America’s Favorite Fast Food Burger Places
You can find a fast-food burger pretty much anywhere in the U.S. But not all chains are equal in the hearts of Americans.
Some chains, like McDonald's, are fairly divisive. Others like In-and-Out are universally loved around the country. Which reigns supreme in the U.S.?
These are America's 15 favorite fast-food burger joints, ranked.
Bottom Line: Checkers & Rally's
If it were completely up to us, the only place we'd include Checkers and Rally's would be on a list of franchises to avoid like the plague. If you love their burgers, just know there's a chance you might one day bite into a burger so far gone that the patty is green. (That is, unfortunately, a true story.)
But the joint chain continues to be favored by Americans, who like the convenience of a double drive-through, enjoy the option of hot dogs and don't mind having any indoor seating. Joining as a single company in 1999, both Checkers and Rally's serve the exact same menu items. Generally speaking, Checkers is used along the East Coast while Rally's is more common in the Midwest and California.
14. Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
Year founded: 2002
No. of locations: 420
No. of states with a location: 35
2021 U.S. sales: $759 million
Bottom Line: Freddy's
This Kansas-based chain separates itself from the crowd by making sure everyone knows their burgers are made with 100 percent premium beef. Sadly, this isn't very common in the world of fast food.
Besides its signature steakburgers, which are pressed thin to create crispiness, Freddy's serves hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and frozen custard. Fans love its signature house seasoning and Midwestern appeal.
13. Shake Shack
Year founded: 2004
No. of locations: 243
No. of states with a location: 5
2021 U.S. sales: $775 million
Bottom Line: Shake Shack
In our personal opinion, Shake Shack is the best fast-food burger place in the U.S. But since this is not about quality, and instead about popularity, we'll have to leave it at the bottom of this list.
Still, we're not completely alone in our sentiment. The chain has the highest revenue per unit out of all casual burger places in the country, making $3,679 per unit — compared to $3,420 for McDonald's. Not bad for a joint that only has 243 locations in five states.
Give Shake Shack a few more years to keep expanding, and we bet it'll beat out the competition.
Year founded: 1955
No. of locations: 13,438
No. of states with a location: 50
2021 U.S. sales: $45.96 billion
Bottom Line: McDonald's
McDonald's actually came out as the least liked fast food burger place on the CashNetUSA study. And yet, it's also the American franchise with the highest sales numbers — for burgers and everything else.
Needless to say, the home of the Big Mac is a controversial figure. For some, it's a cheap meal that satisfies a craving for junk food. For others, it symbolizes everything wrong with America. Love it or hate it, there is no denying that few companies in the world can compete with the golden arches.
Year founded: 1951
No. of locations: 2,218
No. of states with a location: 21
2021 sales: $4.08 billion
Bottom Line: Jack in the Box
If you thought McDonald's had the creepiest mascot of them all, think again. Jack in the Box's floating head manages to be even more disconcerting. The quality isn't much better than in its rival franchise. And its claim to serve 100 percent beef patties has been disputed.
Still, people are into the chain's all-day breakfast (which it served decades before other burger joints), and the possibility to get tacos. The company actually came before McDonald's in national preference according to the Market Force Information study.
Year founded: 2007
No. of locations: 227
No. of states with a location: 35
2021 sales: $248 million
* Note: Sales numbers for Smashburger came from Restaurant Business Online's 2022 report.
Bottom Line: Smashburger
Opening up a burger joint in a country full of McDonald's and Burger King is a bold move. Yet it hasn't prevented Smashburger from reaching success. The chain is the youngest on this list, opening in 2007 at the height of a countrywide trend that sought better fast-food burgers at slightly higher prices.
The company now has more than 230 locations in 35 states. Perhaps the secret to its rapid success is using a recipe that sets it apart. Rather than regular burgers, you'll find patties that are, of course, smashed. Typical in the Midwest, smashing the patty supposedly gives the burger even more flavor.
Smashburger also caters to a younger crowd by sourcing its beef from local farms, offering a delicious black bean burger and including gluten-free buns on its menu.
9. White Castle
Year founded: 1921
No. of locations: 349
No. of states with a location: 13
2021 sales: $615 million
Bottom Line: White Castle
Many people think of McDonald's as the first fast-food burger chain. But the reality is that White Castle walked so that the clown could fly. Opened in 1921, the chain originated practices like takeout (a precursor of the drive-through), which at the time was revolutionary.
Despite its success, the chain is still found only in 13 states, mostly in the Midwest, Nevada and New York. Its original sliders, a set of small square burgers that restaurants like Chili's have copied, are still incredibly popular.
8. Hardee's / Carl's Jr.
Year founded: 1960 (Hardee's), 1941 (Carl's Jr.), 1997 (merger)
No. of locations: 1,734/1,058
No. of states with a location: 44 (joint)
2021 sales: $2.1 billion/$1.56 billion
Bottom Line: Hardee's / Carl's Jr.
Much like Checkers and Rally's, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. are two sides of the same fast-food coin. While they started as separate chains, their 1997 merger turned them into nearly identical businesses bearing different names. You'll find Carl's Jr. on the West Coast and in the Southwest, while Hardee's reigns in the Midwest, South and East Coast. The two overlap only in Wyoming and Oklahoma.
The merger was meant to compete against the top three chains. But we can all agree that, at least in terms of recognition, that hasn't been the case. Surprisingly, people do seem to like Hardee's / Carl's Jr. more than they do McDonald's — who would've guessed?
Year founded: 1950
No. of locations: 844
No. of states with a location: 11
2021 sales: $2.7 billion
Bottom Line: Whataburger
Whataburger is known mainly as a Texas chain. And while the state does have a particularly strong Whataburger fan base, you'll also find its iconic A-frame buildings in 10 other states, mostly in the South and Southwest.
Loyal customers claim that there simply is no match for the brand's never-frozen meat and toasted buns. And while this might've been true when it first opened, the better burger trend of the early 21st century has given it plenty of competition. Still, Whataburger continues to hold its own, coming in at No. 6 for the highest casual burger joint revenue.
6. Burger King
Year founded: 1954
No. of locations: 7,105
No. of states with a location: 50
2021 sales: $10.03 billion
Bottom Line: Burger King
As one of the big three fast-food burger chains, Burger King has a special place in America's heart. Its rivalry with McDonald's is legendary, spawning epic battles on billboards as well as social media, spawning many-a-fierce debate among friends.
So, who does it better? The king fared better in terms of popularity in both the CashNetUSA and Market Force Information studies. However, in terms of sales, it comes in third place. Does it deserve to rank higher than McDonald's? We think so. But feel free to start the fight.
Year founded: 1953
No. of locations: 3,552
No. of states with a location: 45
2021 sales: $5.84 billion
Bottom Line: Sonic
Outside of the big three, Sonic makes the most sales, bringing in an impressive $5.8 million in 2021. The brand is owned by the same company as Arby's and Buffalo Wild Wings, which is surprising, given the absolute horror that is Arby's food.
Sonic Drive-In sets itself apart by keeping alive the 1950s trend of having waiters on rollerblades bring customers their food straight to their cars. Yes, their steak butter bacon cheeseburger is good on its own. But it tastes that much better when a carhop on blades delivers it.
Year founded: 1969
No. of locations: 5,938
No. of states with a location: 50
2021 sales: $11.11 billion
Bottom Line: Wendy's
Wendy's fares better than the king and the clown in terms of popularity. The joint claims that their beef has never been frozen and has the least dislikable mascot of the big three. It also boasts the second-highest sales out of any fast-food burger place.
We won't deny the appeal of a Baconator with a chocolate frosty. But it seems like no one loves Wendy's as much as Alaska, where the franchise came out as the number. one joint for a drive-through burger on the CashNetUSA study.
Year founded: 1984
No. of locations: 837
No. of states with a location: 26
2021 sales: $2.49 billion
Bottom Line: Culver's
Culver's isn't as internationally renowned as the other places on this list, but the states that know it, love it. First opened in 1984, the burger place has some interesting menu items that set it apart. For instance, you'll find frozen custard and cheese curds alongside its famous butter burgers.
This might explain why it does so well in the Midwest.
2. In-N-Out Burger
Year founded: 1948
No. of locations: 370
No. of states with a location: 7
2021 sales: $1.18 billion
Bottom Line: In-N-Out Burger
In-N-Out would have the potential to be the favorite fast food place in the country if it had a wider geographic reach. The chain is No.1 in six out of the seven states where it has a location, according to the CashNetUSA study. And if you've ever been to the West Coast, you know how much people like rambling on about the virtues of In-N-Out.
As of 2022, you can only find locations in California, Texas, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Nevada and Colorado. The company claims that this is to ensure that only fresh, never-frozen, high-quality patties are used. Why it thinks it's only possible to find fresh meat on the West Coast is an unsolved mystery that leaves the other 44 states feeling neglected.
1. Five Guys
Year founded: 1986
No. of locations: 1,390
No. of states with a location: 49
2021 sales: $2.1 billion
Bottom Line: Five Guys
Was there ever a question about which joint would come out on top? Five Guys is the crown jewel of fast-food burgers. The food is so good, it's almost straddling the line between junk food and real food. And while it doesn't quite get to cross the line, we don't mind because it lets us give into guilty pleasures without having to eat something that feels like rubber.
Alaska is the only state that doesn't have a Five Guys (which is probably why it favors Wendy's). As for the rest of the country, CashNetUSA claims that a grand total of 29 states chose this interestingly named chain as the best place to get a burger on the go.