I spent over $120 to try every burger at Wendy's, and the best is a classic
I spent about $120 to try all 21 burgers available at the fast-food chain Wendy's.
The Pretzel Bacon Pub Cheeseburger was good, but it didn't quite live up to the hype.
The Baconator was my favorite, and it felt like the perfect meal.
Fast-food giant Wendy's is known for its "fresh, never frozen" square burgers.
The chain's burgers can be broken down into seven distinct categories: Jr. burgers, Double Stacks, Big Bacon burgers, Baconators, Dave's burgers, bacon jalapeño cheeseburgers, and Pretzel Bacon Pub cheeseburgers.
And I was determined to figure out which one is the best by doing my own Wendy's playoff.
Over multiple trips to Wendy's, I spent around $120 and tried all 21 burgers. I assigned each order a division and pitted the winners against each other to compile a master ranking.
Division 1: The Double Stacks consisted of 2 contenders
These burgers are known for having two 2-ounce patties and not too many toppings — just cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup, and sometimes mustard.
The first of this bracket, the original Double Stack, was understandably smaller in real life than in the menu picture
First Impression: In real life, this burger looked a lot smaller than the picture, which I probably should have expected. Its only toppings are ketchup, pickles, and onions.
I thought this one would be pretty good. Plus you really can never go wrong with two patties and some pickles — White Castle understands this.
It reminded me of a quarter pounder with cheese, but not quite as good
Review: Essentially, this reminded me of a McDonald's quarter pounder with cheese. The pickles — the highlight — were delicious, but there were no onions to be seen.
All in all, this was a solid burger, even if it wasn't unique. It's the thing the picky eater of a family gets when they stop at a drive-through on a long car ride. Every establishment needs a menu item like this.
The bacon Double Stack lacked condiments
First Impression: I spent a while trying to figure out the difference between the bacon Double Stack, the Baconator, and the Big Bacon Classic double.
They each have bacon, cheese, and two patties, which I thought would be among the first things to change. I was wrong.
The bacon Double Stack has ketchup, mustard, pickle, and onion.
The Baconator has ketchup and mayo.
The Big Bacon Classic double has crisp lettuce, tomato, pickle, ketchup, mayo, and onion.
This burger's rank would come down to the value I placed on condiments. Here, I thought having mustard — an oft forgotten topping among fast-food chains — was a good move.
But how would it taste without tomato and lettuce? I was all turned around.
I enjoyed the mustard, but this option lacked in other departments
Review: Again, this felt like a quarter pounder with cheese and bacon. Was it better than McDonald's? I honestly wasn't sure. It was a little saltier, which could go either way.
I thought the meat — although underseasoned — was top-notch. The mustard was a nice touch, but the meal could've used a dash more of it. That said, I missed the lettuce and tomato.
This was a solid burger, but I had to rank this one lower than some of the other orders that had a full arsenal of condiments.
Division-1 winner: The bacon Double Stack triumphs for having bacon
Although these burgers had many good qualities, a lack of toppings held the Double Stacks back.
The bacon alternative slightly beat out the original one, but only because bacon beats no bacon.
Division 2: All 3 burgers in the Dave's category seemed promising
If you've wondered who Dave is, you're not alone. This collection of burgers is named after the chain's founder, Dave Thomas.
Each toasted bun is stacked with a select number of 1/4-pound beef patties, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, ketchup, and mayo.
The smallest of the options, Dave's single still has a large patty
First Impression: The single patty on this burger looked about the size of the Double Stack's two. The only difference was this option genuinely looked like a burger, with onion, lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo, ketchup, and a toasted bun — the whole team was here.
This is Wendy's version of a classic hamburger, the kind you could get when people still hung out at drugstores and drank malts. I was excited to see the chain's interpretation.
I could see this exact burger selling for $12 at a nicer place
Review: This was an excellent burger. If Wendy's was a retro-style 1950s diner with a waitstaff that was mean to you on purpose, the chain could probably charge $12 for it.
The pickles and lettuce actually crunched, even after I waited to eat it at home, and the toasted bun went down without a hitch.
I also liked the addition of mayo, which is a classic condiment and shockingly uncommon elsewhere. I look forward to eating this burger again.
Dave's Double looked like a total classic
First Impression: This order was a great baseline for all of the double burgers since it's such a classic.
Looking at it made me realize why fast-food places love doing hidden-camera commercials with people in upscale burger joints — which I know is an oxymoron. I took this from the Wendy's wrapper and thought, "Yeah, that's a good-looking burger!"
This was a quintessential American hamburger
Review: Once again, I was confronted with a great burger that was good enough for a decently hungry person.
I wanted some bacon, but there was magic in the ketchup and mayo team. I loved the onion as well.
Dave's triple made me question my identity
First Impression: Wendy's website says to "use both hands" while eating this one, and that's a solid piece of advice. Is eating tri-pattied hamburgers why Americans have a bad reputation with some other civilizations?
A wave of existential dread washed over me as I was about to put it in my mouth. What was I about to do to my body? Was it worth it?
As a true American, however, I was willing to test the limits and find out.
It was just too … much … food
Review: Wendy's said to use both hands — I needed a third.
Dave, you make a great burger. Leave it at that. All this meat. All this cheese. It just didn't feel right. I needed a moment to enjoy the journey. Your delicious pickles, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes were lost in this sea of beef.
I can't see myself eating this option again unless dared to do so.
Division-2 winner: Dave's Double easily won this set
It's a great burger that doesn't give you the meat sweats.
Emblematic of the quintessential American hamburger, it made me want to get a soda pop and go to the sock hop.
Division 3: The Big Bacon burgers, which had 4 competitive options
The Big Bacon burgers are, unsurprisingly, all stacked with Applewood smoked bacon, but also can include other toppings like lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, ketchup, and mayo.
I was excited to dig into this set with the Big Bacon Classic
First Impression: This burger wasn't a whole lot larger than a Dave's single, but it did have bacon on it, which was cool.
It also had a liberal amount of sauce, and I liked that it came with two pieces of cheese, one on the top and one on the bottom. Say what you will about Wendy's, but the chain doesn't cut corners with ingredients.
I liked that Wendy's didn't skimp on the cheese
Review: Excellent. The two pieces of cheese were a highlight in this burger since a single slice would've gotten lost in the sauce.
I grew up near a hole-in-the-wall burger place, and this sandwich reminded me of it. The bacon was super crispy, and the seemingly fresh ingredients stood out.
This option was better than the Dave's single, but only because bacon makes any burger better.
If you need a big meal, look no further than the Big Bacon Classic double
First Impression: I honestly thought the double cheeseburgers were the perfect size overall.
I noticed that Wendy's didn't increase the serving of condiments, either. The meal just oozes meat — in a good way.
It was a classic burger with just the right amount of toppings
Review: This was the ultimate straight-up burger. I liked that Wendy's didn't increase the number of toppings and just added more cheese — it was the right call.
This was a lot of meat, and if there was twice as much bacon, it would've felt like overkill.
The Big Bacon Classic triple seemingly had too much meat
First Impression: Three patties, three slices of cheese. I felt like I should get my picture put on a wall at Wendy's headquarters — preferably in a sub-basement — if I finished the whole thing.
But the question here became whether a burger could truly have too much meat. I didn't think it was possible but seeing this one made me willing to listen to other arguments. It was so big it needed two foils to cover it.
It was literally too much of a handful
Review: The burger was delicious, but I only really tasted the meat. Even the three slices of cheese got lost. More worrisome, though, is that the beef tasted underseasoned to me.
Although promising, this burger lacked the balance of the double, figuratively and literally. As I ate the massive burger, it nearly slipped out of my hand.
The things that make a good burger great like lettuce, tomato, and onion were virtually nonexistent. In this case, less would have been more.
The Big Bacon cheddar cheeseburger looked like a winner
First Impression: Wendy's newest addition to its lineup, this burger looked quite good.
I was interested in the cheesy bun — the only completely new ingredient that I could see — and liked how it stacked. I also appreciated that Wendy's picked several classic burger toppings, including bacon and crispy onions.
Plus I was optimistic about the addition of cheddar and American slices since cheese combos are underutilized on burgers.
This burger had a great balance of flavors
Review: The onions were so excellent that I even ate one that fell off. It was greasy and a little chewy, but the fried-ness didn't overpower it.
The combo of cheddar and American cheese was fantastic as well. The American cut the sharpness of the cheddar, and it all mixed wonderfully with the bacon for the perfect balance of flavors.
The cheddar bun wasn't very noticeable and tasted a bit like a dull Cheez-It.
That said, the bacon-jam sauce held everything together and then some. It may honestly vault this to the top of my rankings. It added the perfect amount of sweetness to this savory dish, like cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving plate.
Division-3 winner: The Big Bacon cheddar cheeseburger came out on top
Like most of its contenders, this burger was impressively good. Bacon truly is a game-changing ingredient.
Though, the delicious sauce made this Big Bacon option a standout.
Division 4: The Baconators, which both looked like strong contenders
Applewood smoked bacon takes a leading role on top of these meaty options — just the name should tell you that — and each burger is paired with just cheese, ketchup, and mayo.
The Baconator seemed like overkill
First Impression: Bun, patty, cheese, bacon, patty, cheese, and more bacon — the Baconator seemed like it was designed by a resentful, newly divorced man trying to curse his wife's memory with a poor diet.
I do like lettuce and tomato, so staring this order down was a little nerve-wracking.
There's a reason this is considered Wendy's flagship burger
Review: My first impression was off. The Baconator lived up to its hype. I would've liked a pickle, just for something a little green, but it was so good.
There's something to be said for giving the people what they want. The patty meat and bacon went well together, and the cheese held everything in place.
There was also something so right about mayo on this sparse burger. It added a mellow flavor to the meat. The ketchup, which is a little sweet at Wendy's, was a nice bow on top.
The Son of Baconator looked like it'd be good for someone who wanted a somewhat average portion
First Impression: The only difference between this one and the regular Baconator is that this is made with two smaller patties. Very cute.
I probably don't need to eat 1/2 of a pound of beef plus however much pork the bacon is, so it's nice to have this option, but I can't see myself ever choosing it.
Even using a big knife, I struggled to cut through it.
The small version should've been enough, but it kind of wasn't
Review: It wasn't quite as good as its papa, just because of the size difference, but it was still a classic.
This option was probably enough food for most people, but I'm an American and always need more (until it's too much).
Division-4 winner: The Baconator was just better
Wendy's kept it simple with this one and gave the people what they wanted — more meat. Those who make it complicated never get congratulated.
Wendy's doesn't need to futz around with all these fancy burgers, it just needs to make more of these.
The cheese perfectly held the meats together, and the flavors of the combined ketchup and mayo brought out the very best in this burger.
Division 5: There are 4 Jr. burgers, but I didn't expect any of them to go far
Wendy's line of Jr. burgers is exactly what you'd expect: smaller portions with the heart of a full-sized one.
The toppings vary based on your order, but the base ingredients include pickles, onions, ketchup, and mustard.
The Jr. cheeseburger deluxe seemed like its taste would depend on the freshness of the ingredients
First Impression: This is a cheeseburger alright. I felt like I knew what it would taste like before I bit in.
I was curious about stripped-down burgers like this one because they would put Wendy's fresh ingredients to the test — could they stand on their own without bacon and extra patties?
There was a little too much sauce on it, but this was a good burger
Review: This went down easy. It was different than the other burgers as there were more pickles, mayo, and ketchup per square inch. And the lettuce was a little bit larger than the meat, which made me feel better about eating it.
My only real complaint was the patty was a bit too small, and the sauces felt a little too overpowering. Still, it was refreshing to have a burger that felt normal.
I liked this one more than some triples, if not for any other reason than I felt better after eating it.
The Jr. bacon cheeseburger looked solid
First Impression: This looked like a solid cheeseburger, similar to the Jr. cheeseburger deluxe, but with bacon.
I don't have more to add to my original review except that I like bacon. If I have the option to get a burger with bacon on it, I will.
The lettuce on this one taunted me
Review: This burger was pretty good. The bacon added something nice, even if the serving of mayonnaise was a little heavy-handed, but that might have been the human element at fast-food chains.
I thought Wendy's used great cheese, even if it was more processed-tasting than the produce. Really, the size was the only thing that held this one — and most of the other Jr. burgers — back.
Plus the large piece of lettuce hanging over the top felt like a big middle finger. It felt like my meal was taunting me, "Look how small this burger is, loser."
The Jr. cheeseburger seemed cute
First Impression: Enveloped in the weighted blanket that was a warm bun, this option looked cute — if you could consider factory-processed meat that has been cooked at a highly regulated temperature cute.
With no lettuce and tomato, this order was stripped down to its most basic flavors.
The pickles and onions were a great combo
Review: This burger was very nice. I liked the pickle-onion combination, and the ketchup stood out, too. It was a step above the kind of frozen patty you'd make at home on a hot plate, but certainly not as good as the one you'd get at a cookout.
The flavors went well together, but unless you walk into Wendy's thinking, "Wow, I just want a hamburger," I'd say get something else.
The Jr. hamburger looked very plain
First Impression: This kind of looked sad compared to the behemoths that it stood next to on the menu.
Honestly, if the Jr. hamburger is the worst thing on this list, I think it will reflect how fantastic all of the other burgers are rather than how bad this one is.
But it's a hamburger. You don't go to Wendy's for just a hamburger.
This looked so sad, and I felt like I was eating Charlie Brown's Christmas tree
Review: I felt a kind of honor biting into this one. The pickles were crunchy, the onion had zip, the ketchup was good, but the meat was pretty underseasoned.
It was so small, with just a single sliver of onion and a couple of tiny pickles. I felt like I was eating the tiny "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree. Still, that tree got picked last for a reason.
Division-5 winner: The Jr. bacon cheeseburger was the best of this large pool
Honestly, an argument could be made for the deluxe, but I think the bacon helped push this option over the edge — it also slightly seasoned the meat.
That said, I didn't see this winner advancing very far in the ultimate playoff.
Division 6: The bacon jalapeño burgers had 3 formidable-looking contenders
Wendy's added a kick of spice to its menu with its bacon jalapeño burgers. Each order is topped with pickled jalapeños, bacon, cheese, fried onions, cheese sauce, and jalapeño sauce.
I loved seeing crispy onion on the bacon jalapeño cheeseburger
First Impression: I was excited about the addition of crispy onions, which totally can't miss on a burger. Jalapeño would never be my first move, but I was interested to see what Wendy's did with that choice as well.
Again, this one had no other vegetables, but that hadn't been a deal-breaker so far. Although for a place that takes pride in its vegetables, it is kind of weird that Wendy's skimps out on them so much.
The hot jalapeños made this burger
Review: Excellent. The cheese sauce was good, but not on Taco Bell's level, which knocked it down a peg.
The jalapeños were delicious and gave the burger a real kick. Those crispy onions also elevated the whole thing. Even amid the rest of the burger, I could taste the onion grease.
I struggled to figure out where to rank this one because it was so different from everything else I tried. I liked that Wendy's took a shot with the cheese sauce even if it didn't quite hit.
Overall, the onions and jalapeños made this better, but cheese sauce brought it down.
The bacon jalapeño double cheeseburger looked especially promising
First Impression: I feel like I said all I could the first time, but I'm trying to approach this like a golfer. No matter how many times I square up a put, it's different.
The double burger was the best size, and this seemed to be where the bacon jalapeño double cheeseburger separated itself from the rest.
But would the lack of vegetables be OK spread out over two patties? Would there be enough sauce? I was skeptical.
This burger was one of my favorites
Review: This was one of my favorite burgers. The jalapeño had a lot of bite, and the cheese balanced everything out. It was like ballpark nachos between a bun.
My only complaint was that it didn't have produce. I'd love a crisp, fresh onion or tomato on here.
The bacon jalapeño triple cheeseburger looked like the best triple
First Impression: This was the only triple that I actually believed might have been as good as the originals, but only because I thought the jalapeño had a strong enough flavor to carry across three patties.
Still, I just didn't know why I needed this much meat.
I could not have opened my mouth any wider
Review: If you want an approximation of just how wide the human mouth can open, this should be your measuring stick.
My first impression was spot on. The jalapeños added enough variety to avoid making this one taste like a meat sandwich.
Still, the double was more manageable and, therefore, better to eat.
Division-6 winner: The bacon jalapeño double cheeseburger was the best in this bracket
I may have been skeptical about the cheese sauce and lack of vegetables, and although those points still stand, this burger was still so good on its own.
And frankly, it might compete for the overall title.
Division 7: I expected stiff competition between these 3 Pretzel Bacon Pub cheeseburgers
This line of Wendy's burgers is dressed to the nines in toppings and upgrades.
From the pretzel bun, beer-cheese sauce, bacon, honey mustard, fried onions, pickles, and Muenster cheese, these options are anything but ordinary.
The Pretzel Bacon Pub cheeseburger looked like a delicious mess
First Impression: This certainly looked like the best burger on the list, with apologies to the Baconator. Forget the beer-cheese sauce, the fact that Wendy's included honey mustard on this is incredible.
Fried onions are classic, but the thing that caught my eye was the Muenster cheese. That was a bold move for a fast-food restaurant, and I wouldn't have trusted any other place to get it right.
The onion bits smelled incredible, and I was excited to dig in.
I shouldn't have let this one get cold
Review: This was a delicious burger, but don't let it get cold.
Temperature doesn't usually make a huge difference, but there were too many moving parts here to let it sit — I'm talking about even the time it takes to get back to your home.
The Muenster cheese, onion, pretzel, and beer-cheese sauce, which I couldn't really taste, were very heavy. The light pickle flavor and fluffy pretzel bun held this meal together.
I had to hand it to Wendy's, I've had worse pub burgers. This was a solid offering.
The Pretzel Bacon Pub double was more balanced
First Impression: I was excited to take another crack at this burger. I felt like a lot was going on the first time around, and I was optimistic that having two patties could help balance out the flavors a little bit more.
However, I was slightly worried the honey mustard would get lost in the meat.
It was the only double I liked less
Review: I liked this option less than the first one. Throughout most of this taste test, two patties had been the perfect amount of meat for a burger, but the toppings felt like they got lost in this case.
The pickle was the only thing that saved this meal. Everything else got utterly overpowered.
The Pretzel Bacon Pub triple probably shouldn't exist
First Impression: Fear gripped me stronger than I could grip this hamburger, which was massive.
I didn't think I'd be able to get my mouth around it. Why did I do this to myself? Why must every meal be a feast?
I stared at the meat like a reflective pool. I couldn't imagine it would be better than the double, which had already lost so much of the delicious flavors and textures of the original. And yet … I had to eat it.
I'm convinced this burger could've been designed by children
Review: As expected, this burger was a wall of meat. The heroes should have used this on "Game of Thrones" to keep those pesky White Walkers out.
Frankly, I was disappointed it didn't have cheese between every meat layer, which likely would've made this meal better. Muenster must be pretty expensive.
The burger was not bad by any means, but it felt like a mix of ingredients a kid would think an adult likes. I can even envision a fictional world in which Wendy's got a pack of 8-year-olds together to design the burger.
Wendy's executive: How many patties would you like to see?
8-year old: *Holds up three fingers* This many.
Wendy's executive: What kind of vegetables would you like?
8-year-old: Vegetables are gross.
Wendy's executive: You're right, I'm so sorry. What kind of cheese should we do? American, Swiss, or Muenster?
8-year-old: The monster. That sounds scary.
Wendy's executive: Yes, it is very scary. OK, anything else that you think adults would like?
Wendy's executive: Oh, excellent choice. That's why we pay you the big bucks. *Hands the kid a chocolate coin*
The original Pretzel Bacon Pub Cheeseburger eked out a victory
Overall, this division was kind of disappointing compared to the other burgers I had tried so far, but I liked the single version the most. It was balanced enough for me to enjoy each ingredient separately.
Finally, I sat down to calculate my results
I sat back to catch my breath, trying not to think about all that I'd consumed over four trips to Wendy's.
"You were here yesterday, right?" an employee asked at some point.
I feel sodium in my blood and cheese sauce coursing through my veins. But it was worth it because I have determined Wendy's best burger with the help of my elaborate ranking system.
Let's start at the bottom. The Jr. burgers have to occupy the lowest spot. Every self-respecting burger joint needs to have a section like this, so you can't fault Wendy's. These are the extras in a movie. You need them, but nobody watches the movie for the extras — except maybe the extras themselves.
The Pub burgers came next, which was an upset considering I had high hopes for them. As a group, these burgers were just too much.
The flavor profile was just too busy, and I couldn't get my mouth around them, in every sense of the phrase. Even the single Pub burger, which was the top of the group, couldn't quite cut it.
Dave's line of burgers was also solid, but it suffered from some of the same issues as the Jrs. I don't go to Wendy's to have a regular burger, no matter how high it ranks on the fast-food chain.
Despite some strong competition, the Baconator won the gold
Now, we're getting down to the real contenders.
The bacon jalapeño double cheeseburger, Big Bacon cheddar cheeseburger, and Baconator all had excellent qualities.
The pepper on the bacon jalapeño double cheeseburger offered a unique kick, but as a whole, this option suffered from an underwhelming cheese sauce and couldn't compete with the winner.
I didn't want to rank the Big Bacon cheddar cheeseburger above the Baconator after one taste test — that would feel sacrilegious. It was absolutely the second-best burger, but if somebody wants to buy me another one, I'll tell you if I change my mind.
Ultimately, the Baconator was just too excellent. It felt like riding in the fastest car in the world, completely stripped down of anything that could hold it back.
This order was shamelessly everything that you could ask for in a burger.
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