Whenever we run articles such as the one we’re featuring on this month’s cover—about the best burgers in Minnesota—I tend to get a lot of questions from readers. How do we know they’re the best? How many places did we try? Should turkey burgers be considered real burgers?
Readers are right to be skeptical, and not just about the taxonomy of turkey burgers. “Best of” stories aren’t exactly the equivalent of cracking Watergate, but it does takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to do them well: The vast majority of the work consists of visiting, cataloging, and judging places that won’t make the cut, that ultimately won’t appear in the magazine (not that anybody on our staff is complaining about having to eat burgers, mind you).
A Herculean effort certainly went into this month’s cover story. Written by the magazine’s food czar, senior editor Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, the piece does two things. First, it argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, burgers are the definitive Minnesota foodstuff. Not hotdish. Not walleye. Not wild rice. Not lutefisk. Burgers. Second—and most important—the story identifies the 18 greatest burgers in the state: the dozen-and-a-half places that all meat-eating Minnesotans should visit before they pass from this earth.
Finding 18 great burgers in Minnesota might not seem like a terribly intimidating task. To come up with that select group, however, Grumdahl visited pretty much every place in Minnesota that serves any hunk of beef that could possibly even resemble a burger: Austin, Cloquet, Coates, Miesville. Indeed, my usual routine upon receiving one of her expense reports—after I’d managed to stop myself from hyperventilating over the cost of gasoline—was to turn to the big map of Minnesota in our office to try and find where she’d been, as if I was tracking her progress across the polar ice cap. At one point, I became convinced that she was making places up. There cannot possibly be a town in Minnesota called Butternut, can there? (There is.)
By the time she was done, Grumdahl had driven several thousand miles, visited more than 60 burger joints, and consumed God knows how many calories. Then, to sort out all the information she had gathered on the road—to compare experiences that might seem vastly different—she came up with a formula that takes into account everything from a burger’s flavor to the ambiance of the place where she ate it. She calls it the Burger Inherent Awesomeness Quotient. And while that may be a tongue-in-cheek name, it does illustrate the rigor with which she approached the story.
The final result is a definitive guide to the state’s definitive summer food. I have no illusion that everyone will agree with all of the choices.
Naming the best of anything—be it burgers or beaches or plumbers—essentially guarantees dissent, and we invite you to tell us where we’ve gone wrong. But my hope is that even those who don’t agree recognize that we’ve taken up this task in good faith; that, at the very least, we’ve saved you some time, some effort, some money, some cholesterol points—and at least one trip to Butternut.