Every time I see someone compare In-N-Out to Shake Shack, I feel the same way I did watching the slow kid get massacred by dodgeballs in middle school. It’s not Kevin’s fault that he started kindergarten early and hasn’t hit puberty yet. He didn’t ask to be destroyed by 8th graders with pronounced peach fuzz ‘staches.
It’s not In-N-Out’s fault that it started 56 years before Shake Shack when clever branding meant paper hats with logos. They didn’t ask to be pitted against a publicly traded monolith.
I’m all for promoting an East Coast vs. West Coast burger fight, but In-N-Out and Shake Shack are in different weight classes. No, literally, In-N-Out’s patties weigh half as much the Shack’s, and their standard cheeseburger is less than half the price because of it. It’s an unfair comparison almost all across the board. There’s another burger that should champion California, and it exists about a mile and a half from Shake Shack’s L.A. flagship in WeHo.
Shake Shack: They use a squishy, cakey, unbelievably delicious Martin’s Potato Roll.
Belcampo: They use a squishy, cakey, unbelievably delicious Martin’s Potato Roll.
Edge: I mean…
Shake Shack: The tiniest amount of green leaf lettuce and two razor-thin slices of plum tomato. There’s just enough produce to let you know that it’s there, but not enough to detract from the interplay of bun, meat, and cheese. In the words of Martha Stewart, “It’s a good thing.”
Belcampo: Butter lettuce, a thick slice of hot-house tomato, and a generous portion of both raw red and white onions. This is where regional differences really come into play. With Cali-style burgers (a la In-n-Out) the veggies want to be noticed and they’re out in full force at Belcampo. Perhaps too much so. The raw onion was a bit distracting and the butter lettuce bled a whole lot of moisture into the secret sauce.
Edge: Shake Shack
Shake Shack: Out of all the pink-hued sauces at all the chain burger joints, this is hands-down the best. It’s saltier, more acidic, and just tastes… more. According to this Food Lab investigation, the secret is whole pickles blended into the mixture of mostly mayonnaise, along with a touch of mustard and ketchup.
Belcampo: Similarly pink sauce, but more of the classic Thousand Island variety with a higher percentage of ketchup than Shack Sauce. It’s sweeter and doesn’t have the same flavor punch. The deluge of water coming from the butter lettuce doesn’t help its cause either.
Edge: Shake Shack
Shake Shack: Shiny, square, neon-yellow American
Belcampo: Shiny, square, neon-yellow American. BUT! And this is a huge but. You get better cheese coverage with Belcampo’s perfectly circular patty. At Shake Shack, the irregularly smashed burger leaves several patches of un-cheesed beef, and that is unacceptable.
Shake Shack: The burger blend is secret, but rumor has it it’s a mix of sirloin, chuck and brisket, all from “100% all-natural Angus cattle.” A ball of ground beef is forcibly smashed into the flat top to create a non-circular patty with an intense crust. Those with an advanced foodie vocabulary would likely wax about the “Maillard reactions”. But the patty has been undersalted every time I’ve been to the WeHo location. Salt is the bass line from which all flavor harmonies are written, and the meat at Shake Shack really fails to sing.
Belcampo: Yeahhhhhhh, this is what I’m talking about. It’s a griddle-cooked patty, and even though you don’t get the kind of surface area crust that you do at Shake Shack, you don’t miss it. Belcampo’s meat, which is an 80/20 blend from grass-fed steak trimmings, just tastes so, so, so much beefier than any fast food-style burger you would get anywhere else. It’s well salted, and the grass-fed beef gives off that almost metallic, beautifully deep flavor that tastes like a dry-aged steak. Belcampo wins the meat battle, and it’s not even close.
VERDICT: Structurally speaking, these are really similar burgers. They have the same bun, the same cheese, and similar sauce and produce. Shake Shack wins the small contests with its accoutrements, but, if we’re talking burgers here, the conversation has to be centered around the beef. The meat at Belcampo itself is so much better that all the sins of watery lettuce and flavorless sauce are absolved. Belcampo wins.