Earlier last year, burgeoning Boston hamburger chain Tasty Burger opened a location in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. Tasty Burger has a pretty strong pedigree, coming from the same restaurant group as Franklin Cafe and Citizen Public House. Their burgers are tasty. Just this past weekend, NY burger titan Shake Shack continued their Northeast expansion by opening a location right across the Square from Tasty Burger. Within eyesight of each other, the two gourmet fast-food burger joints circle each other warily like two anthropomorphic cheeseburgerboxers (this doesn’t really happen, but imagine).
As soon as I heard Shake Shack was going into a space about 100 yards from Tasty Burger, I knew we’d have to do a taste test of some sort. Heavily inspired by this A Hamburger Today Shake Shack vs In-N-Out vs Five Guys bi-coastal taste test, we set up something similar pitting New York upstart Shake Shack against local favorite Tasty Burger. When I say “heavily inspired” I mean, we probably wouldn’t have done this without that post. I also mean I borrowed heavily from the format.
Please note: The “Boston vs New York” thing is always fraught with peril, ESPECIALLY the “Boston food vs New York food” debate. We are not getting into any of that here. For the sake of science, we put that aside and endeavored to decide impartially, once and for all, which was a better burger: Tasty Burger or Shake Shack.
Imitable illustrator, Chris Piascik
Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and Burger owner, James DiSabatino
Flour baker, Keith Brooks
Super friend, Holly Hutchenson
At 12:03 PM on Tuesday, January 7th 2014, Keith entered and Tasty Burger Harvard Square to pick up 4 regular cheeseburgers, 1 cheeseburger without sauce (Chris doesn’t like white foods like mayo) (I know), and one veggie burger. James entered Shake Shack at 12:05 PM and ordered the same thing. The burgers were then brought to my house in an insulated bag and eaten at 1PM. We used Mexican Coke as a palate cleanser, as you do, even if it isn’t really better. There were 6 criteria for rating each burger: The Bun, The Cheese, The Toppings, The Sauce, The Value, and the Meat. In this instance, we didn’t weight any of the criteria higher than others. There were also two unweighted criteria: Time to Burger, and 8-month old acceptance. These criteria were recorded, but did not factor in final judgement. In a draw, taste testers were able to award points to both burgers. To be perfectly scientific, we should have eaten the burgers 5 minutes apart to account for Shake Shack’s burgers coming off the grill 5 minutes later, but this is cheeseburger science and a fast food burger shouldn’t deteriorate if left for 5 extra minutes.
||1/4 pound patty
||1/3 pound patty
||Cheddar American Blend
||Lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions
||$4.85 for a cheeseburger. $1.21 per ounce.
||$5.25 for a cheeseburger. $.98 per ounce.
||“100% all-natural Angus beef, vegetarian fed, humanely raised and source verified. No hormones or antibiotics – EVER.”
||“All natural, Certified Humane®, and NEVER given any growth hormones or antibiotics. The steer are grass fed and finished on a 100% vegetarian grass and grain diet.”
*The AHT review above mentions onions and pickles. Our burgers did not have.
**The AHT review above mentions ketchup and mayo. Our burgers did not have.
Reminder, a draw results in a point awarded to both burgers. And sauce only has 4 votes because Chris doesn’t like sauce. (I don’t know either.)
Score: 4-1 Tasty Burger
Comments on the Tasty Burger bun:
“Love the sesame seeds on Tasty Burger’s bun.” “It’s got a moist, springy texture.” “Very sturdy.” “Too big.” “If I was just eating the two buns on their own, I would like the Tasty Burger bun better.”
Comments on the Shake Shack bun
“Perfect burger to bun ratio. It allowed meat to really shine.” “I love potato rolls, but the Tasty bun worked better.” “I liked the Tasty Burger bun better for the first two bites, and Shake Shack better for last two bites. It soaks up the juices”
Score: 4-4 Tied
Comments on the Tasty Burger cheese
“Tangy. Nice tangy flavor.”
Comments on the Shake Shack cheese
“A little more subtle. Not a big American Cheese fan.” “Hard to taste anything, it’s completely melted into the burger.”
Score: 5-4 Shake Shack
Comments on the Tasty Burger toppings
“The way the burger is wrapped to go doesn’t give the lettuce much chance to stay strong.” “The pickles and onions were a nice touch.”
Comments on the Shake Shack toppings
“Is this supposed to have pickles and onions?”
Score 3-1 Tasty Burger
Comments on the Tasty Burger sauce
“Ketchup and mayo, not mixed.” “Classic.” “Reminded me of backyard burger.”
Comments on the Shake Shack sauce
“By itself it tasted good.” “Pretty good on first bite around the edges. Not as good in the middle of the burger when it’s concentrated and you get a mouthful.” “Is this supposed to have ketchup and mayo?”
Score: 5-0 Tasty Burger
Comments on the Tasty Burger value
“Pretty even. Both will satisfy. Just price per pound edge goes to Tasty Burger. Tasty Burger is 100% Certified Humane beef. Shake Shack uses 100% no antibiotics no hormones.” “More expensive meat, probably. Bigger sandwich. No contest” “Substantial.”
Comments on the Shake Shack value
“You wouldn’t feel cheated at Shake Shack, it’s just Tasty Burger is a bigger sandwich.”
Score 4-1 Shake Shack
Comments on the Tasty Burger meat
“I like the seasoning, grill taste, and the texture.”
Comments on the Shake Shack meat
“Seasoned much better.” “A lot more flavor.” “Tons of beef flavor.” “The first bite was spongy, not in a good way.”
Response by an 8 month old to burger meat washed of any sauce: While it appeared the Tasty Burger burger was enjoyed with the Shake Shack burger being spit out immediately, the piece of Tasty Burger burger was found on the floor some time later. This is a draw and I will have to teach my daughter to honor my food preferences.
Veggie Burger: Shake Shack’s is two portabello mushrooms fried with cheese in the middle. The Tasty Burger veggie burger is a formed patty that is pleasantly spicy. If you want something that tastes like it might be bad for you, go with Shake Shack, if you want a healthier option, go with Tasty Burger. They were both palatable. This is a draw.
Speed of Service: Tasty Burger took 8 minutes to produce the order, Shake Shack took 10 minutes. Tasty Burger is the clear winner if 2 minutes is important to you.
If we’re just counting the scores on the different criteria above, Tasty Burger won 3-2 with one draw. If you add up all the votes, it’s 21-15 Tasty Burger. And for overall burger, judges picked Tasty Burger 4-1. While it’s clear from these results Tasty Burger makes a superior burger, everyone was supremely satisfied by the Shake Shack burger. It was not my intention with this taste test to equivocate. I wanted to find a clear winner, which in Tasty Burger, we seem to have done. Before tasting the burgers, I asked all the judges to think about who they expected and/or wanted to win. 4 judges to 1 thought Shake Shack was going to win “because of all the hype.” If there was any bias, it was in their favor. Without exception, all the judges agreed Tasty Burger and Shake Shack make a terrific fast food burger.
Tasty Burger’s use of Certified Humane® is something to applaud. I advised the judges to not include this fact in their voting in either The Value category or The Meat category. Tasty Burger won The Value vote anyway based on the size to price ratio of the burger, and would have won The Meat category if this factor was considered. All the judges agreed the Certified Humane® label was a reason on its own to choose Tasty Burger.
This cheeseburger taste test was a great afternoon, and all of the judges encourage you to perform your own. In the future some changes to the method might include blind tasting, and judges who haven’t previously tried either burger, along with judges from New York.
These final comments do a good job illustrating how close the burgers were in taste and quality:
“Shake Shack isn’t just serving meat, they’re serving a complete burger, and when judging the total package, Tasty Burger is just better.” “From now on, I’m going to go to Harvard Square and get both.” “I’m still going to eat both burgers constantly and switch it up, but if somebody could only go to one place and asked me which, I’d say Tasty Burger.” “There’s a better chance of coming away fully satisfied at Tasty Burger.” “Once I found out the information of the humane beef at Tasty Burger, it would sway my decision to Tasty Burger because of how close the burger experience was between the two of them and how geographically close they are. However, where I live, Five Guys is closer, and is a superior burger to both of them.”