What Makes the Shake Shack Burger Taste So Gooooood?

12 Feb

In the summer of 2008 just after I had graduated from college and moved back to New York, Cousin M moved from Karachi to NYC. In Karachi, she used to rave about the burger from Mr. Burger in Boat Basin, which she liked to call a desi burger – a cross between a spicy bun kebab and your regular fast food burger. Cousin M always knew what would appeal to our palates and she was the Encyclopedia of Karachi Dining as far as we were concerned.

Meanwhile in another part of the world, a roadside burger joint Shake Shack opened its windows in 2004 in Madison Square Park, NYC. But of course, it took Cousin M’s arrival in New York and her continuing tradition of knowing exactly what we would love that I discovered the Shack Burger. Having passed by Madison Square Park regularly, I was discouraged by the impossibly long line of burger enthusiasts inching gradually towards what seemed like the finish line aka the orders window. Now that I have stood in the line countless times, I can assure you it makes for great moments of overhearing celeb gossip and striking up conversation with others who are wondering exactly what you are “why on earth have I been standing here for an hour for a damn burger.”

I don’t claim that Shake Shack has the best burger in NYC but it’s certainly amongst the best and here’s why –  it simply doesn’t try too hard. It takes what you and I conceive to be an average burger and elevates it to a higher level by perfecting the core components of the burger without adorning it with multiple toppings and fancy ingredients. There isn’t too much going on which distracts away from what the burger should essentially be about – the meat, the bun and the sauce.

Here is a deconstructed Shack Burger ($4.50 Single / $7.00 Double) via Serious Eats

The Shack Burger Deconstructed

  • The Meat: 4-ounce patties made from a proprietary blend of sirloin, brisket, and short rib. New York locations use meat ground by Pat LaFrieda. All burgers delivered fresh daily, never frozen.
  • The Cheese: Very melty and mild American.
  • The Toppings: Green leaf lettuce, sliced Roma tomatoes, thin-sliced onions, pickles.
  • The Sauces: Thousand Island-style Shack Sauce, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise.
  • The Bun: Martin’s potato roll, toasted in butter.

Last summer, Serious Eats decided to put an end to the ongoing debate in “burgercentric circles” between the three major heavyweights of the high-quality fast-food burger world by carrying out “The First Bi-Coastal Side-By-Side Taste Test” comparing everything from the meat-per-dollar ratio to the types of cheese and toppings. The contenders being California’s legendary In-N-Out Burger, Virginia’s Five Guys (with branches in NYC and all over the country) and finally New York’s very own Shake Shack, the youngest of the lot.

Having tasted all 3, for me it’s a close call between In-N-Out and Shake Shack but perhaps due to the fact that I’ve had the Shack Burger on numerous occasions, it marginally edges out the other. Not unexpectedly, Shake Shack also emerged the winner of the Serious Eats taste test mainly due to their dominance in the meat department:

“The Shackburger, on the other hand, is a marvel of beefy engineering. The flavor and texture of the beef patty is second to none, with an intense beefiness and cooking method designed to maximized browning, and thus our carnal pleasure. Yes, their toppings and bun are great, but at the Shack, it’s all about the beef”

My recommendation: Pair it with cheesy fries and a chocolate malt shake. And for the men reading this – apparently Shake Shack is Padma Laxmi’s favourite burger joint in NYC.

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