America's Best Milkshakes

It’s the iconic treat of diners, drive-ins, and the 1950s; where to find the most imaginative milkshakes of today

The Melt Shop's black and white milkshake.

It’s not too late to enjoy the creamy goodness of a milkshake, because really, when is a milkshake not in season? The country’s best milkshakes are creative, decadent, and oh so indulgent — the perfect sweet treats for any time of year.

What is it that makes a milkshake so good? For most, it comes down to the ingredients. (After all, it’s not exactly rocket science to add things to a blender.) Bobby Flay, the chef behind Bobby’s Burger Palace, notes in his cookbook, Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries & Shakes Cookbook, that the kind of shake you get depends on the type of ice cream you use. The fattier, premium ice creams with a high amount of butter fat (like Häagen-Dazs) will produce a denser shake; the light ice creams will produce a lighter, airy shake. Then, it’s all about the ice-cream-to-milk ratio. Flay uses a three-to-one ice-cream-to-milk ratio; Jim Little, the culinary director at Burger Lounge, also uses a high ratio to make his creamy shakes. You can vary the amount of sweetness by adding less ice cream and more milk, says Hannah Miles, author of Milkshake Bar. There is one little known trick to an extra creamy shake, Miles says: add an avocado. The Vietnamese secret will give you a smooth and silky texture, she says, but the avocado has to be very ripe for the best results.

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That's not to say that using fatty ice creams and milks is the only way to achieve a quality shake, though. David Friedman of Epic Burger keeps in mind the company’s philosophy, "a more mindful burger," when creating his shakes: they’re made with organic milks and ice creams with no artificial ingredients, and he uses frozen yogurt and skim milk when customers ask.  Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seattle goes by the same mindset: organic and local ingredients make the shakes just that much better. "I believe in buying the most local and sustainably created ingredients for whatever you're making," Molly Moon Neitzel says. "Thus, for a milk shake, buy local dairy from a single farm if you can and locally made or homemade ice cream that's made from local and sustainable ingredients." 

While exciting flavors, like salted caramel, maple and bacon, and pistachio, make for exciting shakes, there’s one ingredient that always mixes things up: toppings. While Neitzel recommends not adding hard candy to the blender (you can always add it in with a spoon later), fruits and other soft candies and foods can be added in with the ice cream. (BLT Burger and Go Burger Bar and Grill even add in a Twinkie to their famous shake!) Flay recommends in his cookbook to add the milk, syrups, and fruits to the blender before adding in the ice cream. "Doing this creates a good fluid base, which will help to keep the other ingredients from sticking to the walls of the blender," he writes in the book.

Milkshakes make a great at-home dessert, but they’re also a confection that can be enjoyed at just about any burger joint, diner, or even grilled cheese shop (like New York’s The Melt Shop). After all, is there anything more iconic than a milkshake in a diner? As John Travolta marvels in Pulp Fiction, there’s nothing better than a "pretty f*cking good milkshake." Here’s where to find the most innovative shakes in America today.