Two cheeseburgers

Is there anything more resoundingly American than a cheeseburger? Done right, a cheeseburger can be a revelation. Just imagine sinking your teeth through a pillowy bun, crisp lettuce and tomato, molten cheese, and at long last, the succulent, perfectly-cooked patty. From the first unhinging of your jaw to wiping the final ketchup and mustard dribble from your chin, a well-made burger is undeniably a lovely experience.

Not all patties are made equal, however. An expensive pub third-pounder heaped with three different types of cheeses, a slab of bacon, and an entire fried onion ring is, of course, on an entirely different level compared to a chip of beef from a fast food dollar menu. But does any drive-through out there deliver a burger that has as much heft as it does taste? There are at least a dozen contenders to consider for the cheeseburger champion title, but we took a close look at two who surge above the others: Five Guys and Culver’s.

Both restaurant chains carry the reputation of slinging a pretty decent burger. Five Guys is known for its juicy, perfectly-cooked patties and wide array of topping options, while the beloved Midwestern chain of Culver’s is best remembered for its golden, buttery buns and fresh, flavorful beef. But the throne at the top can only seat one. In our quest to crown the best, we sought to answer every fast food sandwich connoisseur’s question: Does Culver’s or Five Guys make a better cheeseburger?

Who makes a bigger patty?

Five Guys cheeseburger

While most of us can agree that anything more than a bunful is just a waste, a wimpy patty also leads to a disappointing sandwich. After only a bit of investigation, the winner of this category was a no-brainer. According to The Washington Post, Five Guys patties clock in at around 3.3 ounces, while a Culver’s employee writing on Reddit states that the Midwest chain’s single patties weigh just 2.75 ounces. It may not seem like a meaningful difference, but you can see it in the height of the Culver’s patty compared to the one from Five Guys — even if you don’t take the core of melted cheese in the Five Guys creation into consideration.

As long-time Culver’s patrons ourselves, the thinness of the patty, particularly around the edges, has always been our major (and usually, only) complaint with the chain. Even so, we aren’t the only customers to take notice of this issue. One Tripadvisor reviewer warns that the cheese was thicker than the meat on their Culver’s burger, even though they ordered the double. Another diner writing on Tripadvisor states that their patty was an eighth of an inch thick at best. It terms of size and thickness, Culver’s patties give the fast food franchise no advantage over other well-known burger chains. Its somewhat undersized patties certainly don’t give it an advantage over the more hearty burgers on offer at Five Guys, where it’s clear there’s no stinginess with the beef.

Who makes a tastier patty?

Culver's cheeseburger

A joint could be dishing out half-pound burgers and it wouldn’t matter one iota if the result tasted like tire rubber. When sampling the meat only, without the influence of any other burger components, we found that it was a close call between Five Guys and Culver’s. Neither patty was without flaw, but Five Guys’ beef was annoyingly salty. Meanwhile, the Culver’s meat was a tad dry. Five Guys burgers taste of slightly lesser beef quality, perhaps hinted at when the chain only describes its meat as "fresh ground beef" (via Five Guys). Meanwhile, Culver’s utilizes a proprietary three-cut beef blend that creates a more interesting burger flavor.

Five Guys patties retain more flavor from the natural beef juices, which seemed to be smashed out of the Culver’s burger altogether. Both chains smash or press their patties on the grill, according to Culver’s and Insider, but Five Guys either has a better technique or does it to a lesser degree that allows for a juicier final product.

However, the signature touch that makes a Butterburger a Butterburger steps in to secure Culver’s redemption. The butter slathered on the bun seeps down into the meat for an indulgent infusion that, while not quite a replacement for the beef’s naturally rendered fat, is a fine substitute. Because it uses a simple salt and pepper blend to season its patties and complement the natural flavor, Culver’s took the lead when it came to burger taste.

Who uses the better bun?

Five Guys cheeseburger

Both Five Guys and Culver’s spread butter on their buns and let them get all golden and toasty on the flat-top grill. That’s key, as heating a burger bun before assembling the sandwich both softens the bun and adds a bit of extra texture. This move also triggers a release of fresh-baked bread aroma, adding to the olfactory experience of eating a burger. Culver’s, as we’ve established, is doing everything right with its toasted buns. Yet the similar buttery crust on the Five Guys burger seemed to throw off the balance of the sandwich. On its own, the beef patty already had the perfect level of moisture without creating a sodden bun. But between the butter and the meat juices, we were holding a patty with a soggy, butter-laden bottom bun before long.

The Five Guys bun is denser and more cake-like than the Culver’s variety. Bread from the former chain seems to have a more "bakery fresh" taste and feel to it, too. The Culver’s bun was fluffy and voluminous, but even though the bread was plenty soft, it tasted like — well, like nothing more than a good fast food burger bun. There wasn’t that bakery-fresh flavor that we believe Five Guys has mastered. If Five Guys could only fix its soggy bottom issue, it would have a perfect vessel for cheeseburgers. So, while we have to take a point away because of this problem, the band of brothers still brings the superior bun.

Who has better toppings?

Cheeseburger toppings

The Culver’s Deluxe Butterburger comes with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, red onion, and mayonnaise. It was the perfect amount of toppings for the size of the sandwich. There wasn’t so little that we felt cheated, or so much that we would consider Culver’s to be over-generous. However, we don’t consider a burger to have "the works" without ketchup and mustard, which you can add for no additional cost to the Butterburger Deluxe. Mushrooms and bacon are an additional charge at Culver’s, and grilled onions are available but not by default.

The fixings options at Five Guys are much more extensive and include lettuce, tomato, pickles, grilled or raw onions, grilled mushrooms, relish, jalapeños, green peppers, barbecue sauce, Frank’s Original Hot Sauce, A1 Sauce, ketchup, mustard, or mayo. Indeed, Five Guys is known for its generosity in toppings, to the point where you can even ask for the whole list on your burger. You can get all the extra cheese you want (assuming you’ve ordered a burger with cheese) and free extra bacon if you order a bacon cheeseburger.

Both chains had similar levels of quality and freshness when it came to toppings. There was no wilt in the lettuce and the tomato and pickle were crisp. Please note that we didn’t take the difference in sheer toppings variety into account here (but we will when we break down the value of each chain later).

Which burger is better for you?

Two cheeseburgers

As laughable as it may be to consider nutrition when you’re comparing fast food cheeseburgers, these numbers may still be the deciding factor for some people. Does it come as a surprise that the cheeseburger is actually not the worst thing from a nutritional standpoint on the Five Guys menu? In fact, it might be one of the best Five Guys offerings on the chain’s menu. According to nutritionist Amy Shapiro, who spoke to Mashed, an unadorned Five Guys burger carries about 17 grams of fat and 300 calories. The health issues are in the high fructose corn syrup, saturated fat, and sugar in the toppings. According to Five Guys, a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, grilled onions, mustard, and ketchup will total 668 calories. Additions like bacon and mayo will quickly tip the total over 800.

The Culver’s beef comes in at 340 calories and 26 grams of fat in the Culver’s Butterburger Deluxe Double (via Culver’s). The whole burger is going to cost you 810 calories, but you could shave off 100 by skipping mayo. Sodium-sensitive diners should steer very clear of the Buterburger beef, which brings 200 milligrams of sodium as opposed to just 50 milligrams from Five Guys beef.

All in all, Five Guys seems the clear winner in nutritional value, but the Butterburger is owed one win: It’s richer in protein, with 40 grams of protein compared to 29 grams in the Five Guys burger, toppings aside.

Which burger tasted better overall?

Culver's cheeseburger

Let’s turn a blind eye to the nutritional details for a moment. There’s a bigger question at hand: Which chain satisfies that craving for a juicy, cheesy burger, calories, and sodium be darned? Five Guys had the superior bun, but that’s such a low-priority peripheral flavor in the entire sandwich’s scheme it’s hard to give it more than passing consideration. Next, we found the quality, quantity, and taste of your standard veggie and condiment toppings to be identical at each chain. Both chains use American cheese by default, so neither was a standout there. And while it was important to have fresh, flavorful ingredients complimenting the patty, the primary factor playing into the overall taste of each burger was the beef.

And as we’ve already covered, it’s clear that Culver’s takes the gold when it comes to beef flavor. The chain’s three-cut blend of beef that it uses in its patties yields a better taste than the 80/20 ground chuck that’s employed by Five Guys. Even though the Culver’s bun didn’t taste quite as good as its competitor’s, it contributed to the chain’s winning flavor with its supple texture and buttery toasted crust. So in looking at all components combined, the Butterburger may be the worse option from a dietetic standpoint, but it remains the better choice when it comes to pure flavor.

Which burger is the better value?

Culver's cheeseburger

Surprisingly, this was the most difficult category to decide. The Five Guys approach as a whole is in a weird spot, as the chain doesn’t utilize drive-thrus and encourages a casual sit-down dining experience, but its burgers are usually compared to fast food competitors. Surely everyone has been in a situation before where they’re willing to lower their burger standards if it means not getting out of the car — and in those instances, Five Guys is no longer a contender. As a result, we think Five Guys has something of an awkward dynamic, given that it apparently wants to be considered a quality sit-down burger joint but doesn’t quite have the amenities and services you might find in a full-fledged restaurant, nor the conveniences of full-fledged fast food. So this brand’s value is difficult to gauge.

Regional prices vary, and it’s great that Five Guys allows you to build a mountain of burger toppings for no extra cost, yet a cheeseburger meal with fries and a drink cost us over $20 at our local Five Guys. Culver’s, on the other hand, offers a Deluxe Butterburger meal for less than $10 — but we know you get less patty and an inferior bun at that lower price. Even so, Culver’s gets the win here for offering a decent product at a far better price than Five Guys. Ultimately, Culver’s comes out on top overall for its value and superior burger flavor.