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Anatomy of an Icon: The ShackBurger

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As part of Eater's Burger Week, part two in a series exploring what, exactly, makes an iconic hamburger:

Nick Solares/Eater NY
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

With over 20 locations worldwide, Union Square Hospitality Group's Shake Shack sets a high standard for the quick-service burger. Since winning a bid to establish a permanent kiosk in New York City's Madison Square Park in 2004, Danny Meyer and the Shake Shack team have been relentless in their pursuit to realize their "modern day 'roadside' burger stand."

The ShackBurger is a quintessential Shake Shack order and, like the restaurant itself, it is all about classic Americana with a little extra. Shake Shack's Culinary Manager Mark Rosati says the philosophy of the ShackBurger is to make a signature burger that's as simple as possible but that delivers maximum flavor. As with the restaurant, the ShackBurger is equally inspired by old school burger stands as New England lobster shacks. Shake Shack wants the burger to connect the diner with the past, but there is an obsessive focus on the quality of the meat that makes the ShackBurger totally contemporary. The ShakeBurger mantra: "It has to be about the burger meat."

1. The Bun

In the spirit of keeping things simple, the ShackBurger is served on a buttered, griddled potato bun. Shake Shack uses Martin's Potato Rolls, which are an East Coast favorite often found with lobster rolls as well as burgers. Though the simplicity of the preparation is part of its appeal, Rosati says that toasting the bun also adds textural contrast. Because of toasting, the bun is "soft and squishy, but ... you get a bit of crunch that makes it more fun to eat." On a more technical level, toasting caramelizes the outside of the bun, which adds another dimension of flavor.

2. The Cheese

In another nod to the '50s burger stand, the standard issue ShackBurger is topped with a slice of melted American cheese. Shake Shack chose American cheese for its creamy, salty flavor as well as for its meltability. They source their cheese from Wisconsin dairies. American cheese is part of what makes the ShackBurger comfort food. "There's just something classic and universal about American cheese that I think add an extra layer of warmth to the burger," Rosati explains. "This is comfort food, and we want to make it as comforting as possible."

3. The Patty

One of the central tenets of ShackBurger philosophy is to stay true to the classic American burger but make it better. Rosati says the burger meat is the key place this philosophy plays out. The ShackBlend — a proprietary blend of beef designed by Shake Shack for their burgers — was made to have structure, classic flavor, and a touch of funkiness. The custom blend was developed in conjunction with New York City's Pat LaFrieda back when Shake Shack first opened. The patty is seasoned with salt and pepper, and then cooked on a griddle using a "smash" technique. The salt and the smash create the crust, which contrasts the juiciness of the burger.

4. The Sauce

A signature burger needs a signature sauce. ShackSauce is inspired by classic toppings of the '50s: ketchup, mustard, "and everything in between." The base of the sauce is a mayonnaise that Shake Shack makes from scratch. The goal of the sauce is to add multiple flavors to the burger including sweet, bitter, salty, smoke, and spice. The recipe, a closely held secret, has been revised "a few times" since Shake Shack opened. For example, a pickle brunoise used to be included, but was taken out because it had a tendency to clog the squeeze bottle. Like the bun and other toppings, the sauce is designed to enhance the flavor of the meat.

5. The Toppings

The ShackBurger is topped with a classic lettuce and tomato combo. Green leaf was chosen because it is smooth, crisp, and bitter. The idea is that it should be refreshing against the buttered bun and seared meat. Roma was selected as the tomato of choice for its size and its sweetness. The goal is to offer as a good amount of sliced tomato in each bite without overwhelming the diner. Guests are welcome to request pickles and onions since, as Rosati puts it, "people have strong feelings about the way they want their burger."

· All Shake Shack Coverage on Eater [-E-]
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