From four men’s obsession comes a festival. Burgerdudes is the Swedish website run by Linus Josephson, Toby Lee, Marcus Sjöström, John Wästerlund and Stefan Wadstedt, dedicated to reviewing as many burgers around the world as is humanely possible, and building an archive of the best burgers around. They’ve been running Burgerdudes since 2014, and have built up an impressive database of Swedish and international burgers, and since 2016 they’ve also been at the helm of Stockholm Burger Fest, the city’s premiere event for the burger-besotted. We caught up with Sjöström and Josephson (for a burger obviously) ahead of this year’s edition in May.
Most people like burgers, but not to the extent you guys like them. So what was it that made you guys so obsessed that you decided to start a site dedicated to reviewing burgers?
Marcus: Well, we didn’t start off with the idea to start a burger site. It started with a twitter hashtag, #FridayBurgers. About ten years ago, a lot of people in the Stockholm gaming industry and tech people met to have burgers on Fridays. After a while, we decided to try all the different burgers in Stockholm, to find out which was the best. We started talking about it a lot. We were friends from that, and we also liked to travel, so when we went to new places, we of course wanted to try the burgers there. All that grew into Burgerdudes.
So eventually you’d tested so many burgers it made sense to start a site to collect and archive those reviews?
Linus: It was initially our friend and colleague Toby, who’s the editor-in-chief. He said ‘Now we’re writing reviews just for us, perhaps other people will enjoy these’. So we started the site, and it became bigger and bigger, and now we have a burger festival and podcast.
Every burger is different, but when you review one, what are you looking for? What makes it good in your opinions?
Linus: The boring answer is everything, because it’s a whole package. We’re looking at the bread, which should be soft, but roasted on the inside, to get this nice bite and not be soggy from the sauce.
Marcus: It has to be a whole. If things stand out and take up too much room, then it’s not a properly balanced burger. But of course, the meat is the most important thing. If you get a burger that’s too chewy, it’s not a good burger. Even if the rest of the burger doesn’t taste of too much, if the meat is juicy and tasty, it’s still a pretty good burger. The meat and bun is the most important, but the whole is what we review.
Linus: You want the temperatures [of the ingredients] to be balanced, you want the textures to be balanced, you want the ratios to be balanced. Everything should have a thought behind it. Why is there lettuce on this burger? If it’s needed to create texture, great, if it’s not needed, skip it.
So what’s one of the most memorable burger experiences you’ve had when travelling abroad?
Marcus: It’s Golden Brown in Tokyo. It was our first longer trip together as a group of friends, in January of 2012. We were a group of six friends, and we had heard about Golden Brown from friends and online, so we had built up a hype. But for several of us, it was our first real gourmet burger. It was one of those moments where we realised a burger could be that good, and we got to experience it together. We talked about it for a long time afterwards.
Linus: I think that was the starting point of us reviewing burgers for each other. We realised we didn’t need to go to the same burger joint all the time. And a couple of months after that trip, Flippin’ Burgers started up, and they started the craze for burgers in Stockholm. All that elevated it to a hobby for us. We wanted to know what a good burger could be.
Marcus: The difference between Flippin’ and what existed before was huge. Flippin’ was on a par with Golden Brown.
Linus: They had freshly ground patties, they baked the buns that suited their burgers. They had thought about every ingredient.
Marcus: The difference between someone who sells burgers because burgers are popular and the difference between someone who loves burgers is in the attention to detail. Flippin’ was the first in Sweden to do that. They contacted the bakery to find the best bun, for example.
Linus: They even had the right ketchup. Before that the attitude was ‘ketchup is ketchup’. No, it’s not! So Flippin’ was the first to think about everything, to have an interest in burgers.
Has there ever been a time in your travels where you’ve gone into a restaurant with pretty low expectations, and been surprised by the quality you’ve encountered?
Linus: Oh yeah. There’s one place in New York called Blue Collar. I think our friend had heard about it, and we just walked past and were kind of hungry and went ‘ah, we have to grab something’. And it was so fucking good. I actually had two burgers, because I was angry that I had finished the first then got another. We had no expectations, the place looked a bit meh, the chef looked bored.
Marcus: It was a smallish place in Brooklyn, really simple setting. The chef looked kinda tired, and he just plopped down this metal tray with some amazing cheeseburgers on it.
Linus: That was a ‘wow!’ experience.
How do you think the burger scene in Stockholm looks today? We’re sort of a few years after the burger trend has peaked. So it’s no longer the most hipster food, it’s kinda past that. So how does the scene look today and what are the trends you see?
Linus: The thing is it’s not hipster to have a good burger anymore, it has become a thing for the masses. So Bastard Burgers, they’re becoming a chain. We rate them as one of the best burgers in Sweden, but they’ve started up in places like Norrköping, Luleå and other smaller places. So now you can go to these medium cities and find good burgers with buns from the local bakery and meat from the local farm. That’s the big trend now, it’s not just Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, it’s more widespread.
Marcus: When the burger trend was at its peak in Stockholm, it was bearded men in their 30s who ate burgers.
Linus: [Points to self] Boom!
Marcus: Now the bar has been raised, so most places sell a decent burger. Flippin’ used things like brioche buns, and people copied them, but now places are finding their own styles and different buns and meat blends.
Do you think it’s helped the overall quality that it’s not the hipster food anymore? Because places are no longer selling burgers, as you mentioned, just because they’re trendy, we’re kind of post that now, people selling burgers just to catch the wave?
Marcus: Those burgers will always exist, but yeah we’re basically past that. Since it’s not a big trend anymore, and now it has to have a certain amount of quality to last. New places open and close within three months, because they don’t have good burgers. If you look at bigger cities, that had their burger trend before, it’s not cool to eat burgers there, but they have a lot of good burger places.
Linus: Overall, I think the quality is so much higher than it was five years ago, even two years ago. It moves at such a fast pace.
What about the trends in vegan and vegetarian burgers?
Marcus: Everything kind of happened last year, partially because of Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat creating such hype, and producers started noticing there’s a big market. So last year things kind of took off, from it being an inferior alternative for people who didn’t eat meat. It’s now expected to be good and they put a lot of thought into it. I think in two years or so, they will have actively succeeded in making a lot of people actively choose not to eat a meat burger, not for vegetarian or environmental reasons, but because they prefer it.
Linus: It’s very interesting, because today it’s craft burger culture, that you should make everything yourself. Most of these vegan patties are industry made at the moment. Now places have started making their own vegan patties, as they want to have control. I want to see how that develops. If a big thing like Beyond can make a vegan patty that beats the industry standard.
So moving onto the festival, what motivated you to start it?
Marcus: There were none. We read about other festivals around the world, and we were upset no-one started one here. Maybe the biggest thing that would happen here is two or three burger trucks would park nearby each other on a Friday afternoon. So eventually we felt we should try and make something a bit bigger and better.
Linus: So we figured out that if we didn’t do it, nothing would happen. So we put together our six favourite food trucks, though only five came as one broke down. And it was a huge success, we had enough food for 1,500 people and we had been worried about not selling all of that. But 8,000 people turned up, so it was a success.
Marcus: For the second year, we wanted to do something different. We were contacted by Barrels, and they said they had access to the square, outside their new restaurant.
Marcus: Yes, and they wanted to do something to activate that area of the city. So we went for a much simpler thing that year, just us and them basically, and that was also a big success. We had people queuing for an hour. So we keep trying to evolve the concept, last year we had a burger joint from London as guests, this year we have one from London and one from Copenhagen, and one from Sweden that have made a special burger for the festival. So the concept is to offer people something that they can’t get anywhere else in Stockholm at any other time.
Linus: Everything is unique, you need to go to London [Bleecker] to get one, need to go to Copenhagen [Gasoline Grill] to get the other. Brisket and Friends is from Stockholm but they won’t have that burger at any other time, it’s just for the festival. And we’ve done a burger with Barrels. People might think the festival is the same, but we’ve done something new each year. This year it’s three days, with international and Swedish guests and we’re making a burger with Barrels. We need to grow slowly, but we’re always taking a step in the right direction.
How do you make it work as an entire experience? How do you make it bigger than just going in, having a burger except there are more people around?
Marcus: We really don’t. It’s the setting itself [that is its appeal], it’s the beginning of summer, everyone has been craving hanging outside, thousands of people gather and there’s all the smells, it creates its own vibe. Sure, we have music in the background and we sell beer and desserts, but it’s the people and the setting that creates the atmosphere. If we’re honest, we don’t want people to hang out all day, we want people to come, enjoy their burger and leave, so more people can get in. We have thousands of people who want to come, but only a capacity for 800 or something.
Linus: We want as many people as possible to try these unique burgers on Stockholm ground, that’s the goal.
Marcus: The places we’ve chosen are our favourites, and we’ve worked hard to bring them here.
As a final question, what’s your dream burger trip? Is there any country you really want to go and grab a burger in some day?
Linus: It’s a bit complex, because we need to go to the US. We want to do a road trip, that’s the real answer.
Marcus: We’ve been fantasising about that for like five or six years. Go from San Francisco up to Seattle, do the whole West Coast, do the South, eat burgers that haven’t changed since the 50s, have the whole Motz experience. Have you heard of George Motz? He’s like a burger guru, he’s written books about different parts of the US and what kind of burgers they make, the burger history of the United States. We want to do that too, it would be a dream trip.
Linus: I would also like to explore more in Asia. It’s a really fun burger scene. We’ve been in Japan a lot, but I would like to visit South Korea more, they have a lot of burger joints because of their connection to the US, we want to try them.
Marcus: Also, Australia is a big hole in our map, we need to go there. We could eat burgers all day every day for the rest of our lives, and still not get to try them all.