Key Moments In Better Burger Innovation

How the humble hamburger became America’s favorite meal—again.

Hamburgers might seem pretty straightforward, but actually they’ve become vehicles for innovation as chefs around the world have started tinkering with the familiar formula, especially over the last 15 years. It makes sense: The concept–meat patty served on a bun–is simple enough that it serves as a blank canvas for creative food minds, whether they’re tinkering with 24K gold dust or unusual ingredients from the Far East. Here’s a look at some major milestones in the evolution of the hamburger from drive-thru staple to gourmet favorite.



Famed French chef Daniel Boulud introduces the Original db Burger, a then $27 (now $35) sandwich complete with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffles. As shocking as the Guinness World Record–setting price was, it established the once humble burger as a canvas for creative chefs.


Shake Shack launches using a custom hamburger blend that it produced in conjunction with the then-unknown New Jersey–based Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors. The one-of-a-kind creation features various cuts of meat, including pricey dry-aged rib eye, and when Shack burgers are a hit, they show that even a fast-food hamburger can be distinctive.


Elevation Burger opens in the Washington, D.C. area, becoming one of the first restaurants to sell organic burgers made from grass-fed, free-range beef to the masses. Chains like New York’s Bareburger and Florida’s BurgerFi follow in Elevation’s footsteps, further raising consumer awareness about where their meat comes from and how it’s raised.


Smashburger makes its debut, bringing localization to the better-burger trend. Thus far, it has created 44 varieties of its burger for the markets where the chain’s 300-plus stores reside, adding coleslaw, a regional BBQ sauce, and pimina cheese in Georgia, but tweaking it with a fried egg and grilled onions in Alberta, Canada.


L.A. restaurateur Adam Fleischman takes the better burger to new heights with Umami Burger, which combines Western burger obsession with cuisine from the Far East. Umami incorporates popular Japanese ingredients, including miso, wasabi, shiitake mushrooms, and a patented Umami Dust into its line of savory burgers.


Taking the ethical burger trend to its logical extreme, Grazin’ Farm-to-Table: Direct opens in Hudson, New York, just a 20-minute drive from its own 300 head of grass-fed, free-range Black Angus steer. The restaurant’s complete transparency with its sourcing earns Grazin’ the title of the world’s first Animal Welfare Approved restaurant, a certification only given to farmers who raise animals “to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards.”



45 years after opening its doors in Santa Barbara, California, the Habit Burger Grill—known for its open-flame charburger, which recently earned the title of best burger in America from Consumer Reports readers—becomes the first better-burger chain to file for an IPO. Its stock price skyrockets 100% within the first day of trading, paving the way for Shake Shack to go public two months later.

Related: Burger Rap Battle: In-N-Out Vs. Shake Shack

About the author

Nikita Richardson is an assistant editor at Fast Company magazine.