Let’s get something out of the way right at the top before discussing who has the best burger in Pigeon Forge and the surrounding area.
Yes. Jimmy Buffet wrote what is likely the greatest song about cheeseburgers of all time.
Yes. Jimmy Buffet has a restaurant in Pigeon Forge and a resort in Gatlinburg that is attached to a Jimmy Buffet-themed bar and grill.
No. You ain’t gonna see no Jimmy Buffet burgers on this list.
The art of the burger is deceptive, like a magic trick. A lot of places like to distract you with toppings like lettuce and “tomatah” to quote Mr. Buffet.
They want to dazzle you with bourbon-infused pork belly bacon and a fried egg.
They want to tell you about the hickory-smoked barbecue sauce recipe their long-dead grandfather discovered during a 14-month stint hiding from the revenuers deep in the forests of North Carolina.
But it turns out I am a hamburger transcendentalist. I crave simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.
The best burger I have had in my life was after a college soccer match at Carson-Newman University, where a parent was selling concessions off a smoker.
No cheese, no pickle and no Heinz 57. It was just meat that he’d marinated in a little Dale’s Seasoning on a bun.
Still, not many people go burger hunting with such purity of essence in mind.
We like a little razzle. We enjoy a little dazzle. And as long as those things are supporting a well-made burger instead of hiding a flawed piece of meat, we can get behind a little something extra to make a burger special.
In the mood for a great burger? Here are the best places in Sevier County.
4. Graze Burgers (Sevierville)
This pick seems a bit incongruous with opening paragraphs, but like Walt Whitman, I contain multitudes.
Deal with it.
Graze Burgers, located near the Dolly Parton Statue at the Sevier County Courthouse, is off the beaten culinary path of the main drag so they have to try a little extra to get attention.
They start with grass-fed beef, no hormones, steroids or antibiotics and from there they go a little crazy.
The hamburger David Thoreau in me prefers the classic with aged cheddar, pickles, lettuce, tomato and onion.
But if I’m feeling that I’ve been a little too long in the wilderness, or have been sampling Graze’s fine selection of bourbon, whiskey and Scotch, then I might go for something a little out of character like the bourbon bleu.
Also, as the father of a boy with food allergies, I like that they offer several non-traditional options like veggie and turkey burgers as well as bison.
Although, I never had the boy allergy tested for buffalo so we’ll skip that one for now.
3. The Local Goat (Pigeon Forge)
The Local Goat has style and that carries over to their burgers which they keep on a need-to-know basis.
What’s in them?
It’s a secret blend of fresh, locally-sourced beef, smart guy. That’s all you need to know.
And honestly, do you really care that much? What’s with all the questions? What are you, the FDA?
Order your hamburger and mind your business pal. They’re gourmet and they’re spectacular.
2. Mountain Edge Grill (Gatlinburg)
Located in the heavenly inlet of Baskin Square that also hosts Tennessee Jed’s and the Natural House of Jerky, the Mountain Edge Grill offers some of the best burgers in Gatlinburg.
The menu isn’t overly fancy, there’s the classic, a mushroom swiss burger but these culinary geniuses aren’t afraid to get a little interesting.
The Thunder Road, a seasonally available burger, is a chili-cheese hotdog and burger all in one while the Appalachian Trail Burger is enough to give you plenty of energy to go into the woods.
1. Wild Bear Tavern (Pigeon Forge)
No celebration of marriage of meat and bun is complete without a nod to the ancestors. No, the origin of the holy hamburger is not definitively known but it is named after the town of Hamburg in Germany.
It is thus proper that we recognize what is likely the only German restaurant in Sevier County, the Wild Bear Tavern. The Germans have been doing weird and wonderful things with meat for centuries so there’s not a lot of messing around with things like toppings.
There are two burgers at the Wild Bear, the Big Bear Burger – a double-stack short rib brisket and angus burger – and the Brat Burger – which is the same thing with a smoked pork brat, kraut and German beer mustard, the nature of which, Immanuel Kant would agree, is unknowable but tastes pretty damn fantastic.
What’s your favorite burger in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments.