News center
Extensive sales and production expertise

Culver's Burgers Ranked Worst To Best

May 08, 2023

Culver's is both a fast-food restaurant and a monument to milk-based cuisine. When you walk in, the menu of creamy delights can be overwhelming. Will you order the decadently rich frozen custard in a sundae, as a Concrete Mixer, or in milkshake form? Or perhaps you'd like to feed your salt cravings with fried cheese curds or pretzel bites dipped in Wisconsin cheddar cheese sauce. There are no wrong answers as long as you remember to bring Lactaid.

While the whole menu is tempting, Culver's built its empire on burgers — ButterBurgers, of course (yes, they're made with real butter). The chain offers a fairly wide range of burger options, from the classic original ButterBurger to the tricked-out smokehouse BBQ cheddar pub burger. We'll take any chance we can to help our readers learn the best way to spend their hard-earned dollars (and we love eating burgers), so we tried every Culver's burger to see which ones are worth buying. Here they are, ranked from worst to first.

It's not a shocker that the harvest veggie burger is in last place on our ranking — it is, after all, the worst-rated sandwich at Culver's according to a survey of Mashed readers. However, as we stressed in our previous review of this sandwich, it's not bad at all. The harvest veggie burger falls victim to Culver's extremely high overall quality; we were happy to eat the whole thing, but the beef burgers from Culver's are all just a little better.

The example we sampled for this ranking was actually better than the one we tried before, as it had a nice sear from the griddle. This resolved the problems with the mushy texture we noticed the first time we ate the harvest veggie burger. The hard sear also melted all the nuggets of cheese that hold the patty together, which we loved. This may be a veggie burger, but it's not vegan. We're not sure Culver's knows how to make food without dairy; the cheese love runs deep for this Winsonsin-born chain.

Our main issue with this sandwich this time around was that there was a noticeable plant protein flavor with an almost bitter, unpleasantly earthy aftertaste. It didn't ruin the sandwich, but Culver's beef patties are unimpeachably delicious, so we have to place the harvest veggie burger dead last.

The sourdough melt runs neck and neck with the harvest veggie as the worst burger at Culver's. The patty isn't a problem; it's the accouterments that make this sandwich less than stellar. The burger patties are cooked smash burger style with thin, lacy edges, so they have an irresistibly crispy texture with deep caramelization and Maillard flavors. They also actually taste like beef, with a rich, umami punch that is unequaled by most other fast-food chains.

In this sandwich, the patty (or patties — you can order one, two, or three on any Culver's burger) is topped with cheddar and griddled red onions and nestled between two slices of butter-griddled sourdough. That sounds like a great combo, but what we tried was bizarrely devoid of flavor. It could have used more salt, and the cheese brought nothing except creaminess to the party. Culver's claims it uses aged cheddar, but the cheese lacked sharpness and bite. That's fine in a more complex burger with more ingredients, but for something this simple, the cheese needs to lift more weight.

The other problem with this sandwich was the bread. It was supposed to be sourdough, but it had very little fermented flavor. It was also too soft to stand up to the griddling process and all the toppings. The bread became soaked through with grease almost instantly, making the whole sandwich soggier than we would have liked.

Culver's offers two upgraded versions of its classic ButterBurger: the deluxe and bacon deluxe. Since the only difference between the two is that one is topped with bacon, we opted to try only one: the bacon deluxe. We're confident we can speak to the quality of the deluxe based on our experience with the bacon one.

Our conclusion is that you should skip the bacon. At our local Culver's, adding bacon makes this sandwich more than a dollar more expensive, and the bacon really doesn't add anything. It's super thin (we're talking potato chip-thin) and we only received about one and a half tiny strips. With everything else going on in this sandwich, the bacon was barely perceptible. The beef patty contributed plenty of salty, meaty flavors on its own, rendering the bacon redundant.

The deluxe without bacon would be worth ordering depending on how you like your burgers. It adds lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and mayo to the classic ButterBurger cheese, which typically comes with no toppings (though you can customize it to your liking). The veggies were all fresh, crisp, and tasty, and the lettuce and tomato gave the deluxe an In-N-Out vibe. However, we found ourselves preferring other burgers from the chain because the salad on the deluxe distracted from the delicious simplicity of the griddled patty and buttered bun.

Like the bacon deluxe, this menu item also gilded the lily by throwing a bunch of toppings on the classic ButterBurger, but we preferred it because the ingredients were more exciting. The smokehouse BBQ cheddar pub burger adds mayo, fried onion rings, barbecue sauce, and pickles to a patty topped with cheddar cheese. Fast-food barbecue sauce can go two ways: It's either delicious or it tastes like shotgunning a bottle of liquid smoke and chasing it with a bag of white sugar. Culver's does its barbecue sauce right. It's mildly smoky, just a little sweet, and has enough acidity and umami to taste balanced. It works well as a tag team with the mayo and complements the beef wonderfully. The onion rings were crispy, which was a minor miracle considering all the sauces and meat they were paired with.

Our main (minor) issue with this sandwich was its construction. We wish the onion rings were placed on top of the sandwich instead of under the patties. As constructed, the onion rings blocked our tongue's ability to taste the beef. This was rectified when we flipped the sandwich upside-down, giving us a more complete and improved flavor experience. Also, this sandwich came on a cheddar-infused bun, but we couldn't taste it at all. Honestly, that didn't bother us, as the burger was plenty cheesy enough from the sliced cheddar on top of the patty.

This is the part of the list where ranking becomes difficult because the top three burgers from Culver's are all so excellent. The combination of mushrooms and beef is a win almost every time, and Culver's hits it out of the park with the mushroom & Swiss ButterBurger. The mushrooms on our burger looked like something you'd get at a steakhouse; they were caramelized, savory, well-seasoned with salt and pepper, and soaked in a ton of butter. They even had noticeable flecks of fresh parsley — when have you ever seen parsley in a fast-food burger? We certainly haven't encountered it before.

The mushrooms amped up the umami of the beef to wild levels, while the Swiss cheese was perfectly melty and helped hold the sandwich together. The burger didn't need any extra condiments, as the mushrooms and butter were more than enough to make every bite delicious. We only wish that it came on a slightly sturdier bun. Culver's standard soft buttered bun is great most of the time, but on this sandwich, it struggled to contain all the mushroom juices and got soggy and limp pretty quickly.

Culver's original menu item is the plain ButterBurger with no cheese, served on a toasted, buttered bun with the toppings of your choice. We chose to order the version with cheese, as we suspect most people are going to order it that way. We decked ours out with raw red onions and pickles, just like it appears in the photo on the menu. Dressed up this way, the ButterBurger cheese gave us everything we could ever want and need in a fast-food burger. Plus, there were no superfluous ingredients like lettuce and tomato in the deluxe. The red onion in the standard ButterBurger gave us all the crunch we wanted plus some sharpness to boot. The pickles helped cut through all the richness of the beef and cheese with their piquant acidity.

With fewer toppings, we could really appreciate the buttered bun. The butter melted into the cheese, making a creamy sauce for the burger. The crunchy char on the patties stood out as well since it wasn't hidden behind condiments or veggies. The ButterBurger cheese is the classic fast-food burger all establishments should aspire to make. It misses the top spot on this list because Culver's sells one other excellent burger that's a little more unique and special.

Culver's food, at its best, feels more like real restaurant fare than other fast-food offerings. That was true of the mushroom & Swiss ButterBurger and it's definitely true of the Wisconsin Swiss melt. This patty melt is served on butter-griddled rye bread and topped with griddled onions and Swiss cheese. It's basically the sourdough melt with different bread and cheese. You might think that wouldn't improve things all that much, but those two changes make all the difference.

Unlike Culver's decidedly mild sourdough, the rye had some real bite to it. It was sharp and seemed to contain caraway seeds, much like the rye from a good Jewish deli. The rye was also pleasantly firm; when griddled, it developed a crunchy exterior that resisted sogginess for a long time. The cooking process also gave the outside of the sandwich a lovely brown butter flavor. The onions were cooked down until very soft, almost caramelized, so they contributed both sweetness and savoriness. The patty was great as always. The Swiss cheese was a huge upgrade over the cheddar in the sourdough melt. It wasn't intensely funky or anything, but it had a lot more flavor than mild cheddar. This sandwich tasted exactly like the patty melts we used to order at East Coast diners growing up. If we order it again, we'll probably add some mustard, but it's nigh-perfect as-is.