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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
ShackBurger from Shake Shack before a burger taste test at the Deseret News in the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Food always tastes better on vacation. Right?

You know how it goes: You’ve got a few days off work, so you get as far away from your job as possible. New city, new state, new food.

Vacation meals are hard to trust, though. Was the food actually better? Or did it just taste better because it tasted like, well, freedom?

For a lot of people, Shake Shack has been that place. After starting out in New York City, Shake Shack started opening locations in other tourist hubs. Now it’s in Utah — Sandy, specifically — and we decided to find out: Is Shake Shack’s main burger, the ShackBurger, actually better than similarly styled burgers in Salt Lake? Could Utah beat Shake Shack at its own game?

We have the answer. Here’s how we found it.

To start, we tracked down Utah-specific burger restaurants (so no Five Guys or In-N-Out) that make a certain kind of burger, that had locations in Salt Lake. Shake Shack’s burger patties are smashed flat — not big and plump like those at higher-end eateries. The ShackBurger uses this smashed patty, and adds cheese, lettuce, tomato and “ShackSauce,” all between two buns. This was our template. No additional meats like bacon or pastrami, no wacky condiments, etc. Just the essentials.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
A taste tester eats a burger at the Deseret News office in the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.

Here are the contenders, with the burger names as they appear on the menu, the price before tax and the location where we bought them.

Apollo Burger

Burger: Cheeseburger

Price: $4.49

Location: 379 S. Main St.

B&D Burgers

Burger: Cheeseburger

Price: $3.99

Location: 222 N. 1300 East

California Burgers & Deli

Burger: Cheese Burger

Price: $3.75

Location: 306 N. 300 West

Chedda Burger

Burger: Old Faithful

Price: $6.99

Location: The Gateway, 100 S. 400 West

Cristy Meiners
Crown Burgers' Cheeseburger.

Crown Burgers

Burger: Cheeseburger

Price: $5.19

Location: 118 N. 300 West

Hires Big H

Burger: Big H

Price: $5.55

Location: 425 S. 700 East

Proper Burger Company

Burger: Hamburger (Proper Style)

Price: $6.99

Location: 865 S. Main St.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Hamburger (Proper Style) from Proper Burger before a taste test at the Deseret News in the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.

Tonyburgers

Burger: Ol’ Reliable (size: Small Tony)

Price: $5.88

Location: 400 S. 613 East

Shake Shack

Burger: ShackBurger

Price: $5.39

Location: 11020 S. State St., Sandy

Now, on to our methods.

We used five Deseret News employees as our judges. These five judges — three women, two men — have different backgrounds and, at times, very different burger preferences.

To eliminate bias, all packaging was removed from the burgers. Judges didn’t know which burger belonged to which restaurant. (They could sometimes tell, from taste alone, but that’s their prerogative.)

Over two days, our judges sampled these nine different burgers, and scored them on a scale of 1 to 5 — 1 being terrible, 5 being transcendent — in five separate categories. Four of these categories have to do with the burger’s basic components: patty taste, patty texture, condiments and bun. The fifth category — overall — is about the judge’s total impression of the entire burger. Since a burger is more than just the sum of its parts, the overall category was worth twice as many points as the other four component categories.

A perfect score, then, would be 30, since 5+5+5+5+10 = 30.

Resist the urge to view these scores as a percentage or letter grade. In elementary school, a 20/30 might garner you a D. This ain’t a spelling quiz, though. It’s burgers.

A burger’s total score was determined by averaging each judge’s score. (We crunched the numbers for the individual categories, too — more on that later.)

Simple enough, right?

Let’s get to our results.

TOTAL SCORE (out of 30)

  1. Shake Shack — ShackBurger: 27.75
  2. Proper Burger Company — Hamburger (Proper Style): 25.12
  3. Tonyburgers — Ol’ Reliable: 25
  4. B&D Burgers — Cheeseburger: 21.625
  5. Chedda Burger — Old Faithful: 21.5
  6. Hires Big H — Big H: 20.625
  7. California Burgers & Deli — Cheese Burger: 18.75
  8. Crown Burgers — Cheeseburger: 18.5
  9. Apollo Burger — Cheeseburger: 15.75

Yes, Shake Shack lives up to the hype. ShackBurger won the total score by a significant margin. As for why, it’s because it performed almost flawlessly in each of the component categories, with each and every judge. The patty, bun and condiments were universally loved here.

It’s also because of how well these individual parts worked together and contributed to the whole — that “love at first bite” feeling. For more on that, let’s examine the rankings in the overall category. (Remember: These next figures are worth twice as much as the individual component categories.)

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Court Mann scores a burger as he taste tests at the Deseret News office in the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.

OVERALL (out of 10)

  1. Shake Shack — ShackBurger: 9.75
  2. Tonyburgers — Ol’ Reliable: 8.625
  3. Proper Burger Company — Hamburger (Proper Style): 8.5
  4. B&D Burgers — Cheeseburger: 7.625
  5. TIE (2-way): Hires Big H — Big H: 7
  6. TIE (2-way): Chedda Burger — Old Faithful: 7
  7. California Burgers & Deli — Cheese Burger: 6.75
  8. Crown Burgers — Cheeseburger: 6.25
  9. Apollo Burger — Cheeseburger: 5

Shake Shack, Proper Burger Company and Tonyburgers are a cut above the rest. These three restaurants had significantly higher scores in the total score and overall categories. In both these categories, it was a photo finish between Tonyburgers and Proper Burger Company. If any one judge had given either burger a point higher or lower in any one category, the burger's final position in the total score and overall rankings would have switched.

A burger is nothing without a patty, so here’s how the patty rankings shook out.

PATTY TASTE (out of 5)

  1. Shake Shack — ShackBurger: 4.75
  2. Tonyburgers — Ol’ Reliable: 4.125
  3. Proper Burger Company — Hamburger (Proper Style): 4
  4. Hires Big H — Big H: 3.375
  5. TIE (2-way): B&D Burgers — Cheeseburger: 3.25
  6. TIE (2-way): California Burgers & Deli — Cheese Burger: 3.25
  7. Chedda Burger — Old Faithful: 3.125
  8. Crown Burgers — Cheeseburger: 3
  9. Apollo Burger — Cheeseburger: 2.625

PATTY TEXTURE (out of 5)

  1. Shake Shack — ShackBurger: 4.75
  2. Tonyburgers — Ol’ Reliable: 4.25
  3. Proper Burger Company — Hamburger (Proper Style): 3.5
  4. TIE (2-way): Hires Big H — Big H: 3.25
  5. TIE (2-way): Chedda Burger — Old Faithful: 3.25
  6. TIE (3-way): B&D Burgers — Cheeseburger: 3.125
  7. TIE (3-way): California Burgers & Deli — Cheese Burger: 3.125
  8. TIE (3-way): Crown Burgers — Cheeseburger: 3.125
  9. Apollo Burger — Cheeseburger: 2.875
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
ShackBurger from Shake Shack before a burger taste test at the Deseret News in the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.

The two best-scoring patties — Shake Shack and Tonyburgers — are made a similar way. Both of these restaurants make a point to tell you their patties are unique. While most low-cost burger patties are simply made from ground sirloin, Shake Shack and Tonyburgers make their patties from a mix of sirloin, chuck and brisket. And yes, you can really taste the difference. Stats don’t always tell the truth, but in this case, they sure do.

Here’s how all the burgers scored in terms of condiments and buns.

CONDIMENTS (out of 5)

  1. Proper Burger Company — Hamburger (Proper Style): 4.875
  2. Tonyburgers — Ol’ Reliable: 4.5
  3. Chedda Burger — Old Faithful: 4.125
  4. Shake Shack — ShackBurger: 4
  5. B&D Burgers — Cheeseburger: 3.75
  6. Crown Burgers — Cheeseburger: 3.25
  7. California Burgers & Deli — Cheese Burger: 3
  8. Hires Big H — Big H: 2.75
  9. Apollo Burger — Cheeseburger: 2.625

BUN (out of 5)

  1. Shake Shack — ShackBurger: 4.5
  2. TIE (2-way): Proper Burger Company — Hamburger (Proper Style): 4.25
  3. TIE (2-way): Hires Big H — Big H: 4.25
  4. Chedda Burger — Old Faithful: 4
  5. B&D Burgers — Cheeseburger: 3.875
  6. Tonyburgers — Ol’ Reliable (Small Tony): 3.5
  7. Crown Burgers — Cheeseburger: 2.875
  8. TIE (2-way): Apollo Burger — Cheeseburger: 2.625
  9. TIE (2-way): California Burgers & Deli — Cheese Burger: 2.625

A burger is more than the sum of its parts. One of our most surprising takeaways was the performance of B&D’s Cheeseburger. It didn’t crack the top four in any of the component categories, but finished fourth in both total score and overall. Chedda Burger illustrated the other side of this coin: Its Old Faithful burger did well in the component categories, finishing third in condiments and fourth in bun, but it finished fifth in total score and tied for fifth in overall.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Taste testers pick up burgers to taste at the Deseret News office in the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.

Lastly, let’s look at price, and how that relates to other categories.

PRICE

  1. Proper Burger Company — Hamburger (Proper Style): $6.99
  2. Chedda Burger — Old Faithful: $6.99
  3. Tonyburgers — Ol’ Reliable (Small Tony): $5.88
  4. Hires Big H — Big H: $5.55
  5. Shake Shack — ShackBurger: $5.39
  6. Crown Burgers — Cheeseburger: $5.19
  7. Apollo Burger — Cheeseburger: $4.49
  8. B&D Burgers — Cheeseburger: $3.99
  9. California Burgers & Deli — Cheese Burger: $3.75

Price and quality don’t always correlate. B&D surprised us again here. It’s a no-frills restaurant with a no-frills burger — only one other burger on our list was cheaper — but B&D finished fourth in the two most important categories. On the flipside, Crown Burgers’ offering was in the middle of the pack (sixth) price-wise, but finished in the bottom third (7-9) for most other categories. Shake Shack was ranked fifth in price, but almost uniformly smoked the competition every which way.

15 comments on this story

Our methods weren’t perfect. (We got into journalism at least partly because we struggled with math.) So take all of this with a grain of salt. We know eating a bunch of burger samples in short succession isn’t typical. A great burger joint is about the burgers, yes, but it’s also about the fries, the milkshakes, etc., and how those all work together when you order an entire meal.

We can confidently say, though, that Shake Shack’s signature burger is worth the wait. And, in this experimental instance, it really is better than Salt Lake’s other fast food burgers.

OK, sorry for making you wait this long — go ahead and eat.