July 3rd, 2013
02:30 PM ET
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Kate Krader (@kkrader on Twitter) is Food & Wine's restaurant editor. When she tells us where to find our culinary heart's desire, we listen up.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked burger kingpin Josh Ozersky for his top 10 burger spots around the country. Josh focused like a laser on places that served up American cheeseburgers on squishy buns, from Keller’s Drive-In in Dallas to Mar’sel in California.

In honor of Independence Day, Josh is making an exception to his ironclad rules about buns and cheese and broadening his - and everyone’s - burger horizons.

Tell it, Josh.

"Looking back over my top 10 hamburgers in America list here, I am struck by a couple of things. One is that there are no high-concept hamburgers here, the kind that have complex toppings, artisanal buns and farmhouse cheeses. The reason, of course, is that I hate such hamburgers. But not everybody is as rigorously orthodox, even puritanical, as I am on the subject.

So while the following burgers aren’t, strictly speaking, really hamburgers as I think of them, they are all wonderful. And this being Independence Day, it seems only right to embrace diversity, inclusiveness and the immemorial American urge to buck tradition and go our own way."

Get the recipe for the burger shown above.

Chopped Beef on Toast Sandwich: Louis’ Lunch - New Haven, Connecticut
As a hamburger historian, I was forced to reject this venerable restaurant’s claim to being the first hamburger in America, for the simple reason that they don’t serve hamburgers. Louis serves a chopped steak on toast, but it’s a fabulous chopped steak, soft and fresh and fragrant, and the ancient iron burners on which it’s cooked burn with a blue and holy fire, the Eternal Flame of the hamburger’s Age of Heroes.

El Doble: Txikito - New York City
If I were ever to be persuaded to abandon the One True Way, it would be for this buxom temptress, a double burger slathered with raw sheep milk cheese, crème fraîche, pickled onions and cornichons, nestled inside a soft-ish bun. The brainchild of tapas whiz Alex Raij, El Doble is something of a cult secret inside the extreme hamburger scene in New York.

Jucy Lucy: Matt’s Bar - Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Jucy Lucy - yes, it’s spelled that way - is simply a hamburger with a pocket of hot cheese in the middle. It’s scalding, dangerous, hard to make and very, very good. There are a number of excellent Jucy Lucys in America, but Matt’s Bar invented the dish, and that’s why I am choosing it. I believe that the truly great Jucy Lucy has yet to be created, and that all the ones extant just represent a blind groping toward its future glory.

The Original Maid-Rite: Maid-Rite - multiple locations
The sole surviving species of a now-extinct line, this living fossil represents a direction the hamburger might have gone in, but didn’t. Rather than a formed patty, the Maid-Rite consists of loose meat braised in a flavored brine. Interestingly, once pressed into its squishy bun, it eats like a tender slider.

Patty Melt: Steak ’n Shake - multiple locations
A patty melt isn’t just a grilled cheese sandwich with a burger patty in the middle. That’s a gross and greasy mess. The real patty melt, which is seen in its quintessential form at Steak ’n Shake, is a composed, constructed, balanced sandwich of crisp, buttery rye bread, a brown patty thin enough to be easily bitten through, a light dressing of sweetly caramelized onions, and a bright, sapid sauce to bring it all together. Steak ’n Shake is the True Church of the Hamburger Faith, by the way. No other chain comes close.

Lamb Burger: The Breslin - New York City
I’ve inveighed for years against non-beef “burgers,” but April Bloomfield’s incomparable lamb burger at the Breslin shut me up. This sandwich is a tangy, luscious and piquant masterpiece, a flavor bomb that really isn’t quite like anything else. It easily rivals Bloomfield’s more famous Spotted Pig burger, which is saying something.

Medium-Rare 2×3, Extra Toasted: In-N-Out Burger - multiple locations
The In-N-Out cult exaggerates the chain’s virtues - really, it’s just the poor man’s Steak ’n Shake - but the burger referenced above, the crown jewel of In-N-Out’s secret menu, might be the best chain burger in the country. That is, if they really do deliver a pink, juicy, flat burger and a crispy brown bun all held together by three layers of rich, binding, viscous American cheese. But it’s hard to pull off; even the fanatically precise operations of Danny Meyer's Shake Shack can’t regularly deliver a medium-rare burger this thin, let alone two of them.

Double Burger with Cheese: White Castle - multiple locations
Those things called sliders you are being served in various restaurants? Those are not sliders. A true slider is so small and so soft that it’s more like eating a macaron or petit four than it is a hamburger. There a couple of reasons it’s hard to find a real slider, but the main ones are that it’s almost impossible to find the tiny, white buns necessary to make them, and almost as hard to make tiny, insubstantial slices of meat, unless you are making nothing else.

To my knowledge, only White Castle, Krystal and Kewpie’s make them. White Castle’s double cheeseburger, with its inner slice of bread almost disintegrating, is as rich as cheesecake.

Umami Burger: Umami Burger - Los Angeles, California
When I first tried the umami burger, I mistrusted and disliked it. But the the same could be said of my wife’s initial reaction to me. Over the years I have come to love the flavor of these burgers, so unique and potent and memorable. I still think they’re not real burgers, but so what? Diversity has its rewards.

More from Food & Wine:
Best Burgers in the U.S.
Over-the-Top Burgers
30 Incredible Burger Recipes
Fantastic Veggie Burgers
Summer Grilling Recipes

Do you agree with this list? Post your favorite burger joint in the comments below.

– Josh goes traditional and picks his: Top 10 burgers in the U.S.
– Advice from a backyard expert: Best. Burgers. Ever.
– The secrets behind America's Best Cheeseburger (according to Food Network)
– Step-by-step guide: Making the World's Best Bacon Cheeseburger (according to the London Observer and pictured above)
– Killer cheddar sliders from our battling spouses

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Filed under: Bite • Burgers • Content Partner • Food and Wine • Grilling • Sandwiches

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  1. NYC Fitness Events

    Double Burger with Cheese: White Castle? How is this place still open? Complete garbage!

    January 31, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
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