Here in Wisconsin, we were unsatisfied with adding just one dairy product to our hamburgers. That’s why you’ll find yet another delicious tradition in our state – the butter burger.
If you grew up eating these kinds of sandwiches, we’re willing to bet your salivary glands just kicked in and maybe a little bit of drool started running down your chin. That’s understandable.
Butter burgers are a mainstay of greasy-spoon diners from Marinette to Milwaukee. We put together a list of some of our favorites.
The minimum qualifications for a butter burger is to have a slightly toasted and buttered bun. But the majority of hamburger-lovers in Wisconsin would say that’s not nearly enough. Most really good butter burgers will either have butter melted on top of the patty or mixed in as an ingredient with the ground beef.
And hey – why not both? Some people might think butter, beef and cheese is a recipe for a heart attack on a bun. But don’t forget… butter made the cover of TIME magazine in 2014 with the news that it’s not as bad as we thought. In fact, butter may actually be healthy for you.
One notable restaurant we excluded from this list is Culver’s. The Wisconsin-based restaurant chain calls their trademarked ButterBurger (one word) “The Original.” However, that’s most likely a bit of a stretch.
Culver’s opened for business in 1984. Prior to that, founder Craig Culver’s parents owned a restaurant in the 1960s. Yet some of the restaurants on this list have been around even longer. Take Kroll’s for example. They’ve been operating for more than 70 years.
- Find out more about Culver’s and other Big Name Brands from Wisconsin
After all, we are America’s Dairyland. So you have to assume that kitchens all over the state were using butter on burgers long before anyone decided to trademark the idea.
1. Kroll’s – Green Bay
We begin our list with a Green Bay area institution. Kroll’s has locations on the east and west sides of the city. The two restaurants are owned by different families. But the food – including the burgers – is pretty close to the same.
The west-side location has a retro diner feel and is just across Ridge Road from Lambeau field, making it a favorite spot for tailgaters and Packers pregame parties.
The east Green Bay Kroll’s is more like a family-friendly tavern atmosphere with dark wood and dim lighting. But both locations have those fun little call buttons you can push to get your server to come to your table.
According to the the Kroll’s West website, Harry and Caroline Kroll were serving food in a family-owned hotel and decided to open their own restaurant in the 1930s. The Kroll’s burger was born at the east-side location on Main Street. The city designated the building a historic location in 2010.
Kroll’s West was originally in downtown Green Bay, and moved to its current location in 1974. Inside you’ll find the famous “Signature Wall,” which features the autographs of athletes, politicians and other celebrities.
Even though they’ve been owned by separate families since 1945, both of these diners are Green Bay classics. The experience of visiting is just as important as your meal. It’s not for everyone – but there are many people who grew up in the area that will always make a point to stop in. Here’s what one reviewer had to say about Kroll’s on Yelp.
“To put Krolls in perspective, I was thinking about it too much one Sunday and drove from Milwaukee to Green Bay and back just to have it.
It’s not fancy and it’s not Kobe beef, but it’s the greasy yummy burger I crave. The bun is crispy, the ketchup, cheese and butter (yes butter) ooze together to form a perfect juicy greasy river that flows into your mouth with every bite.”
In the video below, you can see some behind the scenes video from Kroll’s West with Travel Channel host Adam Richman as he chows down on a double cheeseburger.
2. Mihm’s Charcoal Grill – Menasha
People in the Fox Cities rave about the burgers and fish at Mihm’s Charcoal Grill in Menasha. During my stint at the local newspaper, I got to find out why.
This just might be my favorite burger in Northeast Wisconsin. I think it’s because the burger does have a good charcoal grill flavor – as well as tons of butter!
Just like Kroll’s, Mihm’s has that classic diner feel – including a big U-shaped counter and a jukebox filled with an eclectic selection of music. They’re so old-school they don’t even accept credit or debit cards – so come prepared. If you go in on a Friday night – expect the place to be packed.
In addition to the typical hamburger or cheese burger, you can also order a steak burger. Pepperjack cheese curds and onion rings two more favorites at this establishment.
You’ll find that some people online will criticize what they feel is an overuse of butter. Then again, you’ll also find Yelp reviews on Mihm’s like this one:
“I live in Colorado, but my family lives in the area and I have been eating here for 35+ years. When I come to visit this is the first place I want to go when I get off the plane. Mihm’s has hands down the BEST burgers on the planet! I’ve been looking for years to find a burger that can equal Mihm’s and have yet to find one.”
If for some reason the butteriness is too much for you to handle – you can ask your Mihm’s server for “light butter” instead.
3. Zesty’s Frozen Custard – Allouez/Howard-Suamico
Culver’s isn’t the only place to feature burgers and custard. Frozen custard and butter burgers are a tradition that go hand-in-hand here in Wisconsin. Who can resist something salty and greasy followed by something creamy and sweet?
Zesty’s in the Green Bay area offers full menus at their Allouez and Howard restaurants. A third De Pere location is a frozen custard stand that is open seasonally.
Zesty’s recreates that familiar retro diner feel of the ’50s and ’60s. It feels like the kind of place where the Happy Days gang would hang out.
You can order their original burgers or get the beefier 1/3 pound burgers. All the meat is fresh and never frozen, and Zesty’s uses non-trans fat oils. The custard is also made fresh – not just daily – but every three hours. People love the Zesty’s calendar that lets you know what the frozen custard flavor of the day is. One of the most popular flavors features Mint Melataway’s from Seroogy’s Chocolates in De Pere.
This is also a great place to grab a bowl of homemade chicken booyah. Root beer floats are made with Titletown’s SnoCap root beer. The menu includes Chicago-style hot dogs and much more.
- Visit Zesty’s website for more
4. Mickey Lu Bar-B-Q – Marinette
Here’s another gem of a diner that folks say is frozen in time. Mickey Lu’s Bar-b-Q is one of those places that still has the gigantic EAT sign on the outside.
People in the area have made a lot of memories at this hamburger joint, which was established in 1942.
Blogger Mark Czerniec of the Racine-Kenosha area says when he visited, there was a newspaper clipping on the wall about a couple that had their first date at Mickey-Lu’s and went back for their 50th wedding anniversary.
You’ll often find owner Chuck Finnessy managing the charcoal grill. They serve up their buttery burgers on a Zemal hard roll – and also offer hot dogs and bratwurst.
Prices at this place may also be stuck in the past. A reviewer for RoadFood.com says “The key to Mickey Lu is two fold – charcoal smoke and low prices. The most expensive entree on the menu is the Cheeseburger…”
Nostalgia and tradition tend to play a big role in keeping restaurants like Mickey-Lu Barb-B-Q alive for decades. It’s one of those places that keeps bringing people back as this Yelp review explains.
“Having grown up in this area I know how good the dripping-in-butter cheeseburgers and chocolate malts are. They are so good that I will occasionally drive the 300+ miles round-trip from Milwaukee just to pig out here. It’s worth every mile. I eat there twice the day I arrive, stay over, and then eat there again on my way out of town the next day.”
5. Basil’s II – Denmark
If you’re a fan of Kroll’s hamburgers – you should check out the butter burgers at Basil’s II.
On the food site ChowHound.com, a former resident gave a newcomer to Green Bay some advice. He claims Basil’s II “serves the exact same burgers at better prices and better portions.”
There is some sort of connection to Basil’s and Kroll’s. Some reviewers say the current owner of Basil’s used to work at Kroll’s. Others claim Basil’s is “part of the Kroll’s family.” Still other folks say the flavor of these charcoal-grilled burgers is even better.
But to get these hamburgers – you may have to go off-the-beaten-path a bit. This country bar sits on a rural road just waiting for burger lovers like you to walk in. A review on TripAdvisor says make sure you’ve got good directions…
“Finding Basil’s is a matter of loading the address in one’s GPS, because it’s out in the cornfields of Denmark in a place called Fauntleroy outside of Green Bay, WI.”
- Visit the Basil’s II website
6. Village Inn Pizza Family Restaurant – New Holstein
A restaurant that has both butter burgers and classic Northeast Wisconsin-style cracker-thin crust pizza? Yes, please!
Head out to New Holstein for the best of both worlds at Village Inn Pizza Family Restaurant. They’ve got broasted chicken too.
Founder Earl W. DeSombre started serving pizzas and sub sandwiches here in 1978. A couple years later, he added a charcoal grill and chicken broaster. It’s since become a local treasure and is now run by Earl’s son, Tim. We added this place to our list after WhooNEW reader Jennifer told us about it. She says Village Inn makes – “True butter burgers! Definitely need more than one napkin when eating them!!”
People who eat here will also tell you about the famous steak sandwiches – like the Super Steak with Cheese. Here’s yet another former Wisconsinite on Yelp with a special place in his heart for a special restaurant.
This place is AH-MAY-ZING!! I grew up in town and live in Los Angeles now. However, every time I come visit the first thing I think about is getting here for a SuperSteak!!! This is the best sandwich ever!!!
Notice the use of capital letters and exclamation point abuse. That means he’s serious.
7. The Drift Inn – De Pere
The Drift Inn – just off Ashland Avenue in De Pere – might be the definition of a greasy spoon diner. It’s also known as Bud & Carol’s Drift Inn.
To call this restaurant a “dive” would be…well…pretty accurate. But you’ve probably realized by now that those types of places serve the best butter burgers.
My wife’s grandmother likes to take us to this spot every now and then. The staff makes you feel like a regular – even if you’re not. You’ll encounter what I like to call “Green Bay hospitality.” That’s when folks feel comfortable enough to joke around, be sarcastic and give you a hard time even if they’ve just met you. Being treated like a member of the family makes the food taste even better.
In addition to being known for Wisconsin butter burgers – the Drift Inn also serves up classic Green Bay-style chili with spaghetti noodles. Their chili has a reputation for being a bit less spicy than other recipes, but some say it is the best in town. One visitor from California described her experience at The Drift Inn on Yelp.
“I passed by the Drift Inn by chance, while looking for a place to grab something to go on a Thursday evening. The sign said best chili so I had to see!! I got the last available parking space in the lot and headed in. I ordered my bowl of to go chili and headed back to my hotel.
It was perfectly spiced, perfectly hot, and had spaghetti in the bottom! Yum! I thought it was a strange custom when the waitress offered it, but I was wrong! How have I made chili all these years without it? … Thank you to the waitress who helped me and did not judge me when I looked perplexed about the spaghetti! You were entirely right about it! I am so glad I tried! “
- Visit the Drift Inn website for more
8. The Charcoal Inn – Sheboygan
Whether you’re on the southside or the northside of Sheboygan – the Charcoal Inn and it’s two locations has a butter burger for you.
Sheboygan is a haven of Wisconsin food – especially brats. Various major publications have turned to the Charcoal Inn when writing about our state’s fare. They’ve been featured in the New York Times, Gourmet magazine, Money magazine, the Milwaukee Journal and The Chicago Tribune.
You’ll also find brats, perch and cheese curds. Plus, the Charcoal Inn is well-known for making an award-winning steak sandwich – served on a Sheboygan hard roll, of course.
Here’s what a Wisconsinite now living on the East Coast had to say about their food on Yelp.
“My favorite restaurant in the world. Is it fancy? Hell no. But I grew up with it back in the day when there were several competing charcoal grills in Sheboygan. No matter where I go (I live in NYC and Boston) I dream of this place and my favorite hamburger and chicken and dumpling soup on the planet.
I have filled a carry-on suitcase with their brats and burgers and eaten them for days in NYC.”
- Visit the Charoal Inn Sheboygan website
9. Gosse’s at Northwestern House – Sheboygan
Another Sheboygan eatery known for butter burgers is Gosse’s – which plainly states on its menu that “all sandwiches are served with a generous portion of butter.” So that includes brats, cheese steaks, pork chop and chicken sandwiches.
One thing that sets this place apart from others on this list is the atmosphere. It feels a bit more like a brew-pub than the typical greasy-spoon diner. There is a lot of memorabilia and railroad decor. But make no mistake – this is greasy comfort food at its best.
Gosse’s is also well-known for another Wisconsin diner tradition – broasted chicken – which has won Best of the Best in Sheboygan County. Even Milwaukee residents love this restaurant as you can see in this Yelp review.
“Just enough butter, so delicious and served on a Sheboygan hard roll. Can’t get those in Milwaukee! Their broasted chicken is also awesome and don’t get me started on the tortes! I’ve tried nearly all of their whipped cream-based confections and they’re the definition of a Wisconsin, Midwestern home dessert.”
10. Chester’s Drive In – Plymouth
Many of the diners on this list have retained their old-school feel or purposefully created a retro atmosphere. But Chester’s Drive-In takes it a step further.
This is a place where you can drive up and have a carhop serve you your butter burger and fries with an old-fashioned root beer in a glass mug. It’s a fun experience you won’t find at many places any more. They even have those trays that attach to your car window. FYI – this is another establishment that takes cash only.
The one downside to Chester’s? It closes for the season in October – making fans of their food wait until March to get their fix. But they do say absence makes the heart grow fond.
Chester’s Drive-In has been locally owned for more than four decades and is also known for its soft-serve ice cream treats.
One big fan of this fast food joint said in a Yelp review that the burgers are so good you may feel like eating the wrapper.
“Even the paper it comes wrapped in is worth a lick if not an outright nibble. These burgers will make you whimper, moan and beg for more.”
10. Solly’s Grille – Glendale
Solly’s Grille is an award-winning Milwaukee area eatery that’s just about as old as Kroll’s in Green Bay.
They’ve been family-owned since 1936. So here’s a perfect example of a place serving butter burgers decades before Culver’s.
Solly’s is also one of those local institutions that people love – although this place gets its fair share of national attention too. They’ve been featured on the Food Network and the Travel Channel.
Solly’s proudly uses real Wisconsin butter and fresh sirloin beef delivered from a local butcher on a daily basis. You can see just how much butter the cooks use in the video below. There’s no skimping going on here!
Current owner, Glenn Fieber, also says in the video that the late-great Solly might turn over in his grave if he found out his restaurant now offers veggie burgers. You can also get your butter burger on a gluten-free bun.
A review of Solly’s on RoadFood.com calls this the best burger ever.
“I’m a huge burger fan but nothing could prepare me for these puppies.
The freshest of toppings and the choicest meats make it my #1 burger…If you are anywhere near the state of Wisconsin, make this a must do on your list of fine dining establishments.”
12. Kopp’s Frozen Custard – Milwaukee
Kopp’s is a Milwaukee-based chain that has been around since 1950 – and is most famous for its frozen custard.
Elsa Kopp, a German immigrant, started the original stand to support her family when her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Kopp’s was apparently the first custard place to start offering a “flavor of the day.”
Today they operate locations in the Milwaukee suburbs of Greenfield, Glendale and Brookfield. The exterior of the Glendale location was the inspiration for Arnold’s Drive-In on Happy Days.
- Find out more about Happy Days and other Wisconsin TV shows
Butter burgers the other staple at Kopp’s. Staff from OnMilwaukee.com did head-to-head comparison of Kopp’s vs. Culver’s – and the results were unanimous. Kopp’s prevailed.
Food blogger Lacey Muszynski, from SeriousEats.com, confessed her personal “undying love” for food from Kopp’s.
“When I think of home, I get this Pavlovian urge for a burger and custard, most likely stemming from the fact that this was usually my family’s first meal back home after a trip. Now, it’s like a butter-laden homing beacon.”
13. Cinders Charcoal Grill – Appleton/Oshkosh
As the author of this post, I must admit, I was aware of Cinders in the Fox Cities – but I did not realize they served up delicious butter burgers.
Thanks to our helpful readers for pointing me in the right direction, because this place sounds like a great option for hamburger lovers of all kinds.
Cinders Charcoal Grill has locations in Appleton and Grand Chute as well as a restaurant in Oshkosh. I’m not 100% certain – but I believe the Oshkosh Cinders may have different ownership as they have a separate website and slightly different menu.
One thing that is unique about all three Cinders Charcoal Grill restaurants is that they stray from the classic burger with cheese and get more creative with their butter burger toppings.
For instance – in Appleton you can get a Harley Burger topped with shaved prime rib, mozzarella cheese and sauteed mushrooms, or choose the “BIG” Bleu with bleu cheese crumbles, dressing and fried haystacker onions. In Oshkosh you could order a Wisconsin Burger with three kinds of cheese and bacon. Plus, the Oshkosh location also has an Octoberfest Burger with 1000 Island, sauerkraut and horseradish sauce. There are a bunch of other options to check out.
- Visit the Appleton Cinders website
- Visit the Oshkosh Cinders website
- Find Appleton Cinders on Facebook
- Find Oshkosh Cinders on Facebook
14. Late’s BBQ – Manitowoc
I have yet to try Late’s in Manitowoc. But I have no idea why I’ve been waiting so long!
WhooNEW readers have recommended this old-school diner to us for a Wisconsin fish fry, deep-fried Wisconsin cheese curds and now it’s on our list for Wisconsin butter burgers too!
If you’re looking for an authentic Wisconsin burger joint experience – this seems like a pretty safe bet. Their hamburgers are often described as “dripping in butter.”
YouTuber Michael Jiroch shot the video below and tells a story about getting homesick for Late’s when he was away at college.
“I remember leaving Manitowoc for college and thinking I could always find some kind of rendition of the Late’s Burger somewhere in this world. But Au contraire, Mon frere. NOooooooo!…there is nothing like it anywhere in the world. Only in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.”
Try These Recipes to Make Butter Burgers at Home!
If you’ve read this entire post, and you’re not starving right now, there is something seriously wrong with you.
But don’t worry – if you need to calm your butter burger craving and your miles and miles from Wisconsin – you could always try making your own.
We found a bunch butter burger recipes online you can check out:
- This Food Network recipe claims to be based on a Solly’s burger
- Here’s another one from RoadFood.com
- These directions from Epicurious.com are based on Milwaukee burger flippers.
- The Primal Grill has a fancy herb butter recipe
- The Real Butter website offers detailed instructions for butter-stuffed burgers
But really – this shouldn’t be too difficult to attempt on your own. If you want it to taste like your favorite butter burger, you’ll probably want to throw the patties on a charcoal grill versus a skillet.
Also – if you’re mixing butter in with the beef – most recipes suggest using hard, cold butter. But your butter should be soft and easy to spread for the toasted buttery buns. Finding some Sheboygan hard rolls might be a good idea too.
If you give homemade butter burgers a shot – tell us how they turned out!
We’d also love to hear stories about your favorite hamburger joints in Wisconsin. Leave us comment!
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Featured Image Credit – Kristy Taylor via Flickr Creative Commons