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Burger Smackdown: East vs West

August 26, 2010

Last night was epic.  EPIC.

Let’s back-up.  It all started five-ish years ago when the Good Doctor and I went to NYC to visit Flyboy.  It was an eating extravaganza (as all trips to NYC should be), but the standout meal was at an unassuming shack in Madison Square Park – Shake Shack.  Burger. Fries. Shake.  I’ve hit that Shack every time I’ve been back to New York and the lines get longer with each visit.  That burger has haunted my dreams.

But let’s back it up again.  It all started eight years ago when I was working on the West Coast.  My coworkers kept raving about this fast food joint called In-N-Out.  You might have heard of it.  I was an instant believer.  Subsequent trips to the west coast always involved a trip to an In-N-Out, even at the risk of missing my flight.

So let’s fast forward.  About a month ago Flyboy sends me a blog about this guy who deconstructed the Shake Shack and came up with a recipe that he claims is spot on.  The recipe called for soft potato buns from Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe.  So I put Flyboy in charge of bun acquisition – one case of 48 buns for $19.14.  I’d say that’s a steal of a deal, nevermind the $10 delivery fee.

Two weeks later, Uncle el JB sends me this link:  the same guy breaks down the In-N-Out Double Double Animal Style!  THAT’S THE BURGER I ALWAYS ORDER!  What are the odds that Uncle el JB would send me an article about one of my favorite burgers while we were waiting on the buns to be delivered for my other favorite burger?  Had I been thinking straight, I should have bought a lotto ticket.

And then, just like that, the buns arrived.

Here’s the email I sent out to the usual suspects:


It is going down TONITE.  Shake Shack and In-n-Out Double Double.  We have a critical mass of burger technicians and tasters.  Some of you may be better tasters than technicians, but that’s here nor there.  We are in possession of the buns, and we can use our food processor to grind the meat.  ReRe, if you have a food weight scale, that would be helpful since the In-N-Outs are thin patties (2oz, to be exact).  Our goal is to be exact tonite, so some of you may need to pull me off the ledge when I’m itching to ad-lib.  I’m hitting the grocery store after work today, and we’ll throw Genghis in bed promptly before 7 so we can get our burger on.  If this is a success, I may just shed some tears.”

One extensive conversation with the butcher and one earlier than usual bedtime routine later, yaddy yadda yadda, it was go time.

Unassuming ingredients for magic.

Shake Shack sauce on the left, In-N-Out on the right.

First up, Shake Shack.  Uncle el JB was the sauceman.  I prepped the rest of the stuff, Flyboy buzzed from station to station to make himself look busy without doing much of anything at all.  And the Good Doctor did what anyone would do at an event as important as this – he downloaded some Natalie Merchant cds.  Quoz and ReRe came over with their scale just in time to shape the burgers.  We obsessed a bit over the exact weight and measurements just like any burger fanatic should.

Note Flyboy's position with his arms crossed.

Nothing like a pairing of Dublin Dr. Pepper and measuring tape.

The squish technique on the Shake Shack.

Flyboy did step up his game to tend to Martin’s famous buns and el JB took to the griddle like he’d built a career at the Waffle House.  And the Good Doctor sipped on a very nice 2007 Malbec.

Shake Shack sauce on the left, In-N-Out on the right.

And here’s what hit the table.

Sorry for the blur...I was shaking in anticipation. Literally.

Sweet baby Jesus, it was a Shake Shack burger.  It was everything a Shake Shack burger was, minus the Madison and the Square. The squishy, slightly sweet buns put it over the top, but the simplicity of the beef combo and the subtlety of the sauce was a dead ringer.  No question.  I looked at Flyboy and, I swear, I really wanted to cry.

Before I could even utter yet another groan of appreciation for the simple, delicate goodness of the burger, el JB was already back at the griddle flipping the In-N-Outs.  These thin little patties were intense – they broke apart easily, the slather of mustard put stress on our timing because they were cooking too fast and them babies was greasy.  I would say that the In-N-Outs were a pretty honest replica of the original, but our problem was that we just stuffed our faces with the Shake Shack. The grease factor was strong in the In-N-Out, and it fell to the bottom of my stomach like the Titanic.  It was, afterall, a fast food burger.  However, had we only ate the In-N-Out, it probably would have still been an epic night.  We did the side by side comparison and everyone kept coming back to the Shake Shack.  The Good Doctor suggested we throw the Big Mac into the battle because, afterall, “they say it’s the only burger you don’t have to chew to eat.”

In-N-Out on the left, Shake Shack on the right.

Pictured from left to right: In-N-Out, Shake Shack

So, in a battle of East Coast vs West Coast, the winner is:  East Coast, booooiiiiyyyyeeee.

East Coast!

But let me get one thing straight.  This magical evening wasn’t so much a battle-royale between the burgers, it was an all-inclusive evening to embrace and celebrate both burgers.  We just have a tendency to pit things against each other and declare winners in this household.  But the real winners were US, because we made TWO damn good burgers.  We took it to the next level by downing them burgers with Mexican Cokes, Dublin Dr. Peppers and St. Arnold’s Root Beer.  Seriously.  You may be asking, how does one cap off such a spectacular evening?  Well, with my boys geeking out over the iPhone while dunking chocolate chip-less cookies in whole milk.  Of course.

*sigh*  At one point before my supposed last bite of the Shake Shack, I had to take a moment to take it all in.  I was basking in the beauty of the evening, basking in the sweet sweet success of recreating an honest Shake Shack and In-N-Ot burger after such a long anticipated wait.  I basked in knowing that I need not wait until my next trip to NYC to tame the Shake Shack shakes.  I basked in the beauty of how these two burgers brought together a group of people who were so intensely focused on a common mission and so thoroughly enjoyed the concept, the prep and the  consumption with such gusto.  Freakin’ burger-tastic.  So what’s next?


From → Food

  1. hooooooooly shhhooowza! this is crazy, like b’ you crazy. i can hear you saying all of this, that’s how well it’s written… i miss you and flyboy.

  2. posey permalink

    i too dream of the shake shack frequently, and have even been known to check their web cam when the craving is especially bad….just so i can see other people enjoying the goodness.

  3. Tal permalink

    Hey Judy,

    You have to check this out:

    Miss you guys,

    • Damn you Tal. Looks like we’re going to have to order another case of Martin’s famous buns. I’ll let you know what happens when Shake Shack and the ‘Nam collide. I will tell you that my mom makes a divine spaghetti – her umami is soy sauce and Pace picante sauce.

  4. slg permalink

    juice – when i get back to VA – I can send you Martin’s buns anytime you need them. The kids eat the bread daily. besos, slg

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