This Southern fast-food chain has a secret weapon that makes it better than the rest

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Milkshake fanatics, it's time to begin planning your pilgrimage down South.

While there are plenty of famous milkshakes in the world of fast food, none are closer to my heart than those made at the regional restaurant chain Cook Out.

With 140 locations in the southern US, the chain has a cult following in states like North and South Carolina, but remains foreign to the rest of the country.

While Business Insider's own Travis Lyles recently wrote up a guided tour of a Newport News, Virginia, location, I wanted to more fully explore my personal favorite Cook Out item: the milkshake.

So while in Durham, North Carolina, for Christmas, I decided it was time to shine the spotlight on the best chain-restaurant milkshakes you can find.


I decided to visit the newest of the four Cook Out locations in Durham, eschewing my go-to drive thru for a sit-down spot.

Kate Taylor

College-sports gear serves as decoration at Cook Out, adding to the local vibe — though, I admit as a Duke fan, I didn't love the overrepresentation of the University of North Carolina.

Kate Taylor

The food at Cook Out is a great value. Few other chains offer as many options or this much food for less than $5. As value combo deals promise to be a hot topic in 2016, with new menus like McDonald's McPick 2, most chains could learn a few lessons from Cook Out.

Kate Taylor

However, when it comes to the menu, the real gem is the extensive milkshake list. With more than 40 flavors that can be combined at customers' whims, the options seem endless. Plus, with choices like pineapple, Hi-C punch, and walnut, these aren't flavors you can get anywhere else.

Kate Taylor

Beyond milkshakes, Cook Out also stands out with another drink you can't find at most fast-food chains: Cheerwine, a sweet, cherry cola that calls itself the "nectar of North Carolina." Cook Out also sells Cheerwine floats, but I decided to sip on the classic as I waited for my food and shakes.

Kate Taylor

I ordered the chicken strips, with sides of onion rings and hush puppies. The chicken strips were basic, but good.

Kate Taylor

However, if I'm highlighting what makes Cook Out special, it isn't the chicken. Instead, it's the hush puppies, onion rings, and shakes. Both the onion rings and hush puppies have the addictive quality that the best fried, greasy fast food achieves. Even when stuffed, I couldn't stop eating just one more.

Kate Taylor

However, in my personal opinion, the real reason you come to Cook Out is the shakes. I ordered banana pudding, while my friend ordered Oreo Snickers. Both cost $2.79.

Kate Taylor

Even before you take your first sip (or spoonful — Cook Out shakes tend to be too thick to immediately slurp through a straw), you can tell a Cook Out shake by the branding. All cups, as well as some napkins and bags, contain Bible verses.

Kate Taylor

The most important part of Cook Out's milkshake recipe is its commitment to chunky add-ins. While I have had Cook Out's plain vanilla shake, and it is thick and delicious, the milkshake shines with the scoops of mix-ins, such as the Oreo and Snickers in this photo.

Kate Taylor

My banana-pudding shake was full of Nilla Wafer chunks — bite-size and not yet too mushy to enjoy. Sadly, my favorite flavor, watermelon, was not available, as it is a summer-only option. Cook Out's watermelon milkshake is one of the few sweet treats that actually tastes like the fruit, with real chunks of melon mixed in.

Kate Taylor

Cook Out's food is a great bargain, but is definitely too greasy for me to eat on a regular basis. Plus, while I enjoy stuffing hush puppies into my mouth, Cook Out is ultimately a milkshake destination for me. For anyone who hasn't gotten a shake here, it's worth your time to take a trip to the South — you have more than 40 flavors to test.

Kate Taylor

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