Although thousands of readers filed votes in our Seattle Burger Battle, nearly every Elite Eight match-up was a nail-biter: Lil Woody's, Blue Moon Burgers, Skillet and Lunchbox Laboratory just squeaked past their competitors.
But when the four finalists were last night presented to a judging panel of Voracious contributors for a blind tasting, their point tallies weren't exactly tight: Lil Woody's ran away with the win, besting its nearest rival by 20 points. All eight tasters agreed Lil Woody's burger was the standout of the bunch, praising its beefy, meaty flavor.
The runners-up were criticized for their bland seasoning, rubbery patties and overabundance of pickles and sauce. As a measure of how strongly the judges disliked the non-Lil Woodys burgers, the four burgers which had been reserved for glamor shots and double-check bites sat untouched at the end of the evening. When eight food bloggers shun free sandwiches, that's a clear sign of poor craftsmanship.
"I'm so surprised, because Skillet's so hyped," Jen Chiu said, sizing up the uneaten $14 patty.
Each judge was presented with a quarter wedge of a burger identified only by number. Appearance wasn't ranked, but judges were asked to score the burger on beefiness; seasoning; texture; cooking (referring not to personal temperature preferences, but the smokiness, char and other properties associated with the grill) and balance. Each category was assigned a 20-point scale, so the top possible cumulative score was an 800, same as the SATs.
None of the burgers surpassed the 400-point threshold, but judges felt readers probably sent the right patties to the finals. Sonja Groset wished Ma'Ono had made the cut, but conceded it was hard to compare the $19 burger to other contenders. Naomi Bishop felt Met Grill's burger could have fared well in the finals - "It tasted more like beef than any burger I've tasted for ages," she said - and if I'd had my druthers, Brave Horse Tavern and Katsu Burger would have participated in the tournament's last round.
Still, even with a slightly different line-up, Lil Woody's impressively simple burger probably had a good shot to emerge as the victor. Its success certainly wasn't dented by Zippy's Giant Burgers' entry.
From top to botom: Zippy's, Skillet, Lunchbox Laboratory, Blue Moon, Lil Woodys
As I explained in the tournament's introductory post, we ruled out every restaurant beyond the city limits in order to keep the bracket relatively manageable. "Sorry, Zippy's," I wrote. But my explanation didn't stem the outcry from White Center, so I agreed to vault Zippy's straight to the finals, presenting it alongside the burgers which earned their way there through reader vote.
So did the burger benefit from the save? Sorry, Zippy's.
Zippy's failed miserably in our tasting, impressing judges only with its awfulness. Judges agreed the over-sauced patty was saddled with way too much black pepper, and the slew of raw onions didn't improve matters.
"That burger's shitty," Megan Hill said tactfully.
Although the city-only rule riled the most readers, the formatting decision which upset the next biggest group of voters was the randomized pairing system. As I recently e-mailed a reader who wrote "it's a shame when great legit burgers like Red Mill are compared with shi-shi luxe burgers like Lunchbox Lab," we felt it was fairer to group all kinds of burgers together:
There is no single objective definition of burger greatness -- and we wanted to find the greatest burger. It was up to the voters to determine whether greatest meant grass-fed beef, lots of toppings or a flimsy white bun. We might talk about plain and fancy, but I'd consider both Red Mill and Lunchbox to be examples of the latter. While I can imagine a format in which Dick's and Met Grill might be placed in two different divisions, I can't fathom a rational system which would separate Lunchbox from Red Mill. Once you get too specific, you're dealing with four-burger brackets, which aren't much fun for anyone.
That's mostly true, but we didn't leave definitions of greatness entirely up to voters. By choosing to compare unadorned cheeseburgers, we were essentially declaring that the meat salads which many topping-centric burger joints serve don't qualify as great burgers in our book. Zippy's burger might have been fine buried under Mama Lil's peppers, but it was a travesty of basic burgerdom. What matters most to us is that a burger's balanced and beefy - and that's an apt description of the winning burger available at Lil Woody's.