Fishing out burnt chunks of ground beef that have fallen through your grill is as much a part of backyard barbecues as Uncle Tim having one too many beers and falling into the pool. But like a lot of other things that are all-American—country music, blue jeans, and baseball—hamburgers have been seized by mega-corporations who have tweaked, manipulated and supersized them until they’ve lost much of what made them relatively healthy to begin with. Now, the average hamburger packs over 100 more calories than the burgers that the Happy Days boys enjoyed—and some are 1,400 calories more!
The funny thing is, a hamburger done right isn’t a terrible nutritional choice—even if you’re trying to lose weight. Topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, some dijon mustard and sandwiched between a reasonably sized bun, a burger can be a high-protein treat that won’t completely throw your diet off track. But just as baseball went from the Great Bambino, Babe Ruth, to steroid-injecting Barry Bonds, our burgers have evolved from lean and straightforward to fatty and complicated. And when it comes to ordering at a fast-food restaurant, it’s not always obvious which burgers are safe bets for your waistline and health.
With some of the most popular fast food burgers clocking in at almost 1,000 calories, you want to be sure you’re picking a weight-loss winner, and we at Eat This! are here to do just that. Using Ranker.com’s crowdsourced ranking system, we identified the 20 most popular fast food burgers. We split them into single-patty burgers and double-patty categories to make the nutritionals more evenly matched, ranked them based primarily on nutritionals, then readjusted rankings based on nasty additives. Some of these burgers aren’t just the worst of their peers—burgers are also among The #1 Worst Dish at 40 Popular Restaurants.
SINGLE-PATTY BURGERS… FROM BEST TO WORST
These burgers were ranked based on nutritionals, primarily calories, as well as fat, sodium, and carbs. Beneficial add-ons like lettuce, tomato, and onions earned points, along with fiber and protein, and deductions were given to disproportionately carb-centric burgers as well as those that had harmful additives like man-made trans fat. Although we might typically send anything with trans fats to the bottom of the rankings, we couldn’t do that in this case; burgers are tricky because most processed beef and dairy contain trace amounts of naturally occurring trans fats, which don't negatively affect your cholesterol levels to the extent that man-made trans fats (like partially hydrogenated oil, hydrogenated oils, and vegetable shortening) do. Therefore, after examining ingredients lists, we only deducted points from a burger if the trans fats were from artificial trans fats.
Per burger, no condiments (136 g): 390 calories, 17 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 570 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (1 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 20 g protein
This Midwestern chain’s claim to fame is the lightly toasted, buttered bun that each of their 100% ground beef patties come on. And unlike other chains, they actually use real butter instead of a “butter-flavored spread” to crisp up their buns to a nice toasty brown. And if you haven’t heard yet, butter is actually one of the 20 Healthy Fats to Make You Thin.
Whataburger’s Original Whataburger
Per burger and toppings (316 g): 590 calories, 25 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,220 mg sodium, 62 g carbs (4 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 29 g protein
This Texas-based chain produces one of the only single patty popular burgers to come with fiber-full lettuce and tomatoes (as well as pickles and onions). Whataburger also sets itself apart from other fast food chains with their customization—so almost nothing is pre-prepared. Whataburger patrons can personalize every aspect of their beefy sandwiches, from choosing the number of patties they'd like, to which condiments they want (no more unnecessary mayo), to whether or not they'd like their bun toasted.
Wendy’s Dave's Single
Per burger, 2 slices of cheese, and toppings (n/a g): 570 calories, 34 g fat (13 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 1,230 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 30 g protein
When we want a burger, we want a burger, and this creation from Wendy’s somewhat qualifies as such. Four ounces of fresh ground beef and a heaping pile of produce for minimal caloric investment make this one of our favorite burgers in America. Take advantage of Wendy’s extensive list of sides and skip the ubiquitous order of fries. Pair it with a mandarin orange cup or a side salad for an extra boost of fiber.
McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese
Per burger and toppings (206 g): 530 calories, 27 g fat (13 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 1,090 mg sodium, 41 g carbs (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 31 g protein
The best burgers are loaded with vitamin-packed, belly-filling veggies, but this “classic” has none, save for some pickle slices and slivered onions. Plus, you’ll find it has nearly as much sodium as the Bacon McDouble—but without the bacon. At least it’s high in protein and low in fat.
Fatburger's Original FatBurger
Per burger (150 g): 590 calories, 31 g fat (9 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 1,190 mg sodium, 46 g carbs (2 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 33 g protein
When it comes to a fatburger, you can get it small, “original,” large, XXL or XXXL. The most reasonably comparable size is the original at a third of a pound, but it’s unreasonably loaded with sodium. Even worse, the nutrition is only for the bun and burger, so adding a slice of cheese, then pickles and mustard would bring you up to 1,670 mg of sodium, or more than 60 percent of your recommended intake of sodium for the whole day.
White Castle Sliders
Per slider and toppings (55 g): 140 calories, 6 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 360 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (1 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 7 g protein
Unless you can limit yourself to one or two, sliders make for a consistently calamitous menu choice. That’s because the burger-to-bun ratio is low and the novelty factor is high, both of which have been shown to encourage excess eating. And with four of these equalling similar serving sizes and nutritional values as the other burgers, you’re better off sticking with the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder to save on the empty, refined carbs. For more portion-controlling tips, check out these 20 Foods You Better Eat in Moderation.
Burger King Whopper
Per burger and toppings (260 g): 630 calories, 38 g fat (11 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 810 mg sodium, 50 g carbs (2 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 26 g protein
What might be “America’s Favorite Burger,” the Whopper is the original mega-sized meat sandwich. Although this option is more flab-friendly than the Double or Triple Whopper, it still has more than half of your daily recommended allowance of fat. So if you’re going with a Whopper, you better make it the Whopper Jr. and save yourself 350 calories. If you follow the advice of nutritionists Sarah Koszyk and Christine Palumbo and order it without the mayo, it would save you 150 calories, 15 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, and 180 mg sodium. Nutritionist Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, says the Whopper Jr. is “a relatively healthy choice and quite satisfying.”
Carl's Jr.'s Original Six Dollar Thickburger
Per 1/3 lb. burger and toppings (347 g): 830 calories, 51 g fat (16 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 1,560 mg sodium, 62 g carbs (3 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 29 g protein
Carl’s Jr. bills this burger as a great deal. Gourmet eats for a fast-food price? It might sound good at first, but that chump change is also buying you almost half of your day’s worth of calories and sodium. Besides, this food is far from gourmet. The pickles are made with waist-widening high fructose corn syrup and undercover MSG additives like hydrolyzed soy protein and autolyzed yeast extract.
Carl's Jr.'s Western Bacon Cheeseburger
Per burger and toppings (250 g): 750 calories, 35 g fat (14 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,650 mg sodium, 75 g carbs (4 g fiber, 16 g sugar), 36 g protein
This burger might be lower in calories than the one that preceded it, but those 50 calories are entirely made up of fatty foods like bacon and deep-fried onion rings, rather than lettuce, tomato and onion.
AND THE #1 WORST SINGLE PATTY BURGER IS…Jack in the Box’s Sourdough Jack
Per burger and toppings (227 g): 700 calories, 45 g fat (15 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 1,180 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 35 g protein
Jack in the Box’s menu has come a long way in the past few years, but they still need to make some major changes. Although Jack might have taken the harmful oils out of the fryer, artery-clogging, FDA-not-generally-recognized-as-safe partially hydrogenated oils still can be found all over the ingredient lists, including in the bread as well as in the sirloin beef patty seasoning.
DOUBLE-PATTY BURGERS… FROM BEST TO WORST
We primarily ranked these bilevel burgers based on calories, fat and sodium, and gave extra points to those with high levels of fiber and protein. We then scoured ingredient lists for any sources of man-made trans fats or questionable ingredients and adjusted the rankings accordingly.
McDonald's Big Mac
Per burger and toppings (212 g): 540 calories, 28 g fat (10 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 950 mg sodium, 46 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 25 g protein
This double layer of sear-sizzled 100% pure beef mingled with special sauce on a sesame seed bun and topped with melty American cheese, crisp lettuce, minced onions and tangy pickles is an Eat This, Not That favorite. We named it the #1 best thing to order at McDonald’s way back in 2008, and it’s stood the test of time in terms of the McDonald's menu. How can this seemingly supersized meal be so good? Well, a balanced diet means a solid mix of protein, fats, and carbohydrates—and a Big Mac is relatively balanced: 25 grams of protein, 28 grams of fat and 47 grams of carbs for 540 calories. In comparison, a Five Guys cheeseburger has 840 calories and 8 g more fat, making the Big Mac the Mac Daddy of them all.
Per burger and toppings (148 g): 380 calories, 18 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 840 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (2 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 23 g protein
This little protein bomb doesn’t have as much fiber as we’d like (no toppings, save for some pickles and onions), but it has half the calories and over 400 mg less sodium than another double McDonald’s burger, the Double Quarter Pounder.
Burger King's Double Cheeseburger
Per burger and toppings (142 g): 350 calories, 18 g fat (9 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 580 mg sodium, 27 g carbs (1 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 20 g protein
This double cheeseburger clocks in at fewer than 400 calories. It’s one of the safest things on the BK menu because it doesn’t have the extra fatty calories from mayo (they really like to put that stuff on everything). Instead, this burger is doused with a smattering of ketchup and mustard, a single slice of cheese and pickles. If you're feeling relieved that it's not so hard to indulge without destroying your diet, keep the confidence going with these 35 Tips for Being Healthy While Eating Out!
Steak 'n Shake's The Original Double ‘n Cheese Steakburger
Per burger (n/a g): 440 calories, 25 g fat (11 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 590 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (< 1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 22 g protein
One of our EAT THIS! Hall of fame winners, Steak ‘n Shake is one of the only drive-thrus in the country where a substantial double-stacked cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and onion weighs in at under 500 calories. Just be sure to stick to the Original Steakburger menu; the specialty burgers at Steak ‘n Sheak are less impressive.
Checkers' & Rally’s Big Buford
Per burger and toppings (230 g): 660 calories, 39 g fat (18 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 1,730 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (2 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 38 g protein*
Touted as a chain that “loads it big, like you live it big”, this burger surely lives up to the Checkers & Rally’s motto. It’s sure to make you live big with bloat with more than 75 percent of your daily allowance of sodium. Surprisingly, that’s still less than the worst of the 20 Restaurant Desserts with More Salt Than a Bag of Pretzels.
In-N-Out's Double Double
Per burger and toppings (330 g): 670 calories, 41 g fat (18 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,440 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 37 g protein
When it comes to ordering fast food burgers, we can’t stress it enough: customization is your best friend. A standard Double Double comes with an extra 170 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat in the form of mayo-based “Spread” and extra cheese (two slices). If you ditch a slice and sub the spread for ketchup, you can get in (and out) of the drive-thru with a 500-calorie bilevel burger.
McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese
Per burger and toppings (291 g): 770 calories, 45 g fat (21 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fat), 1,290 mg sodium, 42 g carbs (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 51 g protein
Our #2 worst main item at Mickey D’s, this burger is a remnant from the days when “super-sizing” was cool. Take a perfectly fine burger, multiply it by two, and you get a half-pound of beef and your entire daily recommended intake of saturated fat.
Wendy's Dave's Double
Per burger and toppings (n/a g): 810 calories, 51 g fat (20 g saturated fat, 3 g trans fat), 1,510 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 49 g protein
Scoring a decent meal at Wendy’s is just about as easy as scoring a bad one. We recommend you go for one of their Jr. Burgers that stay below 400 calories instead of this one, which has 75 percent of your recommended intake of fat. Instead of widening your waistline, why not try one of these 20 Best-Ever Fat Burning Soups!
Jack in the Box's Ultimate Cheeseburger
Per burger and toppings (253 g): 840 calories, 59 g fat (23 g saturated fat, 3 g trans fat), 1,180 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 47 g protein
Add an extra beef patty, 2 slices of American and 1 slice Swiss-style cheeses, real mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup on a buttery bakery bun, and one of our picks at Jack in the Box (the 320-calorie cheeseburger) goes from an Eat This! to a definite Not That!. And when they say “buttery” bun, Jack in the Box really means “butter flavored” — and possibly trans-fat-laden — due to the appearance of hydrogenated soybean oil.
Per burger and toppings (n/a g): 950 calories, 62 g fat (24 g saturated fat, 3 g trans fat), 1,860 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (8 g sugar), 59 g protein
This burger beast comes at your diet in full force, saddling your gut with six (six!) strips of bacon, two slices of processed cheese, and two 1/4-pound slabs of greasy ground beef. Coincidently, a quarter of a pound is exactly how much flab you’ll add to your middle if you inhale one of these bad boys. What’s worse is its high trans fat content, which is more than a day-and-a-half’s worth. And because Wendy’s doesn’t list their cheese ingredients online (the cheese and patty are the two sources of trans fats), there’s no way to tell if it’s all-natural or not.
AND THE #1 WORST DOUBLE PATTY BURGER IS… A TIE!
Five Guys' Hamburger
Per burger, no toppings (265 g): 700 calories, 43 g fat (19.5 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 430 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (2 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 39 g protein
Without much more than burgers, hot dogs and french fries on the menu, it’s difficult to find anything nutritionally redeeming about Five Guys. To add even more insult to injury, the chain’s confusing nomenclature dubs regular burgers as doubles and its “Little” burgers are singles. Although they're putting out burgers superior to the hamburger heavyweights (they’re cooking fresh, 80/20 ground chuck on flattops to order), Five Guys proves fresh and healthy often have very little to do with each other.
Five Guys' Bacon Cheeseburger
Per burger, bacon, cheese, no toppings (317 g): 920 calories, 62 g fat (29.5 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 1,310 mg sodium, 40 g carbs (2 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 51 g protein
Besides the fact that both the regular hamburger above and this bacon cheeseburger pack more calories than a Big Mac, they also have a classic source of health-harming trans fats—vegetable shortening—in their bun recipe. Definitely one of the 30 Worst Foods For Your Heart!