While the 1880s probably wasn’t the greatest decade in human history to be alive if you were a factory worker or a member of the Romanov family, they were banner years for milkshake enthusiasts, as the first milkshakes were more about chugging whiskey than sipping drinkable ice cream. They were a cinnamon eggnog-type drink, blended with tonic and served with a healthy dose of the hard stuff. Imagine strolling into your corner McDonald’s and requesting one of those puppies.
The rise of the soda shop introduced a different type of milkshake, one more closely resembling the ubiquitous frozen treats found in in any respectable U.S. burger joint today. However, before the advent of the electric blender, milkshakes were shaken (hence the name) by hand and contained a combination of milk, sugar, flavored syrup, and ice. It wasn’t until the 1930s that milkshakes became the smooth, frozen, creamy mixtures we expect today.
Those old school soda fountains and diners, which specialized in sweet drinks and easy-to-make foods, are responsible for the way we still see milkshakes as less of a dessert and more of a side dish for a big, juicy burger, and since fast food restaurants have by and large replaced soda shops as our go-to spots for cheap, quick dining, burger chains are the nation’s surest bet for a decent yet inexpensive shake.
Let’s be honest, even a subpar milkshake is better than no milkshake at all. So how to rank the best fast food shakes around? We defined “fast food” establishments as restaurants strictly offering counter service or drive-through with four or more locations. To rank the shakes, we looked at national rankings, Yelp reviews, and even got input from professional chefs. We also took into consideration the quality of the ice cream and the variety of flavors available.
1. In-N-Out Burger
Hey, it’s hard to argue with celebrity chef Alton Brown, who voted In-N-Out Esquire’s best fast food spot in America, raving “the shake tastes the way shakes tasted back when I was a kid. It makes me tear up just thinkin' about it.”
2. Shake Shack
This Northeastern chain hand spins its custard daily, and the shakes are all the better for it. Plus, in addition to the standard strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate, you can get caramel or peanut butter. They’re so good locals find themselves craving a Shake Shack fix even in the dead of winter.
3. Steak 'n Shake
When you’ve got the word “shake” right in your moniker, you’d better deliver, and Steak and Shake does. Their shakes are thick and creamy like a good milkshake should be, but they land on this list for sheer audacity. With flavors like birthday cake, Snickers, and chocolate-covered strawberry, who needs the steak? Just bring on the shake.
It’s no surprise that the company that bills itself as “America’s drive-in” offers a huge spectrum of shakes from standard to slightly offbeat fare, like lemon pie and pineapple, to completely bizarre flavors you’d never think to mix up — stop in and try a chocolate jalapeño shake if you find yourself sick of plain-Jane vanilla.
5. Super Duper
This San Francisco Bay area chain serves fast food with a conscience, and their shakes are a testament to their commitment to quality food. Each shake is made with Straus organic soft serve, which contains simple ingredients and no thickeners, additives, or artificial colors.