What Makes Culver's Burgers So Good?

And what the heck is a ButterBurger anyway?

A double cheese burger with all the fixin's on a yellow and blue background.
Photo: Culver's/Allrecipes

You might not be able to find two words that sum up Wisconsin cuisine better than "butter" and "burger." Dairy and beef. (The cheese, of course, is implied.)

As if two words were too many, Culver's, the Sauk City, Wisc.-born fast food franchise, smashed them into one: ButterBurger®, and proceeded to build an empire of some 900 eateries across 26 states from Arizona and Idaho to Ohio and Florida. And while many diners associate Culver's with its creamy frozen custard, the somehow more decadent-sounding sandwiches get top billing on the big blue signs you spot along the highway—an honor well-deserved.

What is a ButterBurger?

There are some who claim that the hamburger itself is a Wisconsin tradition, invented out of necessity by a 15-year-old boy at the 1885 Seymour County Fair who smooshed his meatballs between two slices of bread to make them easily portable for passing fairgoers. Regardless of whether you buy that carnival barking, the butter burger has firmer, if not exactly simpler, roots in The Badger State. They reach back to the 1930s and a pair of burger joints, Kroll's in Green Bay and Solly's Grille in Glendale, that both lay claim to having conjured the greasy treat. Both recipes entail topping the patty with real Wisconsin butter while it was sizzling on the grill, letting the rich, creamy goodness ooze into the meat. From that time on, diners, drive-ins, and greasy spoons across the state have applied everything from a smear to a pat of melty butter to their burgers.

How Does Culver's Make Its ButterBurgers?

The restaurant that made the butter burger world famous takes a different tack entirely. Since it opened its first location in 1984, Culver's has been making its ButterBurgers with less emphasis on the first two syllables. Rather than smothering, dipping, drizzling, or even frying the patties in butter, they merely add a touch of the golden spread (sourced from a family-owned Wisconsin creamery near Sauk City HQ) to the crown of the toasted bun.

As a result, the butter is in the back of your mind as you bite into the seared beef, which is the real star of the ButterBurger. Pressed on the griddle smash burger-style, the patty has delectably crispy fringes around a juicy, medium-cooked center much meatier than your typical smash burger. "The Original" is understated: one patty seasoned only with salt and pepper, topped with pickles, onion, ketchup, and mustard. We humbly recommend an upgrade to "The Culver's Deluxe," which adds a second 100%-beef patty, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and two slices of Wisconsin cheese.

And if that's not Wisconsin enough for you, sub out fries for a side of squeaky fried cheese curds. Side of butter, optional.

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