Milkshakes and malts — which are just shakes with malted milk powder added — have been around for generations. There was mention of a prototype milkshake, described as “an Atlanta drink,” in the Atlanta Constitution as early as 1886. No ice cream was involved — just milk, crushed ice, “a mixture of unknown ingredients,” and “a bit of any desired sirup.”
The first milkshake-mixing machine appeared in 1902 (before that, milkshakes were made by vigorously shaking the ingredients in a covered container — hence their name). Malts are said to have been invented in 1922 by a soda jerk working at a Walgreens in Chicago.
Shakes and malts had become universally popular at soda fountains, burger joints, and diners around America by the 1950s. Their popularity hasn’t waned. Almost every fast food chain sells shakes today, including McDonald’s and Burger King as well as smaller operations like Fatburger, In-N-Out, and Five Guys — and at least two operations actually incorporate their name into their own: Shake Shack and Steak ‘n Shake.
Plenty of independents are known for their shakes and malts, too. Almost every “best milkshake” list mentions places like Tolly Ho in Lexington, Kentucky; Duckfat in Portland, Maine; Newport Creamery in various Rhode Island and Massachusetts locations; the Charcoal Pit in Wilmington, Delaware; Kroll’s Diner in four North Dakota cities; and Brent’s Drugs in Jackson, Mississippi.
In assembling this list of the country’s best shakes and malts, 24/7 Tempo had hard choices to make. There are hundreds of fine milkshake purveyors around the U.S. Just for starters, these are the best places to get a shake in every state.
Beyond that, most places that make good shakes offer them in great variety, going beyond just the classic chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. Bits of cookie, candy, even cake get mixed into shakes. Every kind of fruit is utilized in one place or another — as are such unexpected additions as root beer, lavender, or saffron. The possibilities seem endless, especially for places that make their own ice cream in-house. Some shake-makers might even consider reviving those lost ice cream flavors we wish would come back.
To assemble this list of some of the best milkshakes in America, 24/7 Tempo consulted 11 previously published nationwide lists of best shakes, plus a number of regional or state rankings, and read through numerous reviews by Yelp and Facebook users and other online critics. Not included in this list are any literally over-the-top examples in which doughnuts, slices of pie, whole bananas, waffle slices, and other items are arranged on top of the shakes instead of being blended into them. These are more desserts than milkshakes.