Skip to content

7 Burger Menu Red Flags to Look Out For, According to Chefs

You don't want to waste your time or money on a flavorless patty.

We don't just like burgers, we love them! Americans eat an estimated 50 billion burgers per year. That's about 156 per person, which is a lot of beefy goodness! Naturally, many restaurants also serve burgers, but there are some things to be aware of, some eye-opening red flags that you should look out for when ordering a burger off a menu.

Many burger lovers, of course, have very specific standards for what makes a burger good. Is it the quality of the meat, the toppings, or the perfect bun that makes the sandwich?  Turns out, according to chefs, it's a combination of all of those elements coming together.

We asked chefs what they look for when ordering a burger and asked them to share some words or phrases they see—or don't—that will make them skip a menu item. Read on and find out when to order a burger and when to save your money for a different spot.

 9 Steakhouse Menu Red Flags, According to Chefs 

They don't tell you where the meat came from

spatula flipping burger patty on grill

This is a big one. If you're spending money on a burger out at a restaurant, you want it to be something special, says Sonsie Executive Chef Andrew Whatley.

"For me,  I'm drawn in mostly by the patty itself, especially if it has a specific farm or types of cuts in the blend listed on the menu," Whatley told us. "If it's a brisket and short rib blend, it's going to be super juicy and awesome. It is a good sign that the restaurant is putting time into it and cares about the quality, versus just saying 8-ounce burger or something vague."

Tom Holland, owner and chef at A&B Kitchen • Bar agrees, and also notes that naming the farms is a sign of quality. 

"The two terms that are most important to me are 'sustainable' as well as 'small family farms' because then I know that the animals were raised in the most humane environment, the farmers are using the best farming practices and the resulting quality of beef is the best," Holland told us.

They don't offer bacon

bacon burger

Burgers are great on their own, but a restaurant making great burgers always offers high-quality add-ons, and bacon is a favorite. 

"Bacon is always a great add-on, especially if it's quality. At Sonsie, the burger will feature Nueske's bacon, which is legendary," says Whatley. "I also am partial to a sunny side egg. The rich fattiness of the yolk mixed with all the other flavors is just fat kid heaven. But if you're ever given the chance to get pork belly on a burger or lamb bacon, do it. The different textures and flavors mixed with the beef patty is amazing."

They serve smash burgers

cooking smash burger

Holland says to avoid restaurants with this burger cooking style that can dry out your burger, telling us, "For me, the term 'smash burger' is a major red flag because when you smash the burger meat on the grill all the fat and juices escape leaving a drier burger. Searing and caramelizing your patty seals in the natural juices and fat content creating a juicy rich flavorful burger."

Gimmicky toppings

bad burger toppings

Kam Talebi, chef and owner of The Butcher's Tale is not a fan of toppings that disguise the flavor of the burger, explaining, "​​A red flag for a burger is gimmicky burger options. It might be a Hawaiian burger with pineapple or some abomination with peanut butter on it. When you see it, you'll know that they are drowning in beef that's not very good in other toppings. I prefer a burger-flavored burger, myself."

They don't keep it simple

simple cheeseburgers

More is often just too much when it comes to a burger, says Kyle Jones, Head Chef at Craft Wood Fired Catering

"Generally speaking, more is not better when it comes to burger components," Jones explains, "A well-crafted patty served on a quality bun with a few simple toppings will often provide a better experience than an overloaded burger."

They don't tell you about the bun

fresh burger buns

Whatley also notes that a freshly made bun can make all the difference, telling us, "I think another good indication is the bun itself. If it is specifically mentioned that the bun is a certain type or homemade, it's a good indication it's going to be a better than average burger."

Jessica Randhawa, a recipe developer at The Forked Spoon, shared some more details about what to look for, saying, "Terms to look for regarding the other ingredients in the hamburger that I consider to be leading indicators of quality burgers include 'brioche bun,' or 'pretzel bun.'"

Details about the bun should be on the menu, says Jones. "The menu should also specify the type of bun used (e.g. brioche or potato) and if it is toasted or not. These details can make a big difference in the flavor and texture of the burger."

 10 Burger Chains With the Best Quality Meat in America

Overly big burgers

oversized burger

Over the years, restaurant burgers have gotten so big you can barely take a bite, and our experts don't like it one bit. 

 "I don't care for a burger any larger than 1/3 pound. Anything bigger is so big that it becomes a knife and fork situation," the meat expert told us.

Randhawa isn't a fan either, explaining, "When I receive a hamburger from a restaurant, my biggest turn-off is when the ingredients, patty, and bun are stacked so tall that I would need to double my bite-size to bite cleanly from bun to bun. When the verticality of the hamburger is too big to get all the ingredients into one bite, you lose out on getting all the intended flavors simultaneously."

Tanya Edwards
Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya