Our 2015 burger odyssey started in August, and stretched across North Texas — from Crowley to Keller, Aledo to Cleburne, White Rock Lake to Weatherford. We visited 32 of the best burger joints in DFW and sampled more than 100 burgers in six weeks.
The journey proved as satisfying as arriving at the final destination.
Along the way, we met bold young burger turks (Thurber Mingus, Bronson Rock), and got reacquainted with a few delicious old friends (Nicky D’s, Kincaid’s and Love Shack). We took a giant bite out of Big Tex, but also squeezed into the tiniest Burger Bar in Johnson County — maybe on the planet.
There was bacon — so much bacon — consumed in strips, jam, even mousse form. And the jalapeños hit the spot, whether they were pickled, grilled, candied, fresh or fried.
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Green chiles, Hatch chiles, chipotles and chorizo all spiced things up a bit. Cheeses, from Gruyere to goat, Swiss to shredded and habanero cheddar, melted our hearts and expanded our minds.
But the star of this sizzling showcase, of course, was all that carefully seasoned and grilled beef — everything from Black Angus to Texas Akaushi — served between a bread truck full of fresh, beautiful and mostly sturdy buns.
Though we searched far and wide for the best burger, in the end we found our champion right here in Fort Worth.
It’s no wonder the place is called Cowtown.
The Final: Dutch’s vs. Salsa Fuego
When we first started hammering out the 2015 bracket, Salsa Fuego was on the outside looking in. It’s a Mexican restaurant — named one of the best in the state by Texas Monthly in 2010 — but anyone who’s been there more than once can’t ignore the inventive burger menu created by chef/owner Carlos Rodriguez.
Salsa Fuego eventually earned a fifth seed, and quickly proved it belonged, advancing past a murderer’s row of burger-battle veterans — Love Shack, Chop House, Nicky D’s and Rodeo Goat. The signature Fuego burger — fire-roasted green chiles, a halo of cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, and roasted jalapeño mayo on top of a 1/3-pound patty seasoned with shallots, salt, pepper and Dijon mustard — became one of the stars of this entire battle. So did the Big Tex, a giant double-patty burger with carefully melted American cheese, beaucoup bacon and grilled onions.
But Dutch’s is no newbie, and over the course of four Burger Battles it seems to have found that magic formula of creativity and consistency.
The TCU campus joint, opened in 2007 by chef/owner Lou Lambert, powered past seasoned challengers (Burger Extreme, Johnny B’s) and gourmet newcomers (Goodfriend, Thurber Mingus) to advance to the final. Burgers like the Vaquero and the Bacon Bleu epitomize Dutch’s deft hand with mingling flavors, while the Lineman — a double-patty burger weighing in at a pound — is a carnivore’s beefy fever dream.
Both places brought their A-games in the final.
The Fuego Burger featured a strongly seasoned patty cooked a shade past medium. We got some heat from the chiles, and it was balanced nicely by the sweet, seared bun. If anything, we would have liked a bit more of that fire-roasted flavor from the chiles we tasted in earlier rounds.
But the magical cheese managed to stay melted on top while still oozing out onto the grill, forming a crisp, mesmerizing gold ring around the burger. The “cheese bacon” added another crunchy dimension — no wonder we like this burger so much.
The Big Tex came to play, too, with thick strips of bacon jutting out from all sides of the two 1/3-pound patties. Mounds of melted American hugged the richly flavored beef and the sweetness from the grilled onions and sourdough bun cut the double-shot of savoriness.
Salsa Fuego’s two best burgers would be hard to beat.
But two others here were less memorable. A baseball-sized scoop on the guacamole burger overwhelmed the patty, though we enjoyed the creamy avocado dip on its own and thought about asking for a side of chips. The Bacon Bleu was fine — stout and pungent cheese overshadowed the patty slightly — but the burger just didn’t distinguish itself.
At Dutch’s, two burgers took center stage, too.
The Vaquero’s first bite delivered a burst of flavors: The beef was seasoned with a sure hand and cooked to a perfect medium; the shredded cheddar was melted evenly; the bacon was thick, smoky and plentiful; the fried jalapeño and onion strings added heat and crunch; and the pliable sourdough bun — still the best in town — provided a whiff of sweetness.
Dancing around all this goodness was an alluring tango of barbecue sauce and chipotle mayo, giving the Vaquero some extra giddyup.
It was one of the best-tasting burgers we tried in this battle.
If the Vaquero was a flavor bomb, then the Lineman was a beefy behemoth — a double-meat burger that wowed one of our most exacting judges with a pound of succulent meat, cooked exactly to his pink-inside pleasure.
Delicately melted cheddar draped over the patties and thick strips of bacon. And we loved the blast of vinegar from the mustard, which balanced out the mayo and grilled onions. Shredded romaine added some bright green relief to the beef orgy, and somehow the sweet sourdough bun stood strong to last bite. What a burger.
But it may have been the Bacon Bleu that gave Dutch’s its final push. One of the most difficult burgers to execute well, Dutch’s iteration delicately balanced the creamy blue cheese with thick-cut bacon and a salt-and-peppered beef patty. The bun and chipotle mayo added sweet backup vocals to a sophisticated and harmonious burger — one of many that we devoured at Dutch’s during the 2015 Burger Battle.
As we contemplated the final gut-wrenching decision, we came back to this: Every other burger joint that advanced deep into our bracket had shaky moments — a dry patty here, a bun breach there. Even Salsa Fuego’s Fuego Burger varied from visit to visit, from amazing to simply good.
But Dutch’s never wobbled, taking its cue from its legendary namesake, TCU football coach Leo “Dutch” Meyer. His most famous quote adorns the purple walls inside:
“Fight ’em until hell freezes over. Then fight ’em on the ice.”
It’s that kind of grit and determination, plus all those great burgers, that has earned Dutch’s the title of 2015 DFW.com Burger Battle champion.