Wisconsin Butter Burgers

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE SALES LINKS. PLEASE SEE MY FULL DISCLAIMER POLICY FOR DETAILS.
Nothing beats a Wisconsin Butter Burger! This easy recipe is inspired by my days working at Culver's, the popular Midwest restaurant chain known for their iconic ButterBurger. Sear a very simple burger patty (just good, high-quality beef – no extra ingredients needed!) in a piping hot skillet to create crispy edges & rich, browned flavor, then serve on a butter-toasted bun – the signature feature of real-deal butter burgers! – & top with whatever fixings you love. A homemade feast that tastes just like Culver's, ready in 20 minutes or less!
A side-angle shot of an assembled butter burger on a piece of white parchment on a light pink background.

The Best Homemade Butter Burgers, Inspired by My Days Working At Culver’s! 🍔🧀

Over the years, it’s been a lot of fun sharing recipes that celebrate my home state, like Wisconsin Beer Brats & Friday Night Fish Fry. Today we’re adding to the list with these epic Wisconsin Butter Burgers!

If you’re from the Midwest, you’re probably already familiar with Culver’s, the popular fast-ish food chain with restaurants throughout the region. I vividly remember the day Culver’s opened in my tiny hometown in rural Wisconsin. A few years later, I started working my very first job there as a food runner &, eventually, a drive-thru cashier. Of course, Culver’s iconic ButterBurgers completely captured my heart & I’ve been obsessed with recreating them at home ever since!

Like Culver’s, this butter burger recipe starts with a very simple burger patty made only with high-quality fresh beef, salt, & pepper (no extra add-ins, ever! 🙅🏻‍♀️). To recreate the “steak-like” flavor of a Culver’s ButterBurger, we smash & sear the burger in a piping hot skillet. This smash-burger style cook is the easiest way to create perfectly crispy edges & seriously rich flavor at home.

This is where the butter enters the equation. A real-deal Wisconsin butter burger is served on a butter-toasted bun, which is perfectly crispy, beautifully golden brown, & adds another layer of rich flavor to each bite. Just add on your favorite toppings & you’re good to go – dinner’s ready in 20 minutes or less!

Inspired by Culver’s iconic ButterBurger, this simple recipe makes it easy to enjoy a Wisconsin-style butter burger at home!

Butter Burger Recipe Highlights

There’s nothing not to love about this classic Wisconsin butter burger recipe! It’s…

PERFECTLY SEARED. A signature characteristic of a Culver’s ButterBurger is its steak-like sear, which is easy to recreate at home by searing an all-beef patty in a piping hot skillet. This smash burger-style method creates especially rich flavor & deliciously crispy edges.

SIMPLE & QUICK. The magic of butter burgers is high-quality beef & butter-toasted buns, neither of which require any special seasoning or fancy prep. Simply cook the beef patty in a hot skillet on the stovetop & toast the bun in butter! They’re ready in 5 minutes & taste just like Culver’s!

HIGHLY CUSTOMIZABLE. Any butter burger calls for plenty of toppings! Load up on the classics – lettuce, onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard – or choose your faves & make it your own!

Just as good as Culver’s! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Wisconsin Butter Burgers, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!

A side-shot of a hand holding up an assembled butter burger with a bite taken out of it over a light pink surface. A basket of fries and a grey cloth sit behind it.
While you can find Wisconsin butter burgers at mom & pop restaurants all over the state, this style of burger was popularized by Culver’s, a Wisconsin-based food chain located throughout the Midwest. Its beauty is its simplicity – a perfectly seared beef patty served on a butter-toasted bun.

What is a Butter Burger?

The butter burger is easily my favorite burger from any drive-thru window! It’s a simple but perfectly executed seared beef patty made from fresh (never frozen!) beef served on a buttered & toasted roll.

Where was the butter burger invented? ⇢ Wisconsin!  While you can find butter burgers on the menu at diners & frozen custards stands in the Milwaukee area & throughout the state, this style of burger was popularized by Culver’s, the Wisconsin-based fast food restaurant chain located throughout American Midwest. I worked my first job there as a teenager, so I have a lot of fond memories of Culver’s. I always order my ButterBurger with cheese, bacon, & fried onions – it’s the perfect special treat!

So why are Culver’s burgers called “butter burgers”? ⇢ It’s not because there’s butter in the burger or even because you cook the burgers in butter – these are very simple pressed & seared beef burger patties. Butter enters the equation with the bun! Each Culver’s restaurant has a roller machine that applies the perfect coat of warm, melty butter to each bun before it’s toasted on the flat top.

This particular butter burger recipe stays true to all the signature characteristics of real-deal Wisconsin butter burgers, but uses ingredients, equipment, & a simple smash burger-style method that’s easy for home cooks. The burgers cook up in 5 minutes or less & are endlessly customizable to satisfy any craving!

Key Ingredients

This butter burger recipe is very straightforward, just like Culver’s. You only need 4 simple ingredients, plus whatever toppings you love.

Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

  • Ground beef – The star of any butter burger! Since we’re not adding much seasoning, using high-quality ground beef is key. For extra-juicy burgers with a steakhouse-worthy sear, be sure to use at least 85% lean ground chuck.
  • Butter – Contrary to popular belief, a real-deal butter burger isn’t made with lots of butter. You just need a couple tablespoons of butter to toast the buns, not season or cook the burgers!
  • Buns – Brioche is my burger bun of choice but you can use any hamburger bun you have on hand.
  • Cheese – Classic American cheese is perfect here – melty, gooey, & salty! – but feel free to use whatever type of cheese you love most (cheddar, Swiss, etc.).
  • Burger toppings – Your choice! Load up on classics like lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickles, ketchup, & mustard, or add anything else you love.

How to Make a Butter Burger At Home

These Wisconsin butter burgers are very easy to make at home! Just like Culver’s, this recipe relies on the natural flavors of fresh ground beef, smashing the burgers in a hot skillet for a steak-like golden-brown sear. It’s a simple process & the butter burgers cook up in 5 minutes or less!

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

1

Portion & season the ground beef. Divide 1 ¼ lbs of ground beef into 4 equal portions, about 5 oz each. There’s no need to roll each portion into a ball or form into patties – just season with a good amount of salt & ground black pepper. Why? ⇢ This is the Culver’s way! When using high-quality, fresh (never frozen!) beef, there’s no need to jazz it up with other ingredients – it’s rich & flavorful all on its own.

2

Smash & cook the burgers. Add the littlest bit of high smoke point vegetable oil to a cast iron skillet or griddle pan, then heat on the stovetop until it’s piping hot. Place the seasoned beef in the pan, using a spatula to smash it flat against the hot surface. Cook about 2 minutes, undisturbed, then flip & cook a few minutes more, melting a slice of cheese over top if desired. Why? ⇢ A steakhouse-quality sear is a signature characteristic of Culver’s ButterBurgers. As a result of a chemical process known as the Maillard reaction, meat takes on a beautifully golden crust when it come into contact with a hot surface, creating richer, deeper flavor. It’s what makes everything from a Cast Iron Steak to Perfectly Seared Sea Scallops so especially delicious! At Culver’s, this steak-like sear is achieved on a hot flat top grill, but using a smash burger-style method easily creates the same result in a regular ol’ cast iron pan at home – no fancy equipment required!

A close-up shot of a Wisconsin butter burger and fries in a white basket lined with parchment paper atop a light pink surface.
Finish with whatever toppings you love & enjoy! A Wisconsin classic at home, in 20 minutes or less.

More Smash Burger Tips & Tricks

The steakhouse-quality sear is a signature characteristic of Culver’s ButterBurgers. At Culver’s, this steak-like sear is achieved on a hot flat top grill, but using a smash burger-style method easily creates the same result in a regular ol’ cast iron pan at home – no fancy equipment required!

Smashing a burger to perfection requires a little technique, but it’s a quick & easy process once you get the hang of it. Quick tips & tricks for success…

  • Get the pan nice & hot. The hotter the pan, the easier it is to sear the butter burger. Heat the skillet on the stove until piping hot with the tiniest bit of vegetable oil.
  • Use the right spatula. You’ll need a big, solid spatula with a sturdy handle for smashing. Only have a slotted spatula? Wrap it in aluminum foil to cover up the gaps.
  • Weigh it down! As you smash the beef, it’s helpful to use a large can of soup or tomatoes to help weigh down the spatula. This gives the butter burger a good, firm smash so it all comes in contact with the hot pan for a quick & even cook.
  • Don’t touch the burgers. Let the butter burgers cook undisturbed for a few minutes. Why? ⇢ The more you move the burger, the more you disturb the sear – we don’t want that! Allowing the burger to cook, undisturbed, creates the crusty, browned, & rich flavored sear that we’re after here!
  • Cook until a dark brown crust forms. A golden-brown sear with dark crispy edges = extra flavor!

Burger Toppings & Serving Suggestions

Any good Wisconsin butter burger calls for plenty of toppings! Try serving your butter burgers just like Culver’s…

  • Butter Burger with “The Works” – Top with sliced onions & pickles, ketchup, & mustard. Simple, classic, perfect!
  • Butter Burger “Deluxe” – Top with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato & onion, with ketchup & mustard. A few extras, always delicious!

While we love these classic combinations, the options are truly endless. Have fun with it! Feel free to try other toppings like caramelized onions, thick-cut bacon, grilled peppers or mushrooms, blue cheese, sriracha mayo – truly whatever you can imagine. For gatherings, spread out several options for a build-your-own butter burger dinner.

All that’s missing is a side of crinkle-cut fries & a scoop of frozen custard!

A side-shot of a hand holding up an assembled wisconsin butter burger over a light pink surface. A basket of fries and a grey cloth sit behind it.

I can’t wait for you to try this Wisconsin Butter Burger recipe! It’s an easy homemade take on the iconic Midwest burgers. Whether butter burgers are new to you or filled with childhood nostalgia like me, there’s truly nothing not to love!

If you do give it a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!

Print
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
A side-angle shot of an assembled butter burger on a piece of white parchment on a light pink background.

Wisconsin Butter Burger Recipe (Just Like Culver’s, in 20 Minutes or Less!)

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 1 review
  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: serves 4
  • Category: Sandwiches & Burgers, Main Dishes, Beef Recipes
  • Method: Stovetop, Cast Iron Skillet
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

As a born & raised Wisconsinite, Culver’s is pretty much my gold standard for fast casual restaurants. I vividly remember the day Culver’s opened in my tiny hometown in rural Wisconsin. A few years later, I started working my very first job there as a drive-thru cashier. (“Welcome to Culver’s, home of the ButterBurger! How may I help you?” is still seared in my memory!)

The ButterBurger is a seared beef patty made from fresh (never frozen!) beef that’s served on a buttered & toasted roll with whatever toppings you love. It’s simple but perfectly executed, & it’s really fun to recreate at home.

Like Culver’s, this butter burger recipe starts with a very simple burger patty made only with high-quality fresh beef, salt, & pepper. To recreate the “steak-like” flavor of a Culver’s ButterBurger, we smash & sear the burger in a piping hot skillet. This smash-burger style cook is the easiest way to create perfectly crispy edges & seriously rich flavor at home.

This is where the butter enters the equation. A real-deal Wisconsin butter burger is served on a butter-toasted bun, which is perfectly crispy, beautifully golden brown, & adds another layer of rich flavor to each bite. Just add on your favorite toppings & you’re good to go – dinner’s ready in 20 minutes or less!

Be sure to check out the blog post, above, to learn more about Wisconsin-style butter burgers. I hope you love this fun recipe as much as we do! ♡


Ingredients

Scale
  • neutral, high smoke point vegetable oil of choice
  • 1 ¼ pounds 85% lean ground beef, divided into 4 equal portions (approx. 5 ounces each)
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 4 brioche buns or hamburger buns of choice
  • 4 slices American cheese or cheese of choice
  • for serving, as desired: shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato, sliced onion, sliced dill pickles, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, etc.

Instructions

Prep Note: Butter burgers cook very quickly! For best results, be sure to read through this recipe & prepare all of your burger fixings before you begin cooking the burgers.

  1. Prep: Preheat a cast iron griddle or large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Once the griddle/skillet is very hot, after about 2 minutes of preheating, brush the cooking surface with a light coating of oil. Meanwhile, divide the ground beef into 4 equal portions – there’s no need to roll them into a ball or form them into burger patties. Season each portion liberally with kosher salt & ground black pepper.An overhead shot of a white sheet pan with four sections of ground beef atop a light pink surface. A small bowl of pepper sits beside the pan.
  2. Smash & cook the butter burgers: Working in batches if needed, place the portioned ground beef on the hot griddle/skillet. Position the center of the flat surface of a large spatula over each portion of ground beef & firmly press down to smash the beef into burger patties that is about 5-inches in diameter (or just barely larger than the size of your burger buns) – you may need to reposition the spatula & smash down on the burger a second time for an evenly pressed patty. Cook the burgers, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Carefully flip the burgers – doing so should reveal a beautiful dark brown crust on the cooked side. Top each butter burger with a slice of cheese & continue to cook for 90 seconds – 2 minutes longer.A side-angle shot of a burger patty being smashed on a black skillet with a can and a metal spatula.
  3. Toast the buns: Meanwhile, as the burgers cook, toast the buns. If needed, heat another skillet over medium-high heat. Spread the softened butter over both cut sides of the brioche buns – about 1 scant teaspoon per side. Place the buns, butter side facing down, on the preheated skillet. Lower the heat to medium & toast until golden brown. Remove from the skillet & set aside.An overhead shot of toasted burger buns on a white plate sitting atop a light pink surface.
  4. Assemble & serve: Place the cheese butter burger patties on the toasted brioche bun bottoms & top with whatever fixings you love most. For a butter burger with “the works,” layer sliced onions & pickles into the butter burger & top with ketchup & mustard. For a “deluxe” butter burger, layer shredded lettuce & sliced onions, tomatoes & pickles into the butter burger & top with ketchup & mustard. Enjoy!A side-angle shot of an assembled butter burger on a piece of white parchment on a light pink background.


Notes

  • Equipment notes: To make a proper smash burger-style burger, you’ll need a large spatula with a good, sturdy handle. If the flat surface of your spatula is slotted with cutouts, wrap it with foil to create a uniform, solid surface (you may want a second spatula for flipping the burgers). To ensure a good, firm smash, it’s helpful to use a large can (like canned soup or canned tomatoes) to weigh down the flat surface of the spatula as you press down on the beef patties.

Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.

Follow along with Plays Well With Butter on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest for more unfussy recipes that pack a big punch of flavor!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

Topics

Sign up for our newsletter

Leave a Rating & Comment

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments

  1. 9.21.23
    Varnamala said:

    Really loved it!! Such a mouthwatering recipe i will definitely try it…






    • 9.21.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      So happy to hear that, Varnamala! 🙂

  2. 8.26.23
    Sarah said:

    Do you recommend keeping the spatula on the burger during the two minutes of cooking? Great tips here… Thanks so much!

    • 8.28.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Sarah, no need to keep the spatula on the burger! Once it’s “smashed,” you can remove the spatula and just let it cook! Hope they turn out great for you!!