10 Fast-Food Chains That Never Freeze Their Burgers
Which do you think is the more convenient and cost-effective type of meat for a fast-food chain? If you guessed frozen ground beef, you're exactly right. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, if kept frozen, ground beef remains safe to cook and consume indefinitely, though it is at its best, taste and texture-wise, within four months. Fresh ground beef, on the other hand, is only at its best for about two or three days after purchase.
Fresh meat really does make for better burgers, as the freezing process breaks down some of the fibers in the beef, changing its taste and texture irrevocably. While many fast-food chains serve pure ground beef with just a touch of salt, only a few go the extra step of using fresh beef. Most notably, Wendy's, the second largest chain in the U.S. by sales, has always done it the old-fashioned way since its inception in 1969, as has the California-based chain In-N-Out. But, as burger fans have demanded higher-end options in the fast-food arena, more spots have popped up that make fresh beef a priority.
So the next time you're in the mood for a fast-food burger and you want to sink your teeth into the best, consider heading to one of these ten chains where the beef is never frozen.
Hoppdoddy Burger Bar
Hoppdoddy is a burger bar that should definitely be on your radar. The chain uses all-natural beef that is free from hormones, steroids, and antibiotics and, of course, is never, ever frozen. The chain also takes its buns seriously, baking three types daily. In addition, its hand-cut fries feature Chipperbec potatoes, a variety it says is grown to be made into the best french fries.
While Hoppdoddy doesn't have a large footprint, it is actively growing and seeking to expand. After acquiring Grub Burger Bar and doubling its size, the regional burger chain is actively attempting to break into new markets. It currently has 50 locations in eight states.
Driven by a desire to provide healthy and delicious food at a reasonable price, Elevation Burger takes its food very seriously. It is one of the only fast-food spots that serves 100% USDA-certified organic ground beef in all its burgers. The chain even grinds its own beef in-house and hand-pats every burger before throwing it on the grill.
The chain takes pride in other ingredients, too, cutting its fries in-house every day and cooking them in heart-healthy olive oil. While the chain isn't huge—it has a little over 30 locations concentrated in the Northeast—it is one of the healthiest burger chains out there. It is part of the Fat Brands family which also owns Fat Burger (another chain on this list) and Twin Peaks.
The "guys" at Five Guys are serious about fresh meat. So much so that they couldn't even freeze their burgers if they wanted to. Per the restaurant's website: "There are no freezers in Five Guys locations, just coolers." The fresh, handmade burger patties are clearly worth the expense and effort, as this chain has grown from a D.C.-area niche spot to a global phenomenon in a generation with over 1,400 locations in the U.S.
Wendy's uses fresh, never-frozen beef, and the chain wants to make very certain you know that—the slogan is plastered all over the menu, blog, and advertising materials. In fact, Wendy's has been serving fresh beef since its founding in 1969, at least within the contiguous U.S. states, Alaska, and Canada. Sorry, Hawaii.
Smashburger seasons, smashes, and sizzles its meat, but never freezes it, at all of its over 200 locations. The "fresh, never frozen 100% Certified Angus Beef" used in Smashburger burgers is guaranteed to be fresh, per the chain's own self-reporting. This is good, because those fresh, loosely-formed patties that are "smashed" onto the griddle can then make the most of the tasty Maillard reaction, which is the process of sugars and proteins breaking down and converting as they are exposed to heat.
When Steve Buscemi's character Donnie says "those are good burgers" referring to In-N-Out's burgers in the flawless 1998 film "The Big Lebowski," he's right. Partly it's the sauce, partly it's the stack of patties, cheese, and veggies, but mostly it's the meat. Which, is always fresh, and every batch is even individually inspected.
In fact, one of the reasons that In-N-Out hasn't moved further east is that all the meat must come directly from the company's own distribution facilities, and thus, a restaurant cannot be more than 300 miles from one.
If you want a Texas-sized and always-made fresh burger, head to the classic Texas fast-food chain Whataburger, which has over 900 locations in 10 states. Per the chain's site: "Each and every Whataburger is still made to order—when it's ordered. We still use 100% pure, never-frozen beef and serve it on a big, toasted five-inch bun."
Shake Shack enjoys a reputation as something of an elevated burger joint, and the restaurant deserves it. Why? Because it is really serious about the quality of its burgers, which are made of 100% Angus beef and are never frozen, per the Shake Shack site. The chain is also constantly playing with the menu and launching high-end burger experiences, like its current truffle-centric menu. Try it at one of the 240 U.S. locations.
This upscale burger joint born in 2007, has enjoyed rapid growth over the past decade and a half because it makes some very fine burgers using some very fine beef. Mooyah even claims the beef it uses is a higher grade than that used in most steaks. And of course, the ground beef used in a Mooyah burger is always fresh and never frozen.
Mooyah offers high-quality burgers the way you want to eat them. You can get them keto, paleo, and gluten-free. The chain also offers turkey and veggie burgers, delicious all-beef hot dogs, and milkshakes made from real ice cream. Mooyah has about 90 locations but plans to add 45 or so by the end of 2023.
Fatburger's huge burgers, which start at 1/3-pound and go up to a 1 1/2-pound monstrosity, are made using hand-pressed, never-frozen beef patties. The chain, which was started in 1947, also offers made-from-scratch onion rings, hand-scooped ice cream for the shakes, and chili made right on the premises at each Fatburger location. Fatburger sells its big, meaty burger at over 100 locations across the U.S.
A previous version of this post was originally published Nov. 2022. It has been updated with new information.