The Best Fast Food Cheeseburgers, Ranked

Which fast food chain has perfected this American staple? We ate them all to find out.

best burger
Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Welcome to The Fasties, Thrillist’s third-annual fast food awards! The awards feature more than a dozen categories celebrating all the best foods that came out of drive-thru windows over the past year—from the Best Coffee Nuggets to the Best Spicy Chicken Sandwich, and many more. Check out the full list of categories and winners.

While fried chicken sandwiches have been enjoying most of the attention lately, the humble cheeseburger remains the cornerstone of the American fast food experience. It’s omnipresent, the hook on which most fast food empires hang their undoubtedly smelly hats. These cheeseburgers run the gamut—from basic value menu burgers to beloved drive-in icons with rabid cult-like followings. 

Burgers have a lot of drive-thru clout. But who makes the best? To figure it out, we dispatched our most trusted fast food experts from around the country to hit each major chain. To avoid apples-to-oranges comparisons, we skipped the ultra-basic offerings and limited-time-only specials, opting for what we understand as each restaurant’s premium burger, the option that best defines the menu. Each burger was ordered exactly how it comes—no secret menu hacks here—and judged based on its ingredients, aesthetics, freshness, and overall deliciousness. Then we all took a collective nap. Here’s how they stacked up...

15. Checkers/Rally’s: Cheese Champ

The Build: Gray cafeteria-like burger patty, American cheese, red onion, shredded lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and mayo on a toasted bun

When you first unwrap this burger, you’ll be momentarily pleased by its thickness and heftiness… before you realize there’s basically a small salad of mostly shredded lettuce and onions on top of the meat. If you flipped it upside down and removed the bun’s bottom, it might even look like a salad topped with a beef disk. Worse yet, this patty is too thin and gray (not enough char) to stand against the vegetables. This cheeseburger is unworthy of the “Champ” title.

14. Dairy Queen Grill & Chill: Two Cheese Deluxe 1/3 lb. Signature Stackburger

The Build: Shredded lettuce, white onions, pickles, tomato, American cheese and white cheddar cheese, mayo, and ketchup... hiding two dry beef patties

Not every Dairy Queen location serves food, but if you do come across a DQ with a full kitchen (they’re called Grill & Chill locations), then you’ll find cheap fast food staples to serve as the meal before your Blizzard/dipped cone/Peanut Buster Parfait dessert. You can’t go wrong with crispy chicken strips and fries as part of the “$7 Meal Deal.”. However, the same can’t be said for the burger selection. While the crinkle-cut dill pickles were a tangy delight, the beef patties on our Stackburger were charred to the point of near-total dryness. Shredded lettuce usually scores a point or two in our book (it prevents the patties, other toppings from sliding as much), but these lifeless greens added an extra layer of sad to this burger. Be prepared to drown your sorrow in a Choco Brownie Extreme Blizzard.

13. A&W: Papa Burger

The Build: Two beef patties with a slice of American cheese on top of each, A&W Papa Sauce, lettuce, tomato, white onion, and pickles on a plain bun

For those who only associate A&W with root beer floats (made with pure cane sugar!), the closest point of comparison for the Papa Burger is probably the McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Yet A&W's burger doesn't rise to the heights of the Golden Arches' classic. The cheese, sauce, and pickles are doing a lot of heavy lifting to balance the saltiness and the dryness of the burger, as well as the rather plain bun. Those toppings are good, but this isn't a ranking of pickles and cheese. Stick to the root beer.

Courtesy of Burger King

12. Burger King: The Whopper

The Build: Iceberg lettuce, white onion, tomato, and crinkle cut pickles concealing a wide, thin, flame-kissed patty topped with American cheese; crumbly sesame-seed bun slightly coated in mayo and ketchup

The Whopper used to do the crown proud, a hearty, flame-broiled behemoth stacked high with veggies that inspired frequent pangs of desire in our slightly clogged heart. But as burgers got bigger, the Whopper seems to have lost its confidence.

At first, we thought it was a fluke when we got our burger only to find wilted lettuce, tiny tomatoes, and a burger whose char—while genuinely the result of flames—completely overpowered everything else, even raw onions. It was dry as kindling, yet its minuscule moisture made the stale-tasting bun crumble into a heap. But it wasn't a fluke. Subsequent visits have confirmed this the norm, and now the Whopper reminds us more of one of those reheated gas-station burgers than the genuine treat we grew up with. Perhaps it’s because the king diverted the realm's attention to the Impossible Whopper, a genuinely good offering that tastes more like a glory days Whopper than the original does, and of course, the Ch'King chicken sandwich, which tops our ranking of the best fast food fried chicken sandwiches.

White Castle
Courtesy of White Castle

11. White Castle: Cheese Slider

The Build: Tiny steamed bun, tiny square burger with five holes, tiny onions, tiny slice of American cheese, tiny pangs of euphoria, followed by tiny pangs of regret

Scoff if you must, but you’ve gotta respect a burger for sticking to what it is. Sure, what it is is a square patty punched through with holes and steamed with onions. But at a certain time—generally 2 am while listening to the Beastie Boys—it fills a void. No frills. No bullshit. Whether you get them in a case or at the grocery store, White Castle burgers will never be anything more or less than you expect. 

10. Del Taco: Double Del Cheeseburger

The Build: Double medium-thick patties, double cheese, taco-style shredded lettuce, tomato slices, diced onions, and Thousand Island-ish spread underneath, as is tradition in California 

This is a relatively small offering, and therefore a little inconsequential. The spread is mayo-based, the stacked patties are bland but juicy, the sesame-seed bun is sturdy, and… wait, what were we talking about? Oh, right. We kind of forgot about this thing already. You're not here for a burger. You're here for delicious fast food tacos. But big ups for being a place that has a decent burger to supplement those tacos, as opposed to the standard fast food move of having terrible tacos to supplement mediocre burgers.

Brandon Fike/Shutterstock (edited)

9. Jollibee: Big Yumburger

The Build: Juicy patties topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and signature dressing on a squishy bun

Beloved Filipino chain Jollibee is rapidly expanding in the United States, but let’s be real. On a fast food menu featuring incredible fried chicken, hot dog- and banana ketchup-laced spaghetti, shrimp-spiked panic palabok, and mango hand pies, the Big Yumburger is kind of an afterthought. It’s serviceable but bland, as if somebody was forced by corporate to put together a burger and just kind of played fast food bingo until a combo of lettuce, tomato, cheese, and mayo filled up the card. On a menu chock full of character, it commits the cardinal sin of being boring. 

8. Jack in the Box: The Jumbo Jack

The Build: Medium-thick patty topped with American cheese loaded with pickles, lettuce, tomato slices, and diced onions; split top bun swiped with mayo

Jack in the Box gets a lot of attention for its stoner-friendly mashups, mega-stack chicken sandwiches, and the presence of egg rolls and mini tacos where they otherwise have no business existing. Its signature Jumbo Jack is pretty straightforward and milquetoast by comparison, and that’s a good thing. Unlike heir to the throne, the Buttery Jack—an unholy mess with garlic butter and Swiss cheese—the Jumbo Jack is standard fare calibrated to hit the comfort food marks. The split-top bun is sturdy, which is a good thing, considering this sucker has a surplus of vegetation on top. And the burger itself, hugged by slices of American cheese, is pleasantly salty with a slight char that doesn’t overwhelm and a little kiss of mayo and ketchup to balance things out. It’s a solid burger. Forgettable? Maybe. But seeing as the rest of the menu seems patently designed to be consumed while under the influence of memory-compromising substances, it’s understandable.

7. Carl’s Jr. & Hardee's: Super Star with Cheese

The Build: Two charbroiled patties, two slices of American cheese, thick tomato slices, sliced onions, leaf lettuce on bottom, and a seeded bun spread with special sauce and mayo

Carl’s Jr. is basically the three-beers-deep grill-dad of fast food burgers. And the Super Star with Cheese is what would happen if said dad decided to make his best-possible copycat fast food burger. That means the lettuce, onion, and tomato are grocery store-fresh. The patties are charmingly misshapen and over-charred in areas, but undeniably juicy (or greasy… it was hard to tell the difference). That might be a problem if the fresh-baked, seeded bun wasn’t so sturdy. All said, Carl's Jr. burgers are better than they get credit for, even if each bite tastes totally different.


6. Wendy’s: Dave's Double

The Build: Two 1/4lb and juicy square patties (because—*dad joke alert!*—Wendy's doesn't cut corners) topped with onion slices, tomato, leaf lettuce, mayo and ketchup, then crammed between a sturdy, toasted bun

The Baconator remains a strong holdover from America’s brief over-obsession with bacon, but Dave’s Double remains a banger of simple, well-thought-out burger execution. This thing is generous with the toppings, piling lettuce and tomato on top of those signature square patties, but the burger's flavor is never overpowered by the other ingredients. It stands alone... so much so that even the Single is formidable on its own (the Triple? You crazy.) Wendy’s has been doing its “never frozen” thing since well before its Twitter feed started shit-talking McDonald’s, and the chasm in quality between it and its many competitors speaks volumes to the difference it makes. There’s really nothing here masking the beef itself. Just a little salt and a lot of juice.

Courtesy of McDonald's

5. McDonald’s: Quarter Pounder with Cheese

The Build: Ultra-juicy and thick 1/4lb patty with little pockets of grill char; American cheese on the top and bottom; thick strips of onion; pickles; ketchup and mustard; sesame-seed bun

McDonald’s didn’t reinvent the wheel when it switched its Quarter Pounder with Cheese to fresh (as opposed to frozen) meat a couple years back. But damned if it didn’t tweak a classic, saving it from the doldrums of a stacked menu and making it a star again, probably much to the chagrin of the Big Mac (has-been!).

The build’s the same as it ever was, a thing of simple beauty. The sliced raw onions are still thick and bountiful, the pickles still there to give a little acidic punch. But the real star is that patty, which is now nigh impossibly juicy and perfectly salty, with a good chew and a tendency to get little pockets of burnt drippings stuck to it, which provide a concentrated blast of savory bliss. It's basically a dopamine shot hidden between two slices of American cheese, which also function to prevent bun saturation. It’s the comeback kid this burger ranking needs, a classic that returned to the spotlight to remind you what you were missing.

Courtesy of Whataburger

4. Whataburger: Double Meat Whataburger

The Build: Two Texas-sized, thin grilled patties on a plain bun; tomato, lettuce, pickles, and diced onions; cheese upon request (do this); proprietary mustard 

The double-meat version of Whataburger’s eponymous sandwich is a Texas icon: two five-inch beef patties slapped between toasted buns, topped with tomato, pickles, diced onions, and lettuce, and finished with a smear of Whataburger’s obligatory mustard. If you throw cheese into the mix (and you should), the resulting hefty burger seems like almost too much to handle. Of course, any Texan will tell you otherwise. Anchored by mustard and melted cheese, the thin-yet-wide patties provide a solid stage upon which the mass of fresh toppings can shine, even if many of them will inevitably fall out before you’re done. If America runs on Dunkin’, then Texas undoubtedly runs on Whataburger.

3. Sonic Drive-In: SuperSonic Double Cheeseburger

The Build: Two patties glued together by two slices of American cheese; shredded lettuce and diced onions cut small so can re-enjoy them when removing them from the cracks in your seat; tomato slices, crinkle-cut pickles; ketchup and mayo (by default now!); standard bun

Sonic's SuperSonic Double Cheeseburger used to come in ninth place on this ranking. It's safe to say it's come a long, long way since the last time we tasted one. This is all thanks to Sonic's somewhat recent, somewhat quiet efforts to revamp its burger lineup. You probably didn't hear much about it when the chain announced that it made "incremental improvements" to every single ingredient it uses for its burgers. Well, now you know. And now you know that this is one of the best fast food cheeseburgers out there right now. It's a big day.

We tasted the difference right off the bat, with the burger's noticeably improved beefy flavor, which was balanced nicely by the inclusion of acidic ketchup and mayo (they didn't come standard in the previous version). Maybe we were hallucinating from the spike of sodium coursing through our veins, but even the lettuce tasted fresher. The tomato slices with more tomato-y. And perhaps best of all, one of our biggest gripes with Sonic's burgers appears to have been solved: The bun didn't start to split in half after just a few bites like previous ones. Not only did we get a better-tasting burger, we also go one that's more structurally sound. Thank you, Sonic. 

Double Double
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

2. In-N-Out Burger: Double-Double

The Build: Spongy bun; two thin, fresh patties topped with American cheese and separated by a strategically placed onion slice; tomato, lettuce, and Animal Sauce on the bottom

As its slogan suggests (and contrary to the opinion of a former editor here), In-N-Out is what a hamburger's all about—and so its Double-Double sits rightfully in our ranking as one of the top fast food burgers your money can buy. You can use the not-so-secret menu to customize it nearly endlessly, but it's perfectly great without any California code-speak.

The fresh beef patties are ground within In-N-Out’s own facilities and are delivered fresh—never frozen—to every location. This results in inexplicably juicy patties that marry well with slices of melty American cheese and all the other In-N-Out fixin’s that come with a Double-Double: rings of biting raw onions; plump tomatoes; In-N-Out’s bright and creamy “animal sauce” bejeweled with pickle relish; and crisp iceberg lettuce all sandwiched between plush, toasted buns. There’s a reason that In-N-Out is a mandatory burger for anyone visiting the West Coast. It’s affordable, it’s accessible, and it’s California’s beefy, beating heart. 

Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

1. Culver’s: Double ButterBurger with Cheese

The Build: Two fresh-grilled, hand-formed patties topped with slices of Wisconsin-made American cheese; red onions, pickles, and tomatoes on the bottom; grilled Kaiser-adjacent fluffy bun dabbed with butter

Hailing from Wisconsin—wearing a lightly toasted bun, cloaked with cheese, and dripping with flavor—it's your champion: the almighty ButterBurger. Named such due to the buttery grilled buns (though some versions of this uniquely Wisconsin treat are actually grilled in melted butter), the burger is on the thin side, but it's still juicy with a texture that complements the toppings and the slight crunch from the toasted bun and shredded lettuce. 

You'd be hard-pressed to find a chain that won't boast about its "high-quality" ingredients, but it's absolutely true here: You won't be getting any flaccid lettuce or translucent tomatoes. Every one of these beauties is made-to-order and emerges piping hot, with its Wisconsin-made cheese adding a wonderfully balanced touch of sharpness atypical of American cheese. This is the ideal fast food burger, one that feels like it came from a mom n’ pop shop, and whose flavor is all the more transcendent with a side of cheese curds and a frozen custard. Don't know what those are? Don't worry. Culver's is expanding beyond its Midwest base. If you're lucky, "ButterBurger," "concrete," and "curd" will soon be entering your lexicon—and your mouth—with shocking regularity. At least, we really hope that for you. This burger can't be beat.

Fast Food Cheeseburgers FAQ

What is the most popular fast food burger?
This probably won’t come as much of a surprise: McDonald’s dominates in the United States, with more sales than any other chain.

How long can a fast food burger sit out?
We’ll defer to the FDA on this one. According to the federal agency, unrefrigerated food should not be left out for more than two hours and that includes your fast food burger. Scarf it down while it’s hot or toss that sucker in the fridge for later.

When is National Cheeseburger Day in 2022?
Mark your calendars, because National Cheeseburger Day arrives on Sunday, September 18, 2022.

Which fast food chain makes the best bacon cheeseburger?
As far as we’re concerned, bacon cheeseburgers are in a league of their own. It’s no wonder why several fast food chains have at least one burger piled high with bacon on their menus. So, who makes the best one? We ate them all to find out and named a winner in our ranking of the best fast food bacon cheeseburgers.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.