A restaurant in the Black Hills town of Custer has been named the best place in America to buy burgers by the travel website Trip Advisor. In a country where 40 billion burgers are consumed annually, that’s quite a moniker to live up to. Today we visit “Black Hills Burger and Bun” to find out what patrons think of the eatery’s new status and to do a little taste-testing himself.
Like the greater majority of people in America, I love a good burger. And though I eat a good many of them from my own kitchen…..
There’s nothing quite like the experience of sitting down in a restaurant and being served a nice, juicy burger – with or without all the toppings.
But the quality of any burger varies depending on where you buy it, who cooked it, the type of meat they use, how they cook it…the list goes on. In fact, there are probably as many ways to cook a burger as there are thousands of restaurants to buy them in. That makes naming anyone’s burger “best” in the country quite a claim – and a challenge.
That’s why I’m standing on the sidewalk outside “Black Hills Burger and Bun” in Custer, along with a dozen other would-be patrons. We’re all waiting for our chance to sample what Trip Advisor recently named “The Best Burger in the Country”.
Nearby are Ed and Ruth Black. The 75-year old Iowans are visiting the Black Hills for their honeymoon.
What made them come to this place?”
“Recommendation of my son," explains Ed. "My youngest son and his wife have a place south of here.”
“(It’s)…supposed to be one of the Top Ten or some burger places in the United States, I think," adds Ruth.
Close enough. Since the small-town restaurant was named number one in the nation back in July, wait times to get a seat have increased to about 40 minutes.
Jessica Smith is part of the family that owns “Black Hills Burger and Bun”. She says reactions are varied when people are told just how long they’ll be holding off their hunger.
“A lot of people they’ll be okay with an hour wait," observes Jessica. "And some days I tell people 15 minutes and everybody says ‘No’. When we have that many people trying to eat, I just physically can’t feed that many people every day.”
The restaurant seats about 30, with room for 20 more at café tables outside. It’s a comfortable environment, but certainly not large. With serving limited to 3-hours each during lunch and dinner “Black Hills Burger and Bun” can’t necessarily seat everyone who’d like to eat here.
Even so, the restaurant’s growing fan base isn’t deterred.
Callie Ackerman and Kati Smith are also in line for burgers.
“I’m on my lunch break and I love eating here," explains Callie. "(Their) burgers are great.”
“I love it," says Kati. "They’re amazing. It’s number one in my book…yeah.”
But that’s the local take…since both Callie and Kati work in Custer.
Let’s go back inside Black Hills Burger and Bun and see if we can find someone with no ties to the area. (pause) Bingo! The Sudemires from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Raleigh and his wife Serra are here on vacation. After reading about its ranking on-line, they stopped by to test the best burger in the nation. Serra can’t speak for the entire country, but says the Sudemires have been around the proverbial burger block.
“It was the best burger we’ve ever head," she comments.
"Why?” I ask.
"It’s juicy," she explains. "The bread was delicious…the guacamole was fabulous.”
Okay. My Brooklyn curiosity is intrigued. So, let’s just step behind the counter and talk to the man who cooks these burgers that folks will wait in long lines to taste and then rave about…Claude Smith.
“Our beef isn’t local," Claude explains. "Because we sell nothing but fresh...and I..I cannot get a supplier that can supply me with fresh USDA choice chuck every day.”
That point aside, Claude Smith says what makes his burgers unique is their quality….choice chuck ground fresh daily, the way they’re cooked – juicy but not greasy, and the buns they’re served on…baked every morning and then only a certain number. So…whenever the buns are gone during the dinner meal, burgers are no longer served.
Christie Smith says part of the secret may also be her husband’s love of hamburgers.
“Like we would go out to eat and that would be the one thing that he would choose and eat wherever we would go," Christie recalls.
In fact, notes Claude, he prefers burgers over steak.
I order a classic burger.
And while I’m waiting to test my own burger, let’s make the rounds to catch up with our newlywed…Ruth Black…
Local worker Katie Smith…
And Serra Sudemire’s 7-year old nephew, Kevin…
As for me…I think it's really good. Really good.
All right. I’ve had the opportunity to visit 44 states and have had burgers in each of them. Like Claude Smith, it’s my order of choice. I can’t say Black Hills Burger and Bun has the best burger in the nation, but it’s definitely right up there…. lean, juicy and fresh.
But as Christie Smith explains, her husband’s intention was never to make the best burger in the nation, but the best that he could serve. If their lines of customers are any indication, Black Hills Burger and Bun is accomplishing that goal…hundreds of times very day.