For me, frozen burgers induce fear and wonder in equal measures. "Morbid curiosity," you might say. Judging by the results of a recent poll about these frozen, ready-to-microwave burgers, the majority of AHT'ers (65 percent) are foes of frozen burgers, but the remaining 35 percent, along with several commenters, admitted to eating them in extenuating circumstances (when no other burgers are available), or because they actually like certain brands (White Castle sliders in particular).
One commenter suggested a taste test. At the time, it seemed like the only logical thing to do. By the end, I ended up regretting it, but also learned a few things along the way.
I searched the frozen food section of three major grocery store chains (Albertsons, Ralph's, and Grocery Outlet) to gather as many different brands as possible. The seven different frozen burgers I discovered can be divided into two camps: full-sized burgers and mini-burgers. The only other major difference was whether or not they had cheese (the Banquet and Ballpark burgers were the only cheese-free burgers). Here are all of the brands I tried. Weight measures include buns, cheese, and toppings (when applicable):
- Fast Bites Cheeseburger ($1.50 for one 4.9-ounce cheeseburger)
- Kroger One Minute Cheeseburger ($1.99 for one 4.6-ounce cheeseburger)
Mini Burgers and Sliders
- Ballpark Flame Grilled Sliders ($2.99 for six 1.8-ounce mini burgers)
- Fast Fixin' On the Go! Flame-Broiled Cheeseburgers ($6.99 for six 3.5-ounce cheeseburgers)
- Banquet Burger Sliders ($2.99 for six 3.5-ounce mini burgers)
- White Castle Microwaveable Cheeseburgers ($4.49 for six 1.8-ounce sliders)
- Weight Watchers Smart Ones Mini Cheeseburgers ($2.99 for two 2.5-ounce mini burgers)
Given that it's not fair to compare frozen burgers to anything but other frozen burgers, I was looking for the best burger of the bunch, not evaluating the frozen burgers using the same standards as a burger you'd get from a restaurant or fast food chain (or make yourself, at home), though it turned out in the end that at least one sample fared favorably to its restaurant counterpart.
That being said, microwaveable frozen burgers should at least somewhat resemble fresh burgers in terms of flavor, texture, and overall appearance. At minimum, the patty should be beefy, the cheese should be melted, and the bun should be warm, soft, and squishy.
Of all the burgers I tried, there were two that stood out as clear favorites, one in each of the full-sized and mini burger categories: the Kroger one minute cheeseburger and the White Castle microwaveable cheeseburgers.
The main problem among the failed burgers was the beef. In most cases, the patties tasted like salty meat mush—no beefiness per se, just a general "this is probably meat" feeling. Taken together with the cheese and the bun (which got soggy in the microwave), you end up with a mushy, mono-flavor food unit.
Kroger One Minute Cheeseburger
The Kroger brand one minute cheeseburger is packaged individually, and sells for $1.99. The patty is about the same size as a fast food cheeseburger, but with a more substantial bun. Like all of the frozen patties, the beef was on the mushy side, but because it's flavored with "natural smoke flavor" it has a more pronounced savory flavor than any of the other burgers I tried. Depending on your personal preferences, this will either be a good thing or a bad thing. The smoke flavor is intense, like a Burger King burger. You'll either love it or hate it.
The other area where this burger excelled was its bun. It emerges from the microwave warmed through but not overly mushy. Its low point is the cheese, which looked decent before it was microwaved, but melted right into the patty and had no discernible flavor.
White Castle Microwaveable Cheeseburgers
White Castle's microwaveable mini cheeseburgers ($4.49 for six mini burgers) earned quite a few props in the frozen burger poll.
The beef is scant on these pint sized cheeseburgers and doesn't have much flavor on its own. The heavy lifting is left to the dehydrated onions, and they do a decent job of upping the overall flavor of the sliders. Combined with the slice of American cheese (which is nice and tangy) and the steamed bun, it's definitely one of the best brands on the market.
Kenji, who happens to live by a White Castle in NYC, volunteered to taste the frozen cheeseburgers side-by-side with fresh-from-the-store samples. Here's his take:
"They're pretty similar, although the microwaved versions are not quite as tender or pillowy (you also have to add your own ketchup and pickle). White Castle burgers are always as much about the onions as they are about the beef, and that's definitely the case here. I also tried following the steaming instructions on the back of the box (8 minutes on the stovetop or 15 in the oven), which is the way to go if you want true-to-store experience. They end up softer and more evenly cooked than in the microwave."
The microwave instructions on the back of the box suggest thawing the mini burgers in the fridge before microwaving them. This extra step pays off because the nuke time is cut nearly in half, from 60 seconds to 35. The less time the burgers spend in the microwave, the better, especially as far as the bun is concerned. When cooked from a thawed state, the bun was much less mushy.
So, what did I learn? Two things. One: just like with normal burgers, you need to be picky about where you get your frozen burgers, and two: empty burger boxes make a great cat fort.