It seems simple. Take a bun, stick ground beef in between and you have a hamburger. But as I found out, not all burgers are built alike. Take, for example, news stories detailing The FleurBurger 5000, a hamburger that actually sold for $5,000 in Las Vegas. The price tag might dictate that it’s a culinary masterpiece, but personally, I don’t think it holds a fork or a knife to the burgers right here in Iowa.

Recently, the Iowa Cattleman’s Association and Iowa Beef Council nominated 10 burgers for the title of Iowa's best beef burger. The contest strives to prove that the burger reigns supreme in a state where the quality of beef is known worldwide.

I decided to check out some of the nominees. I headed east to the 61 Chophouse in Mediapolis. Chef and co-owner Terence Reis designed the burger to match its Iowa surroundings. He calls it the Barn Burger, complete with hay (onion straws) mounded on top.

“I wanted the eight-ounce burger to be big like a barn, so it has towering onion straws and is capped off with a special egg bun that is baked in the Twin Cities.”

Another top 10 burger is the Cy-Hawk burger from the Farmer’s Kitchen in Atlantic. This burger boasts locally grown beef, bacon and vegetables and an imported garlic butter bun from nearby Omaha. Mark Johnson, owner of the Farmer’s Kitchen, serves the burger with a knife stuck through the top and plenty of paper towels to mop up the homemade chipotle barbecue sauce.

Not all the best burger nominees sport the fancy fixin’s. A popular burger joint in Coon Rapids, the Coon Bowl III bowling alley, serves burgers the old-fashioned way—with a slice of American cheese and a slab of bacon, if requested.

Coon Bowl III co-manager Cindy Heydon re­­minds new customers that their vegetable burger isn’t for vegetarians. The veggie burger features a fresh, never frozen, 100 percent beef patty topped with tomato, onion and lettuce—a “cow in the garden,” as one customer described it.

With so many excellent restaurants vying for the title of Iowa’s Best Burger, the cattlemen hide the identities of the judges. One judge anonymously commented that many nominees had “creative garnishing, ranging from fried eggs to hot peppers to onion strings, but in the final determination, it was the quality and taste of the beef which held the judges’ attention.”

On Monday the Rusty Duck restaurant was named the 2011 Best burger in the state. What's the secret that set his burger above the rest you might ask?

The secret to his great burgers, Waldron said, is beef. Well, it’s a little more detailed than that. “It’s fresh-ground, hand-pattied beef.”

Waldron buys choice boxed beef and cuts his own steaks. The trim from the top loin and sirloin goes into the grinder and becomes the ground beef for his burgers. Then he hand-patties the grind into two sizes – 14 ounces, and 8 ounces.

This spring make sure you take time to sample the burgers and if you are looking for a fun weekend road trip head to Atlantic, Mediapolis, Dexter or any of the other stops. Guaranteed your family will have fun and knowing Iowa's vibrant landscape and history there will be plenty of things to do along the way! For a list of the top ten burgers you can follow this link:

Written by Joe Murphy
Joe is a photographer and writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.