy a fantastic burger.
Sign up here for our daily Milwaukee email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Brew City.