Shake Shack Vs Culver's: Which Is Better?

Few combinations hit the spot quite like hamburgers and fries. The duo dates back decades and has become an American fast food staple infused with nostalgia, as per The Atlantic. Yet one great debate in this country remains: which fast food place is the best at serving up this iconic pairing and more? While geography plays a huge factor in this ongoing question, other things like menu differences, flavor offerings, and sides also impact the opinions of the nation's burger lovers. We're taking a closer look at two fast food favorites that each boast an army of fans across the country: Shake Shack and Culver's.

With so many factors that can direct the decision of which drive-thru to visit, it was clear that more investigation was necessary. We dove into the different aspects of Shake Shack and Culver's to get to the truth, including not just menu offerings, but also cost, location, variety, catering, franchise opportunities, and more, all to give you insight before deciding on your favorite.

Keep reading to discover the significant differences between these two delicious yet significantly different fast food chains. Our discoveries may surprise you.

Both chains sell American comfort food

To the satisfaction of many fast food fans, Shake Shack and Culver's both serve mouthwatering burgers, fries, chicken, and custard. Either chain can satisfy that rich and carby craving we get on a long road trip, leaving a late-night event, or after a tiring day at the office. However, we found that their comfort food differs slightly in variety and quality.

Shake Shack and Culver's both serve chicken sandwiches and bites, crinkle-cut fries, and frozen custard, which are menu offerings you find less often at other fast food burger chains. Burgers remain the backbone of both establishments and are likely the center of most orders.

Both chains pride themselves on quality, promoting fresh and never-frozen burgers. Shake Shack adds it only uses a 100% Angus beef blend and no hormones or antibiotics (via Shake Shack). Culver's guarantees that each burger is seared after you order (via Culver's). So, which one comes out on top? Reddit users raved about the minimalist homemade triple-decker from Shake Shack, noting its perfection. We agree and think Shake Shack's burgers taste tops Culver's.

One chain offers more variety

While both chains provide a significant amount of variety on their menus, we still think that one, in particular, takes the cake — or should we say custard? 

Shake Shack specializes in burgers, chicken, crinkle-cut fries, shakes, frozen custard, and flat-top hot dogs. That's plenty, but the Culver's menu also provides seafood, snacks, malts, soups, and salads to hungry diners. Additionally, Culver's menu highlights include some comfort foods that remain homestyle favorites yet rarely grace fast food orders. This menu includes a pork loin sandwich, beef pot roast sandwich, grilled Reuben melt, harvest veggie burger, beef pot roast dinner, and chopped steak dinner. It's frankly incredible to see such diversity all under one fast food chain roof. You simply won't find this many menu items at Shake Shack.

In the end, Culver's sets itself apart as a one-stop shop for all your comfort food needs, and its marketing demonstrates confidence in its wide-ranging and crowd-pleasing offerings.

You can only find seafood at one of these chains

When we think of fast food, seafood isn't generally the first topic to come to mind. Seafood tends to be more expensive than other foods, but Culver's currently still allows you to get your fix without breaking the bank. In contrast, you won't see seafood anywhere on Shake Shack's menu or most fast food chains.

Culver's serves classic seafood sandwiches and dinners that include showstoppers like butterfly jumbo shrimp and a North Atlantic cod filet sandwich. Think fried fish when you envision what you'll enjoy at Culver's, as there's no disappointing shrimp cocktail here.

The Lunchtime Review noted that Culver's North Atlantic Cod Fillet Sandwich is not overly fishy, instead arriving in the form of a pleasantly crispy filet. We likewise appreciate a seafood sandwich that doesn't smell of the ocean the second you open your bag. And with most fried fish, it's vital to have a solid crispy crunch on the outside, so you're not left with a soggy fishy sandwich. If you're craving seafood, then the choice here is clear.

One chain provides more healthy options

Healthy options and fast food don't always go hand in hand. When we think of fast food, we're likely to equate it to comfort cuisine and convenience, not low calories. But it's not always like that. Over the last few years, fast food chains have only just begun to scratch the surface in efforts to offer healthier choices and menu items for those on the go.

One of those chains includes Culver's, which prioritizes fresh salads, hearty soups, and a mindful choices section on its menus. These particular menu items contain around 500 calories per meal and use fresh ingredients that could leave you feeling a bit lighter. We love seeing fast food chains try to promote healthy habits and food on their menus, but how does Culver's compare to Shake Shack in this respect?

Shake Shack offers vegetarian options but no salads or explicitly healthier menu items. It does typically include calorie information on its menu to help you better gauge what you're consuming. While this is a step in the right direction, we hope to see some more overtly healthy choices added to the Shake Shack menu soon. Culver's comes out on top here. 

One meal at this burger joint will cost you more

Fast food has a reputation for being convenient and reasonably priced, making it appealing to many busy Americans. With so many chains and choices to choose from when dining out, the price often becomes a deciding factor in where people eat. But oftentimes you get what you pay for, right? And how does the price and quality equation play out at Shake Shack and Culver's?

According to Fast Food Menu Prices, Culver's has lower prices out of the gate. For example, a Culver's Deluxe Single costs $2.99, while a similar hamburger from Shake Shack will set you back $6.39.

With such a price difference, you might wonder why someone would choose the more expensive burger from Shake Shack. It all comes down to quality and taste. As one Reddit user posted on a Shake Shack burger thread adding although the burger is not cheap, it's a top-tier burger, and we agree.

Although Shake Shack is, at its core, fast food, the meal still feels slightly elevated. The Angus beef patty and toasted potato bun stand out and melt in your mouth. While we think the taste is top-tier, if you're looking for a good burger at a lower price, Culver's offers a tasty alternative that's more within a tight budget.

Both companies know frozen custard

Fast food dessert menus typically carry an array of now-standard milkshakes, Frosties, and even cookies, but it's rare to find frozen custard listed. Custard is similar to ice cream but contains eggs as well as cream and sugar. Thankfully for custard lovers, Shake Shack and Culver's both offer this delicious frozen treat.

Along with its variety of milkshakes, Shake Shack offers chocolate and vanilla frozen custard made in-house every day. However, Culver's offers more variety in its frozen custard menu, with items ranging from shakes, malts, and floats to concrete mixers, cones, and dishes.

One of our favorites from Culver's, the Concrete Mixer, allows you to mix your favorite frozen custard with two mix-ins or toppings, similar to Dairy Queen's famous Blizzards. Over on Reddit, user Gh0stdylan notes that his wife lovers the custard from Culver's, and it's no secret why she and many other diners might feel this way. The frozen dream in a cup satisfies a sweet craving like few other desserts can, lending another significant point to this chain.

Both chains offer crinkle cut fries

Few fast food joints offer crinkle-cut fries, another similarity Shake Shack and Culver's menus share. Both chains only provide this cut of fry, though Shake Shack offers additional toppings to create items like cheese crinkle fries and bacon cheese fries.

When it came down to the taste test, we have to admit that neither chain wowed us in the fry category. Crinkle cut doesn't rank highly in our french fry cut rankings because it tends not to come out as cooked or crispy as we'd like, especially for a thicker cut of fry.

In the case of Shake Shack's crinkle fries versus Culver's, we vote Shake Shack as the winner in this category solely for its variety of toppings. The crispy crinkle fries topped with cheese sauce and applewood smoked bacon hit the spot when you're craving a cheesy, meaty combination. Otherwise, we would only write home about the fries from either establishment if we got lucky with an extra-crispy batch.

Both chains give back to charity

It's important if a fast food chain's food is good or not, but what warms our hearts, even more, is when that chain is also doing good for others. Here, both Culver's and Shake Shack engage in charitable efforts.

Culver's gives back to farmers, helps its neighbors, and encourages community development and education. According to its website, Culver's has donated over $3.5 million to agricultural education in the last decade.

Shake Shack has philanthropy in its very roots, given that it started as a hot dog cart to raise funds for a public art project and later expanded into the hamburger business we know and love today. Twenty years later, the brand's mission remains to Stand For Something Good in everything it does.

Neither chain rises above the other in this category as we find it honorable that charity and giving back remain a core principle of both fast food chains. Know that dining at either establishment results in giving back to those who contribute to our food and agricultural ecosystem.

If you want merchandise from either chain, you'll have to search

Fans love merchandise, one of the main reasons many places offer branded clothing for sale at the front of a bar or restaurant. But in the case of Shake Shack and Culver's, you'll have to look further than the cash register or even the company's website to find clothing or accessories that represent your favorite chain. It's slim pickings indeed for either chain. 

Shake Shack's merch website offers some options, though it's not exactly a wide array of different goods or interesting designs beyond the basic logo. Sites like Redbubble carry more Shake Shack merchandise created by independent artists and fans of the joint, though it's not necessarily sanctioned by the chain itself.

On the other hand, Culver's website doesn't show any branded merchandise, though it once boasted a currently inoperable Butterburger Boutique (via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). We dug on Redbubble to find a few Culver's stickers and t-shirts, but at least Shake Shack has an official store as of this writing.

One chain can easily fuel your next big event

Catering typically takes the food-related pressure off your planning plate if you're hosting a significant event. No matter how large your gathering is, sourcing food from elsewhere can make your job easier and depending on the type of food, an exciting feature for guests.

Shake Shack makes fueling a private party or wedding reception easier with its Shack Truck. This party-side truck serves all your Shake Shack favorites, like burgers, fries, and drinks. To book, simply fill out the request on the website and someone will get back to you to make all your Shack Truck dreams come true.

Culver's doesn't offer the same catering services, so if you'd like to serve food from this particular chain at your next gathering, you'll have to order mass quantities and set it up yourself. Unfortunately, if cheese curds and concrete mixers are on your ideal menu, it doesn't look as if Culver's will be able to deliver a catering order to the same level of service as Shake Shack.

If you live on the West Coast, one chain offers more locations nearby

Geography plays a huge role in fast food favorites, as you can hardly make a fast food chain a regular stop if there isn't a location nearby. So, if you're looking to choose between Culver's or Shake Shack, it's downright vital to learn where each chain's locations are. Let's dive into where the hundreds of Culver's and Shake Shack burger chains are located.

Shake Shack offers more locations near you if you live on the West Coast, though its total locations cover both coasts, with fewer locations in the midwest and south. While Culver's doesn't have restaurants in many Shake Shack states like California, it's got serious territory claimed in the midwest, with 145 locations in Wisconsin alone.

Aside from its U.S. locations, Shake Shack has over 100 international locations across Mexico, Europe, and Asia. If you're craving some American comfort food abroad, check out Shake Shack's store locator to ensure you're always close to a delicious ShackBurger. For pure international reach, Shake Shack has Culver's beat.

Only one chain is into franchising

Franchising a restaurant allows for more expansion and ultimately increases brand awareness, though it takes some control out of centralized hands. In the case of our two restaurants, Shake Shack simply does not offer franchising. In fact, only some of its locations operate through licensing agreements (via Shake Shack). 

Meanwhile, Culver's offers franchising agreements in available markets, including its popular midwestern and southern markets. The West Coast remains currently unavailable for this deal, so keep dreaming if you're hoping to enjoy cheese curds or a frozen custard shake under palm trees and the California sun.

Culver's leans hard on its messaging and encourages franchisees to do the same to ensure financial success, according to Culver's Franchise Opportunities. Ultimately, only one chain will allow you to franchise a location: Culver's.

So, which one is better?

When it comes down to it, you're going to hear quite a lot of opinions as to whether Shake Shack or Culver's is better overall. This debate takes into account which chain's food tastes better, which one offers more menu items, or which of the two allows business people to franchise a location. It's no secret that both offer delicious burgers and crinkle-cut fries, but in the end, only one can come out on top.

As one Reddit user argues, "Culver's is as close as you're gonna get, with better fries and sides and desserts...Shake shack has nothing on them in terms of burger quality and price." Of course, we mean no hate toward Shake Shack. If we're on the West Coast or overseas, we will undoubtedly make a pit stop for a ShackBurger.

Yet, while Shake Shack may feel more elite due to its branding and higher prices, Culver's offers more variety and affordability. If we're in an area with both a Shake Shack and a Culver's nearby, the choice is clear: we're heading to Culver's.