A milkshake — or just a shake — is a cold dessert-like drink traditionally made with milk, ice cream, and one or more flavorings, blended together until frothy. The term “milkshake” comes from the fact that before the invention of the milkshake mixer in 1902, the ingredients were combined by vigorously shaking them in a covered container.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites a usage of the term “milk shake” as early as 1886, from the Atlanta Constitution, where it is described as “an Atlanta drink.” The recipe calls for shaking milk, crushed ice, “a mixture of unknown ingredients,” and “a bit of any desired sirup” until it foams.
In New England, a “milkshake” is still sometimes just milk with chocolate or some other flavor syrup blended in. If you want ice cream to be involved, ask for a frappe — pronounced “frapp.” (There are many things they say in New England that the rest of us probably don’t get.)
Today’s milkshakes began as a variation on the sundaes and other ice cream treats served by soda fountains in the early 1900s. Malted milk — a powder combining malted barley, wheat flour, and dried evaporated milk — was probably invented by one William Horlick, sometime in the latter 1800s, and was originally sold as a health tonic, to be diluted and drunk. A Chicago soda jerk, working at Walgreens in Chicago, is said to have invented the malt by stirring vanilla ice cream into the beverage, perhaps to improve the flavor.
Milkshakes and malts became a part of American culture — sometimes at ice cream parlors, but even more frequently at burger joints and diners, where they became known as the perfect accompaniment to burgers and fries.
Considering their origins, shakes might seem a little old-fashioned today, and it’s hardly surprising that many of the places on this list have been around for 40 or 50 years or more.
On the other hand, shakes remain popular on current menus across the country, too. Shake Shack, one of the fast-food successes of recent years, even includes them in its name. They’re also featured at chains such as Fatburger, In-N-Out, and Five Guys — and in regional drive-ins, burger bars, ice cream parlors, and more in every corner of America.
Some of the milkshake purveyors on this list are famous in shakedom. The Purple Cow in Little Rock and elsewhere in Arkansas is named as a “best” on almost every list. Other places that get frequent votes include 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.
Other entries here are more obscure, some of them serving only a handful of milkshake variations, often hand-dipped (meaning that the ice cream is scooped into the mixer), others offering DIY options or introducing a wide range of seasonal choices. Some may even revive some of those lost ice cream flavors we wish would come back.
To assemble this list of the best places in every state to get a shake, 24/7 Tempo consulted 11 previously published lists of “the best milkshake in every state” from various sources plus a number of “best in” rankings for individual states. Reviews and scores from Foursquare and Yelp were also considered in order to come up with a consensus.