The year was 2018. Colorado didn’t yet have a Whataburger, an In-N-Out, or even a Shake Shack. Those were dark burger times indeed, but somehow, they grew even darker. We saw it with the announcement of each chain’s impending arrival. We read about it in the Facebook comments. We heard about it in line at the grocery store. The burger wars had begun.
The battle was especially heated between #TeamInNOut and #TeamShakeShack, with each chain’s devotees attacking the other with the savagery that only a quarter pound of beef pounded into meaty discs can inspire. But in these already divisive times, we don’t seek to fuel the burger wars’ fire. No, we come here with a pickled cucumber vine of peace, to bring cheesy, greasy harmony to Denver and beyond. Because Colorado is big enough for all of these burger chains, and more. (Come on over Rally’s and White Castle.)
So we decided to settle the burger wars by engaging in a blind taste test of double cheeseburgers at six leading out-of-state burger chains. Here, the definitive—but also highly subjective—rankings with local alternatives to satisfy your appetite instead. May cheeseburger peace reign over our land.
1. In-N-Out, various locations
Provenance: Baldwin Park, California
Cost for a double cheeseburger: $4.75
The southern California chain has its lovers and its haters, but there’s no denying the burger’s value. At $4.75, the Double-Double, with its two beef patties coated in American cheese and loaded up with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a take on Thousand Island, is the cheapest burger we tested. The way the cheese fuses onto the patties, the tangy creaminess of the sauce, plus the toasted, spongey bun that holds it all together, In-N-Out’s Double-Double is everything a fast food burger should be.
Local alternative: Brasserie Brixton trades American cheese for Gruyere and bedazzles its bun with sesame seeds, but still nails the Double-Double’s spirit. (And Brixton’s salty, double-fried French fries are far superior.)
2. Five Guys, various locations
Provenance: Arlington, Virginia
Pros: More is more. The standard cheeseburger at Five Guys comes as a double, and the choose-your-own-adventure-style burger-building means you get exactly what you want on it. Con: The price. At $10.79, it’s expensive for a fast-casual chain, and if you add a small fry, the meal tops $16. Still, there’s no denying the burger is top quality, and with 15 toppings to mix and match, you could eat a different Five Guys burger every day of your life.
Local alternative: My Brother’s Bar shares the barely speckled sesame buns and range of toppings, but with a lot more history and soul.
3. Shake Shack, various locations
Provenance: New York, New York
Contrary to its name, it’s all about the beef at Shake Shack. The four-ounce patties of sirloin, brisket, and short rib are the heftiest of any we tested, and the result is a, well, burger-forward burger. The Double ShackBurger is topped with Shack Sauce, a proprietary blend that mixes a Thousand Island–like sauce with ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, and it’s all happening on a butter-toasted potato roll. The only downside to all that beef? It decreases the critical cheese-to-beef ratio. But if you want your burger to taste more like it came from a cookout than a restaurant, this is the chain for you.
Local alternative: Park Burger chef/owner Jean-Philippe Failyau has both fine-dining and burger-joint savvy (he cooked at NYC’s Daniel and locally at Mizuna), and Park’s menu reads a lot like an upscale Shack Shack, with big burgers made from quality beef and must-order shakes.
4. Whataburger, Colorado Springs
Provenance: Corpus Christi, Texas
Our first Whataburger did not disappoint. It was the biggest we tested, but also one of the most expensive. (Whataburger charges $0.90 per patty to add cheese, bringing the double cheeseburger up to about $10 before fries.) The margins separating the first place through fourth place cheeseburgers are razor thin, and Whataburger delivered on patty flavor and that pivotal cheese-to-meat ratio.
Local alternative: The Springs outpost isn’t Colorado’s first Whataburger (although it is the first to have opened in decades). One used to stand at 88th Avenue in Thornton—right where Jim’s Burger Haven is today.
5. Freddy’s, various locations
Provenance: Wichita, Kansas
Of all the cheeseburgers we tried, Freddy’s steakburgers are the most unique. The patties are smashed down, charring the thin patties and crisping up the edges. Then there are the condiments. Or rather, condiment. Only mustard goes on the steakburger. FredHeads (as fans of the chain are called) love the smoky, mustardy burgers, but it wasn’t our favorite.
Local alternative: Smashed patties that caramelize and crisp up on the grill? We’ve got that covered with Smashburger.
6. Culver’s, various locations
Provenance: Sauk City, Wisconsin
The ButterBurgers at Culver’s are fully customizable, so how good it tastes is at least partially up to you. The seared-to-order patties are thin and juicy, and it all goes onto a—you guessed it—buttered bun. Solid for a fast-food chain, but there are better options.
Local alternative: Our local burger and frozen custard chain, Good Times, is similar but better.