The Indy Burger Guy visited Bub’s in Zionsville on Monday, December 26, 2016.
I’m not sure where I first heard of Bub’s Burgers or the Big Ugly, but I do remember my first time eating one. It was my 28th birthday and I was living in Greenwood at the time. I wanted to treat myself to something special, so I made the trek, by myself, ALL the way up north of Indy to downtown Carmel to take on the Big Ugly.
And I won. Got my picture on the wall and everything.
I had so much fun, I did it again the next year on my 29th birthday. That time I was joined by some friends, my sister, and the woman who would one day become my wife. A fun time was had by all and, once more, my picture found its way onto the wall.
Since then, I’d not attempted the Big Ugly Challenge again…
Now, I’m the Indy Burger Guy and now, I needed to see how Bub’s colossal burger stacked against the others in the city. So, I went back.
This time, I was joined by one of my supervisors at work, who is a big fan and avid reader of the blog. (Hi, Jozef!) It was actually his idea to go. Bub’s is one of his favorite burgers in Indy and he was happy to share his love of this great eatery! I’m glad we took the time to go!
We went to the Zionsville location, rather than the Carmel venue I was more familiar with. Sitting just on the outskirts of downtown Zionsville, the layout isn’t much different from the Carmel restaurant – spacious dining area, wooden accents, and glossy photographs of Big Ugly eaters covering the walls! (There’s also a life-size cardboard cutout of Adam Richman, host of Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel, who visited the Carmel location back in 2010. Usually, one has to eat four Big Uglies to achieve the cardboard cutout honor… Richman, however, only finished 2.25.)
Whenever I go to a burger place, I seek to review the burger they’re best known for. For Bub’s that means the Big Ugly! They do, however, have a few other burgers – mainly smaller sizes, but they also have elk burgers, which I’m told are quite tasty. (Until I change my ‘beef only’ rule, it’s unlikely I’ll ever review the elk burgers here.) There’s the one pound (post-cook weight!) Big Ugly, the 1/2-lb. Not So Ugly, the 1/4-lb. Settle for Less Ugly, and the 1/8-lb. Mini Bub (it’s the pretty one). The Big Ugly, due to its size, comes with its own Challenge – eat one Big Ugly and get a 4×6 photograph of yourself holding the empty plate posted on the wall. Two Big Uglies gets you an 8×10 photo, while eating three gets you a poster-size photo displayed for all to see. Those happy few who eat four Big Uglies – which, according to their website, has only been done three times – get a life-size cardboard cutout of themselves prominently featured within the restaurant. This is no small feat, as the consumption of four Big Uglies is the equivalent of four pounds of meat and two pounds of bread (each Big Ugly bun weighs a half pound), not counting additional ingredients (like cheese and bacon), veggies (tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and pickles), or condiments (ketchup, mayo, etc.)!
I’m not much of a ‘food challenge’ guy, so I was going to be content with just one Big Ugly. The 22-oz. burger (pre-cooked weight) is grilled over a propane-fueled fire which, along with the secret spice blend, adds a tremendous amount of flavor to the meat. Of all the burgers I’ve eaten as the Indy Burger Guy (about 25 at the time I ate this burger), the Big Ugly is the first where I could tell the burger had been grilled over the flame rather than on a traditional flattop*. (I’m certain that others were, but this is the first time that flavor really stood out!) Bub’s also offers a variety of cheese options – American, Swiss, Cheddar, and pepper jack come standard, while bleu cheese carries an additional charge of anywhere from $1.00 (for the Settle for Less Ugly) to $2.00 (for the Big Ugly). Naturally, I opted for American cheese – it takes three slices cover the Big Ugly! An array of fresh veggies – lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles – come on the side to be added at the diner’s discretion.
*A brief sidebar concerning burgers cooked on a flattop vs. an open grill: There are many diverse thoughts as to the best method for cooking the perfect burger. Me? I’m torn. The flame grilling adds a tremendous amount of smoke flavor, but can cause a loss of fat (i.e. – flavor) from the burger. Meanwhile, the flattop method traps in that luscious fatty goodness and creates a wonderful crust, but lacks that smoky goodness. Is there a method you prefer? Let me know in the comments!
The bun for the Big Ugly is an interesting phenomenon in and of itself. As I mentioned back in my review for Taylor’s Pub, Bub’s buns are provided by Lucy’s Bakery in the Greenbriar neighborhood of Indianapolis. Bub’s owners actually opened Lucy’s themselves in order to provide consistently tasty, high-quality buns for their burgers. The result is a bun that is pillowy soft, but durable enough to stand up to the grease output that comes from a one-pound burger! The pillowiness of the bun allowed for a fair amount of burger drippings to soak into the bun, but nowhere near enough to actually cause the bun to begin falling apart. There’s even a slight sweetness to the bun that helps tie everything together quite well. The bun comes toasted, having been coated in the equivalent of a full stick of butter! (For those of you concerned about cholesterol, maybe the Big Ugly isn’t the burger for you.)
As for the whole thing… I’m glad I came hungry! This is a WHOLE LOTTA BURGER! The 1.5-lb. monstrosity is so incredibly tasty from the first bite to the last. The beef is well-seasoned and was cooked to a perfect medium (which I can’t imagine is an easy thing to do on a burger that size). It’s fresh beef, too – ground chuck, per the website – which makes a tremendous difference! There is absolutely no denying that this is an incredibly tasty, incredibly flavorful burger experience!
The major issue with the Big Ugly – near as I can tell – is eatability, which is a huge factor here! As you might imagine, a burger this big is a bear to try to eat. I had to cut it in half and take it down that way, but I’ve also heard of people dividing it into quarters for a more manageable ‘divide-and-conquer’ strategy. (Man vs. Food‘s Richman used this method when he visited Bub’s.) Despite the juiciness of the burger, I still feel a bit of mayo, or some comparable saucy element, would have been a welcome addition to the overall burger dynamic.
I didn’t bother with any sides because taking down a complete Big Ugly was a serious undertaking in and of itself
That said, Bub’s is no slouch when it comes to burger preparation! If you’ve not been to one of their three Indiana locations, I would highly recommend that you check them out and enjoy a behemoth burger whose size is only matched by its flavor!
FINAL RANKING: 8.7/10
Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream
Three Indiana locations in Carmel, Bloomington, and Zionsville
Cost Range: $, $$, & $$$ ($6 and under, $7-$12, & $13 and over)**
**Depending on the size of the burger you want, the prices range from $3.95 (the Mini Bub) to $26.85 (the Big Ugly Elk Burger).