I ate near-identical meals at In-N-Out and Shake Shack and found that while Shake Shack makes better fries, the other makes the perfect burger

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I ordered similar meals at In-N-Out and Shake Shack to see who had the better burger. Irene Jiang/Business Insider
  • In-N-Out and Shake Shack are two of fast food’s most celebrated burger chains.
  • I visited an In-N-Out in Los Angeles and a Shake Shack in New York to compare the experiences.
  • My conclusion: while Shake Shack undoubtedly has better fries, In-N-Out makes a better-balanced burger.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In-N-Out and Shake Shack are two of America’s most beloved burger chains.

Both make burgers for which fans will go to the ends of the earth – or at least to the end of a really long line. But which burger is better?

That is the question: whether ’tis nobler to suffer the cross-country flight to Southern California, or to take the subway to the nearest Shake Shack location.

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I made a beeline for an In-N-Out. When I got back to New York, I went to a Shake Shack near the office. At both restaurants, I ordered similar meals: the most famous burger, a side of fries, and a lemonade. Here’s how the two compared.


As soon as I landed in Los Angeles, I headed for the nearest In-N-Out.

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In-N-Out’s vintage vibe and red-and-white tiling have made its aesthetic instantly recognisable.

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It’s got laid-back California charm for miles, and it’s so bright and clean that the vintage decor feels cute, not old.

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The decor isn’t the only thing that is reminiscent of the past. In-N-Out’s menu is the kind of simple, unfussy menu your grandma might have ordered from in her youth.

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The chain famously sources most of its fresh ingredients from farms in California. Absolutely nothing is frozen and reheated.

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My meal came out after a short wait: an animal-style Double-Double ($US4.35), animal-style fries ($US3.95), and a medium lemonade ($US1.75).

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I started with my animal-style fries because of the universal law of fries.

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That is, that the quality of a fry is inversely correlated to the number of seconds it’s spent in cold air, and the decline in taste is exponential.

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Somehow, In-N-Out’s fries defy the laws of physics. Even straight from the fryer, they taste like wet cardboard.

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Take my advice: Skip the opening act and come for the headliner.

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The Double-Double is large and petite at the same time. Even though it’s a hefty burger, it’s neatly contained in a cute wrapper.

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Two fresh beef patties with melted American cheese, onions, lettuce, and tomato stacked into two toasted buns are smothered in special sauce and grilled onions.

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It’s as close to perfect as a fast-food burger gets. First off, everything tastes unbelievably fresh.

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The beef is juicy and melds delightfully with the tangy cheese and sauce.

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And the crispy, bountiful stacks of veggies add just the right amount of textural variety and freshness.

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It’s so juicy that a mixture of beef grease, tomato water, and special sauce leaked from the wrapper.

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Some extra napkinry never hurt anyone, except maybe a few trees here and there.

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However, cold fries caused many a metaphorical tear.

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Naked or smothered in sauce, these potatoes managed to disgust no matter how I ate them.

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After a few more futile forkfuls, I gave up. These were destined for the trash.

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The burger, however, was destined for greater things.

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Since each bite tasted so well-balanced, I never felt like I was stuffing my face — even though I was.

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The Double-Double quickly became a nil-nil, and I left In-N-Out with a deep sense of digestive satisfaction.

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Back in New York, some time later, the hankering for a hamburger hit again.

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I went to the Shake Shack in Fulton Centre. Like all Shake Shacks, it’s minimal, industrial, and inaccessibly cool.

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The menu is large and varied, even though Shake Shack started out as a simple hot dog stand. Chicken, beef, hot dogs, ice cream, mushrooms — Shake Shack has it all.

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Danny Meyer, a chef with a fine dining background, founded Shake Shack as part of an effort to revive Madison Square Park.

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Source: Shake Shack


Therefore, everything from the ingredients to the cooking techniques at Shake Shack carry that fine-dining finesse.

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I got a ShackBurger ($US5.99), fries ($US3.09), and a cup of Shack-made lemonade ($US3.09). It was pricier than In-N-Out. Would that price bump be worth it?

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Again, I started with the fries. I should disclose that Shake Shack won my fry taste test back in June 2019.

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Read more: I tasted french fries from 8 major fast-food chains, and the winner surprised me


There’s a reason for that. Shake Shack’s boldly crinkle-cut potatoes are impossibly crispy on the outside and melty-mashed on the inside.

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The Shake Shack fry is the perfect fry, whether or not you agree with its choice of cut.

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Unlike In-N-Out’s sad slivers of soggy spud, these gave me what I wanted from a fried potato — and more.

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They, too, defy the laws of physics by staying delicious long after they have left the fryer.

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The ShackBurger is even teenier than the Double-Double. Shake Shack uses hormone-free beef.

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I’m stunned that this small sandwich weighs in at 530 calories.

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It’s a simple cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce in a potato roll.

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But the ShackBurger tastes far from simple. Its breakout star was clear from the first moment: the beef.

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Everything in a ShackBurger is soft. There’s nothing crunchy in here except the caramelised exterior of the patty.

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The beef is unbelievably flavorful and tender, and it’s clear the burger was constructed to let it shine — but, that means a less balanced burger overall.

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The tomato was tart, the cheese pungent and tangy, and the ShackSauce … saucy. But I found myself missing the zing of an onion and the crunch of a pickle or crisp, fresh lettuce.

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It’s still a really good burger, but it’s unique. It doesn’t quite have all the classic elements one desires from a burger.

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Next, I opted for some lemonade.

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Made in-house, the lemonade was a highlight.

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Sweet, sour, and fragrant, it was levels above anything you can get from a soda fountain.

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The burger, sadly, was gone before I knew it. And at the end of it all, I was still hungry.

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Luckily, I had quite a few fries left.

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When it comes down to it, Shake Shack’s innovative flavours do make it stand out. But it still can’t compete with a perfectly executed classic.

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The Double-Double is a lip-smacking stack of beef, bun, and all their best companions. It’s proof that there’s truly no substitute for a classic that’s just done right.

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