Shake Shack burgers and fries

Review of Shake Shack’s New BBQ Burgers and Fried Pickles

When I think of BBQ, there are two types that come to mind. The first type is the warm-weather outdoor gathering: a perfect summer barbecue with a grill packed to the lid with burgers, hot dogs, and the occasional boneless chicken breast, accompanied by a big bowl of potato salad. And then there’s the other type of BBQ — the styles of regional American barbecue seen at roadside eateries in places like Texas, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, where slow-cooked meats fall off the bone, glisten with fat, and are slathered in barbecue sauce.

Shake Shack is tapping into the latter type with its new BBQ menu, channeling the distinct flavors of pit-smoked barbecued meat with all the accoutrements by way of two new burgers: the Smoky Classic BBQ Burger, and the Carolina BBQ Burger topped with fried pickles. Additionally, Shake Shack is offering BBQ fries to accompany the new burger offerings, available with or without cheese sauce.

Before it was made available to the public, I tried the new BBQ menu during a tasting event for the media at New York’s Shake Shack innovation kitchen, but my opinions of the new products were not influenced by their being provided at no cost. As we move into summer and start to seek out all the smoky, savory flavors of BBQ season, is Shake Shack a new destination for the best BBQ burgers? Read on to find out.

Recommendations are based on firsthand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by Shake Shack.

What is the new Shake Shack BBQ menu?

Shake Shack BBQ burgers

The Shake Shack culinary innovation team is constantly thinking up ideas that encompass numerous trends, flavors, and ingredients. Unlike previous limited-time offerings from Shake Shack, which typically include a burger option and a chicken option, there’s no chicken this time. According to John Karangis, executive chef and VP of culinary innovation for Shake Shack, this is the first time Shake Shack has chosen to launch two burgers, side by side, for a limited-time offering.

The first new burger on the BBQ menu is the Smoky Classic BBQ Burger, which is a smashed Angus beef patty topped with American cheese, bacon, crispy fried onions, pickles, and smoky BBQ sauce. Next is the Carolina BBQ Burger: This smashed beef patty is topped with fried pickles, bacon, jalapeño jack cheese, and Carolina gold BBQ sauce.

The BBQ fries don’t stray too far from the original; these are classic Shake Shack crinkle-cut fries with the optional blanket of melty cheese sauce on top. This time, however, the fries are topped with a chipotle-enhanced BBQ seasoning, and customers can choose which dipping sauce they’d like: Shack BBQ or Carolina BBQ.

Shake Shack BBQ menu pricing and availability

Shake Shack burgers and fries

Just like the summer barbecue season itself, the Shake Shack BBQ menu is only here for a limited time. Starting May 21, the BBQ menu will be available exclusively via the Shake Shack app, meaning if you typically like to order your Shake Shack meal through the app rather than at a restaurant, you’re in luck. Otherwise, the BBQ items will all be available at participating Shake Shack locations starting May 24, and be served all summer while supplies last. 

Both burgers are priced the same, starting at $8.99. BBQ fries will set you back $4.79, or $5.99 with cheese, at the time of publication. Considering the new toppings and ingredients used in these summertime offerings, we find these prices to be more than reasonable for burger enthusiasts and the BBQ curious.

For anyone disappointed that a new chicken sandwich is not included with this BBQ menu, fear not. The smoky Shack BBQ sauce is a part of the core Shake Shack menu, available alongside the chicken bites. While this sauce is not exactly something new, if you prefer chicken to beef, you can still get your BBQ fix from Shake Shack by dunking those crispy chicken pieces in the BBQ sauce, and can continue to do so after these limited-time items leave the menu. 

Taste test: Smoky Classic BBQ Burger

plated Shake Shack BBQ burger

Sara Kay/Look

When I think of my summertime barbecue favorites, my mind immediately goes to a burger — fresh off the grill, on a pillowy potato bun, topped with pickles and a melange of condiments for a mix of sweet, smoky, acidic flavors. The Smoky Classic BBQ Burger is all of my summer burger fantasies rolled up into one beefy package. The ShackBurger on its own is a classic, but this is a welcome upgrade.

Every element of this burger works in harmony for an ideal level of balance that can be hard to find from most restaurants, let alone a fast-casual burger joint. The juicy beef patty, creamy American cheese, thick-cut pickle chips, and smoky bacon are all welcome ingredients for this burger, but my standing ovation overwhelmingly goes to the crispy onions and the smoky BBQ sauce. Crunchy and salty with just a whisper of sweetness, the crispy onions are an ideal textural contrast, like adding a handful of salty potato chips onto a pulled pork sandwich.

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The BBQ sauce is the star of this burger, and for good reason. It’s savory and decadent, with strong notes of garlic, pepper, and tomato throughout. This burger is several steps up from any backyard barbecue burger I’ve ever had, and even though it’s brand-new to the Shake Shack menu and will be around for a while this summer, I miss it already.

Taste test: Carolina BBQ Burger with Fried Pickles

Shake Shack Carolina BBQ burger

Sara Kay/Look

According to Karangis, while the Smoky Classic BBQ Burger is a more approachable option, the Carolina BBQ Burger is more of a stretch in his mind. After taking a bite, I get it. This is one of the more unique burgers I’ve had, starting with the Carolina-style BBQ sauce and ending with the fried pickles served on the burger rather than on the side. One could argue that yes, this entails a lot of effort and risk when trying to appeal to all different tastes. But in this case, the juice is worth the squeeze.

This is a napkin-heavy burger, but there’s something inherently summery about it, with the BBQ sauce dripping down your hands as you revel in each meaty bite. The tangy BBQ sauce cuts through all the richness, zippy and bright from its mustard and vinegar. While it’s not a member of the core Shake Shack menu, I hope this Carolina gold sauce gets to stick around. Additionally, the jalapeño-infused jack cheese is a wonderful change of pace. Creamy and salty with subtle heat, this is a much appreciated cheese upgrade from the standard American slice.

Then, the pickles. Crunchy and well-seasoned, the fried pickles are a crispy, salty indulgence on an already luxurious burger. This also comes topped by applewood-smoked bacon, but with everything else going on in this burger, it’s unnecessary. If you’re open to opting out of the bacon, I recommend doing so. 

Taste test: BBQ Fries

Shake Shack BBQ fries

Sara Kay/Look

For all of the creative burger and sandwich innovations that Shake Shack puts out, the chain tends to keep things pretty even-keeled when it comes to the fries. And for this, I am extremely grateful.

The crinkle-cut fries from Shake Shack are exceptional; they’re crispy and well-seasoned, and travel well if you decide to take your meal to go rather than choosing to dine in. That said, the chipotle BBQ seasoning for the fries is a delicious upgrade. You can choose to order the fries with or without cheese, and you have a choice of the Shack BBQ sauce or the Carolina BBQ sauce for maximal dipping opportunities.

The cheese sauce is a decadent, tasty topping for the fries, but in this case, it’s not needed. The BBQ seasoning is reminiscent of a really good steak flavoring, loaded with savory, smoky taste with added depth from the dried chipotle. This seasoning does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to adding flavor to the fries, especially if you pair them with the Carolina BBQ sauce. If you’re a cheese-topped-fry enthusiast, go forth and cheese away, but with the deep, rich flavor of the seasoning and the brightness of the sauce, the cheese doesn’t add anything in terms of flavor.

Is the new Shake Shack BBQ menu worth it?

Shake Shack fried pickles

Sara Kay/Look

The chain has become known for launching extremely popular limited-time offerings, from Shake Shack white truffle menu to the Korean-inspired swicy menu. This latest offering, tapping into the sweet and smoky flavors of Southern BBQ and summer grilling season, is yet another example of the culinary innovation team being a step ahead. While this time around the chain opted out of offering a chicken sandwich — a trend that seems to be never-ending — they leaned into pickles and sauces instead, giving burger lovers an impressive and delicious best-of BBQ playlist to choose from.

Not only is the BBQ menu from Shake Shack worth it, it’s a helluva shame that this will only around for a limited time. But, just like summertime itself, I plan to bask in the warmth of the season and indulge in the BBQ menu often before I have to say goodbye to it. I only hope that when the next limited-time offering from Shake Shack makes its way to menus later this year, whatever it happens to be, it is as vibrant and flavorful as this one.

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