Battle of the Burgers: Shake Shack vs. In-N-Out

A hot take on take-out.

(Illustration by Sophia Di Iorio)

Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am from Southern California: home of In-N-Out enthusiasts who fill with pride when defending our famous burger chain. However, I tried my best to set aside all personal prejudice for the sake of determining the truth of which burger chain reigns supreme: In-N-Out or Shake Shack.

In high school, In-N-Out was the go-to hang out spot after football games. It’s filled with memories of late nights and old friends. However, since coming to NYU, Shake Shack has taken over that role— something I’m almost ashamed to admit. As my new go-to fast food place, Shake Shack comes with mental images of new friends and finding community in eating our way through stressful finals weeks. 

When faced with the decision of choosing the better establishment, I knew I had to dig deeper, beyond personal experience and geographical preference in order to come to a valid conclusion. The main factors to take into consideration when choosing between the two burger chains are menu options, history, secret menus and taste. 

In comparison to Shake Shack, In-N-Out’s menu is limited. For the main meal, they offer variations of a hamburger paired with fries. The only gluten free option is a burger served “protein style,” which substitutes the bun with a lettuce wrap. The only vegetarian option is a grilled cheese. Shake Shack takes the cake when it comes to menu selection, offering gluten-free buns, a vegetarian portobello mushroom burger and hot dogs. For drinks, Shake Shack offers unique milkshake flavors as well as a seasonal flavor, along with the standard fountain drink options. In-N-Out only offers strawberry, chocolate or vanilla milkshakes. 

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As a Californian, it pains me to admit that Shake Shack’s menu is superior. However, the history of the two chains must be taken into account. In-N-Out was established in 1948 with Shake Shack starting their business in 2001. Considering that In-N-Out is older, their limited menu might come from a desire to stick to tradition. Unfortunately, this argument doesn’t really cut it. Times are changing, and more people are adopting restricted eating patterns — I’m talking about all of the blossoming vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free people out there — and In-N-Out has not adapted its menu to cater to this surge of careful eaters. 

Both In-N-Out and Shake Shack have secret menus, and I was surprised to discover that these menus offer essentially the same things: burgers with four patties, lettuce wraps instead of buns, grilled cheeses and more. For all you Californians reading this, I’m sorry to burst your bubble — In-N-Out’s not-so-secret menu is not one of a kind. However, did Shake Shack derive some of their secret menu options from In-N-Out’s previously established example? Maybe. Something to ponder.

Don’t get me wrong, this article is not meant to be a diss towards In-N-Out. In my personal opinion, when it comes down to taste, In-N-Out is the best. Blame it on my Californian roots or nostalgia for my high school and hometown, but I always look forward to my In-N-Out burger when visiting from school. 

However, when taking all other things into consideration, with menu selection really tipping the scale, Shake Shack seems to be the more modern and accommodating establishment. 

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, print edition. Email Calais Watkins at [email protected]

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