Back Yard Burgers
1915 W Marler Lane, Ozark MO 65721; map); 417-581-6686; backyardburgers.com
Cooking Method: "Flame" grilled
Short Order: The evocation of the name, not to mention the logo, raises expectations. Which are not met. Generic drek.
Price: Back Yard Burger w/cheese, $4.33
Notes: There are approximately 171 Back Yard Burgers locations in 20 states throughout the South and Southwest.
There's a drawing of a barn on the wall of the Backyard Burger on Marler Lane in Ozark, Missouri. I doubt very much that any of the beef served at Back Yard burger came from a farm that looked like that, despite it being domestic Black Angus. But then again, it doesn't appear that the burgers there are cooked in a charcoal fired kettle as the companies logo implies. The logo in fact looks so much like the iconic Weber grill that I'm surprised they haven't been sued.
Back Yard Burger's conceit might work if they delivered on the implications of their name and iconography. But the reality is that they serve a generic fast food burger, closer to Burger King than to the taste of even an average burger made in the backyard.
I was hopeful when I walked up to the counter and asked something that I always ask—"Do you use fresh beef?" "Errrr....um.....yes...." was the tepid response. I should have known by the hesitancy in the reply I received that the answer was in the negative. Try asking an employee at In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys, or Steak 'n Shake if they use frozen beef and there will be no hesitancy, no wavering. The answer is part of their company policy, a sales point. More than that, it's a point of pride.
I may be wrong, but I strongly suspect that the burger I tried came from frozen beef. If it wasn't, Backyard Burger has managed to reduce fresh beef to have the same textural and flavor qualities as frozen burgers. It's too bad because the bun was soft and squishy and the toppings were all fresh and crunchy. I appreciated the deliberate construction—pickles and mustard beneath and veggies above the patty. I found the tooth picks stuck in the top curious, but not as curious as the beef.
In its favor it did have some defined hatch marks on the top—deep black grooves allegedly the result of being cooked on a searing grill. But I found the shape of the patty to be suspicious—it looked like pre-formed burger designed to look like a hand formed patty.
The patty was dense and mealy. It had a dull flavor and an insipid smokiness that was only evocative of a backyard if your backyard is a chemical plant. The texture of the beef was the most off-putting: It was so thoroughly ground that it became almost furry.
With so many places serving fresh beef hamburgers and so many people familiar with the taste of a burger cooked on an actual back yard grill, Back Yard burger has a lot to live up to. Too much, as it turns out.