Past winners of Best Burger contest share tips, advice as 2019 competition heats up

Lexie Troutman
Ames Tribune, Iowa

Iowa’s Best Burger contest is underway for the tenth year, and two of the past winners have come out of Ames. Their advice to whoever wins this year? Be ready.

Jason Mikkelson, owner of Brick City Grill, 2704 Stange Road, won the contest in 2014. He says that even now, when he has customers from out of town, they want to know which burger of his won.

“For us it wasn’t one particular burger. It was the burger menu in general,” Mikkelson said. “The judges that came, we didn’t know who they were at the time, but each of the judges got a different burger.”

Mikkelson said that when they found out they had been nominated, the restaurant had only been open for about one year, and after they found out that they had won, things started to get crazy.

“We were still trying to make a name for ourselves, so that first summer after we won it, it was crazy,” Mikkelson said. “We got to a point where we actually had to close in the afternoon for a couple hours just to prep because we would run out of product. We had to get more burgers ready just for the night.”

Cafe Beaudelaire, located at 2504 Lincoln Way, was the winner of last year’s contest.

Walter Jahncke is a cook at the restaurant, and when it was announced that they had won, the team’s reaction was the same as Mikkelson’s.

“(We were) excited but then it was prepare, prepare, prepare, almost immediately,” Jahncke said.

He said that when it was announced that they had won, it was during the same week as Iowa State University’s spring graduation.

“We had a line out the door from open to close pretty much all the way to Sunday,” Jahncke said.

The contest is put on by the Iowa Beef Industry Council and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

“The contest is really a way for us to promote beef within the state, to promote our cattle producers as well as help out those restaurants to gain more recognition,” said Katie Olthoff, director of communications at the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

Olthoff said that after the top 10 restaurants are chosen, three top secret judges go to each restaurant within a month. After they try the burgers, they fill out a form to hand in to the organizations about their assessment of each restaurant.

Olthoff said that burgers must be 100 percent beef and served on a bun or bread product.

During last year’s contest, the two organizations received over 10,000 nominations featuring 700 restaurants.

Customers are able to nominate their favorite burgers and the top 10 with the most nominations will be visited by a secret panel of judges. Nominations are open until 5 p.m. on March 11. The nomination forms are available on the Iowa Beef Industry Council website, and the winner will be announced on May 1.

For the 10 restaurants that will soon be competing for this coveted spot, Mikkelson had one thing to say.

“If you win, get ready,” Mikkelson said. “Your life will be turned upside down for three or four months.”