The Untold Truth Of Cook Out

Every corner of the country has its own list of regional restaurant chains to enjoy — and even brag about. But when it comes to a place like Cook Out, it's a true shame the entire country doesn't get to enjoy all the goodness it has to offer. Cook Out's delicious food, legendary milkshakes, ridiculously low prices, and late hours have garnered the burger joint with a cult following. It's the reason why this chain that started as a single drive-thru store in North Carolina way back in 1989 has expanded its footprint to include more than 250 locations throughout the Southeastern United States. 

While Cook Out is growing in popularity by the minute, even the most diehard loyalist likely doesn't know the whole story behind this growing burger empire. From the reason you'll find bible verses on your milkshake cup to why locations keep popping up near college campuses, here is the untold truth of Cook Out.

Cook Out didn't expand outside North Carolina until 2010

Cook Out has become a regional sensation throughout the southern part of the United States, but for the first 20 years of its existence, the fast food chain operated solely in the state of North Carolina. The restaurant was founded in the city of Greensboro in 1989. Over the next two decades, it would come to take over the Tar Heel State, establishing more than 70 restaurants throughout North Carolina. The chain finally crossed state lines in 2010. In July of that year, Cook Out's first out-of-state restaurant, its 74th in total, opened in Spartanburg, South Carolina. There's now a second location in the city.

But South Carolina was just the start of the chain's Southern expansion. Later that very same year, Cook Out opened the doors to restaurants in Tennessee and Virginia. Two years later, in 2012, it set up shop in Virginia, followed by its first foray in Georgia the following year. The company now also has restaurants in Maryland, Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Cook Out is not shy about promoting its religious beliefs

It's very possible that the first thing you notice upon entering a Cook Out restaurant won't be the sights or smells, but the sound — the sound of music, that is. The music stands out because it's not the Top 40 you hear at other establishments. Instead, Cook Out plays a steady stream of Christian music at its restaurants. It is just one way the company outwardly expresses its religious beliefs. There are also Bible verses printed on the restaurant's wrappers and styrofoam cups.

Cook Out's Christian atmosphere is the product of its founding family's deep religious beliefs. "In the family there's a lot of Christian influence, and they grew up in the South. It just kind of seemed natural," Allen Brooks, opening director at Cook-Out, told Knox News. "We've got scriptures on our cups and on the bags from the family scriptures that they like. It just kind of stood out to them." While many businesses steer clear of topics like religion and politics in fear of alienating customers, Cook Out has found success staying true to who they are.

Cook Out is committed to offering value with its food

Search all you want, you simply won't find a better bang for your buck than a meal at Cook Out. The restaurant has prices so low, they'll make you think there's a typo. Burgers, chicken sandwiches, and corn dogs cost as little as 99 cents. A plate of barbeque pork, coleslaw, fries, and hushpuppies will set you back just $4. Cook Out's signature order is the Tray, which the chain refers to as, the "best combo in town." It's hard to argue with that claim. With the Tray, customers get one entree, two sides, and a drink all for just $5. Vice went so far as to call the value "almost obscene."

The North Carolina-based restaurant has often been compared to another East Coast burger chain, Five Guys, which was founded in the neighboring state of Virginia. While we certainly wouldn't disparage it, Five Guys can't compete when it comes to price — a burger there could cost you as much $10. For the same amount of money at Cook Out, you could mix and match to get a double burger, chicken sandwich, corn dog, quesadilla, french fries, chicken nuggets, and two milkshakes.

You can combine Cook Out's legendary milkshake flavors

Saying that Cook Out takes its milkshakes — or "fancy" milkshakes, as they're known — seriously would be an understatement. The restaurant offers a mind-numbing 40-plus different milkshake flavors. The result is a menu of sweet treats so popular, they have their own dedicated fan websites.

Starting with banana and ending with walnut, the list nearly extends the entire length of the alphabet. The lineup includes five different types of cheesecake flavors (blueberry, caramel, cherry, chocolate chip, and strawberry) some classic candies (Butterfinger, Hershey's Chocolate, Heath Toffee, M&M's, Reese's, and Snickers), as well as five different banana-based flavors and three peanut butter varieties. The restaurant also adds two seasonal shakes during different times of the year. You can pick up a watermelon shake from July to August, and an eggnog one in December.

It's hard to imagine not being able to find a milkshake flavor at Cook Out that doesn't satisfy your taste buds, but should that happen, don't fret. The restaurant allows you to combine flavors. This creates 1,081 possible flavor combinations (Southern Living did the math). But that's only if you mix just two different flavors. Cook Out allows you to combine as many flavors as you like, so the possibilities are endless.

Many Cook Out locations are drive-thru only

If there's one thing you should know about Cook Out, it's that the restaurant likes to do things its own way and rarely feels obligated to change with the times. That's really part of its charm, and the philosophy will be readily apparent if you try to walk inside a Cook Out restaurant only to find there's no dining room. That's right — many locations are drive-thru only.

Cook Out began as a drive-thru burger joint back in the 1980s. It took seven whole years before the chain opened its first sit-in restaurant. To this day, many of its stores only serve customers by drive-thru. If you're fearful of long lines in the parking lot, don't worry — Cook Out has the operation down to a "T." Many of its locations have dual drive-thru windows so they can handle the influx of customers twice as fast, as well as a walk-up window, in case you want to stretch your legs and dine at the outdoor seating.

The Cook Out menu is massive

Cook Out's main attraction is the Tray: one entree, two sides, and drink for just a few bucks. But if it's your first time at the chain, you might be a little confused when you see some of the entrees also listed as sides. For example, you can get two quesadillas as a main, and then another as a side. Other hearty side dishes include corn dogs, bacon and chicken wraps, and a pile of hushpuppies.

Needless to say, Cook Out gives you a lot of food and a lot of options. Burgers come in four sizes: small, regular, huge, and big double. You have your choice of toppings or you can opt for one of the restaurant's four "style": Cook Out, Cheddar, Out West, and Steak. The chicken sandwich has it beat, however, with seven different variations: Original, Barbeque, Cajun, Club, Cheddar, Homemade, and Crunchy Spicy. Speaking of poultry, you can also get chicken strips, chicken wraps, and chicken nuggets.

The only menu section where customers don't have an extensive list of choices is the drinks. The restaurant offers just four: fresh tea, Coke products, Cheerwine, and water.

Cook Out is one of the few restaurants to serve Cheerwine

The menu at Cook Out is massive, but it should all be familiar even if it's your first time or you're not even from the South. After all, what's more American than hamburgers, barbecue, and chicken nuggets?

But there is one item at Cook Out that will likely have out-of-towners flummoxed. One of the four drink options is a beverage called Cheerwine. If you're not from the southern United States, you very well may have never seen or heard of it before. So what is this mysterious elixir? Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored soft drink that's been around for more than a century. The soda was first created in Cook Out's home state of North Carolina way back in 1917. While Cheerwine has a long and storied history, it has remained a distinctly Southern drink and is difficult to find outside the region. As such, you'll only find it offered at restaurant chains found in the South (with the exception of Cracker Barrel), such as Cook Out, Bojangles, and Biscuitville.

Cook Out's burgers are always fresh

Cook Out isn't just a name, it's a way of life for the chain restaurant, which advertises the motto, "Always Fresh, Never Frozen." The company goes to great lengths to abide by this philosophy. In 1991, it opened its meat commissary where burger meat is ground and formed into patties every day. From there, it gets packed onto trucks and delivered fresh to the chain's roughly 250 locations the same day.

Once the burger meat arrives at its destination, Cook Out's kitchen staff gets to work. "Everything is cooked on a char grill, and our meat is delivered fresh, never frozen seven days per week. No additives, no preservatives," said one Cook Out district manager told High Ground News. "Everything is made when you order it. That's our difference and why we're able to employ so many people. There's no shortcuts. We make our own chili and slaw. We cut our own pickles and onions. We do everything right here."

Cook Out is incredibly popular with millennials

While people of all ages have been known to enjoy devouring a tray of Cook Out's delectable food, the restaurant is a particular favorite of a certain age demographic: millennials. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise as Cook Out is tailor-made for younger people. It's filling, tasty, and inexpensive. Plus, it's available at nearly all hours of the night. Cook Out restaurants stay open as late as 3 a.m. during the week and 4 a.m. on the weekends.

For these reasons, the restaurant chain has proved especially popular around college campuses. What could be better for a cash-strapped student than a place you can show up to at 2 a.m. with $5 in your pocket and leave with a smile and belly full of food? "You can get a tray, which is their concept of a meal, for around $5-$6, which is easy to do on a college budget," a former University of Tennessee student told Knox News.

It appears Cook Out has honed in on its target audience and is happy to cater to them. "We try and keep an environment that's conducive to the college campus," a Cook Out staff member explained to Kennesaw State's Sentinel newspaper. "We try to parallel the same culture as they do here so we can make it comfortable for them to come in and enjoy delicious meals at an economical price. We really appreciate the honor."

Cook Out has gotten some unwanted publicity recently

Cook Out has garnered lots of positive reviews, but two similar events have given the brand some negative publicity. In November 2019, two police officers entered a Roxboro, North Carolina Cook Out only to be refused service by the cashier (via CBS 17). The woman instead asked another employee to step in. The cashier later explained to ABC 11 that this particular officer had previously given her a citation. "He makes me uncomfortable, and anxious," she said. "And that's why I called another cashier up to wait on him, because it was only me and the officer in the front. I don't know what could have happened so I called somebody else up to take his order." She added that she had just served three police officers right before the incident. News of what happened reached social media and eventually Cook Out's corporate office, which chose to fire both the cashier and the manager working that night.

The very next year, a similar event occurred in Virginia. A social media post alleged officers visiting a Rocky Mount Cook Out were forced to wait more than 30 minutes as other guests passed them by, and were ignored when they asked for the manager. In response, the restaurant did an internal investigation and ​​found extremely long wait times throughout that particular weekend. As a result, the company fired both the cashier who did not help the officers and the store's manager.

President Joe Biden is a fan of Cook Out

Whenever politicians are campaigning, especially if they're from out of town, they often try to show they're "of the people" by doing as the locals do. If you're in North Carolina, that means going to Cook Out. So naturally, when he was traveling through the Tar Heel State while on the campaign trail in October 2020, then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden stopped by a Durham Cook Out with his granddaughter for an ice-cold treat. According to Business Insider, Biden eschewed the chain's more adventurous flavors and instead ordered one vanilla milkshake and one chocolate. He said he planned to mix the two to create a black-and-white shake.

Cook Out doesn't need any help attracting customers, even the very powerful ones, but it surely didn't hurt that Biden is a big ice cream fan. "I don't drink. I don't smoke. But I eat a lot of ice cream," the President once declared.