We Tried the Milkshakes at McDonald's, Burger King, & Wendy's—and This One Reigns Supreme
Milkshakes are an essential part of fast food culture. In fact, McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's original menus from decades ago all had milkshakes next to the burgers and fries. All three still whip up various rotating flavors of the slurpable treat today.
Milkshakes are such an iconic part of the fast-food experience, it's hard to believe they didn't exist in the uniform creamy incarnation we are used to before the invention of one important machine. In 1911, the drink mixer was invented which made them possible. In 1922, the invention of the electric blender furthered the proliferation of the delicious creamy beverage. Commercial machines made larger production of the treat a fast-food reality. Dairy Queen was the first fast-food restaurant to offer a milkshake in 1949, and many followed.
In 1953, Insta-Burger King, the predecessor to Burger King, based its branding on a burger-making machine called the Insta-Broiler. What many people don't know is it also had an Insta-Shake machine that was marketed as foolproof. It was not a "mixer" but instead "a manufacturer of milk shakes," according to the chain's marketing book. Speed, efficiency, and uniformity were just as important for milkshakes as they were for burgers. It could produce four shakes per minute in four different flavors.
The original McDonald's which opened in 1955, served vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry milkshakes alongside 15-cent hamburgers, 19-cent cheeseburgers, and 10-cent fries.
Wendy's, the odd one out, began with just one light chocolate shake called a Frosty that included a touch of vanilla to mellow out the flavor. The recipe was based on the frosted malts at a famous racetrack in Cleveland. It wasn't until 2006 that the chain launched its Vanilla Frosty, which is sometimes swaps out for seasonal flavors like strawberry and peppermint.
We put the classic vanilla and chocolate shake varieties from these three iconic chains to the test to see which is truly the best of all time.
Wendy's Chocolate Frosty
This is the classic Frosty flavor, and it's a mild chocolate, super creamy shake meant to be enjoyed with a spoon or sipped through a straw, with some vigorous stirring.
The look: The Frosty looked similar to the other shakes with one glaring difference, the small one looked quite a bit smaller than the other chains' versions. However, both McDonald's and Wendy's smalls are 12 ounces, and the addition of domed tops and whipped cream, make McDonald's shakes look bigger.
In terms of color, the shake had a light chocolate hue with little rivulets throughout the cup but it also had definite foam and bubbles that we didn't see in the others.
The taste: Wendy's Chocolate Frosty is refreshing but it is the iciest of the bunch and has the most mild flavor. It felt full of air and didn't have the craveable creamy consistency. Dave, Wendy's founder, was said to have created this shake as a light dessert to complement a burger and fries, and maybe that is where it shines. Plus, it has the lowest amount of sugar and the fewest calories of the chocolate shakes, both a big plus if you're also eating a burger and fries.
Wendy's Vanilla Frosty
Wendy's vanilla Frosty amazingly didn't come into existence until 2006. Since then, any special flavor is built on this base.
The look: The vanilla frosty had the same very, very light golden tinge as the others. The little bubbles were even more apparent in the vanilla Frosty, however.
The taste: Despite the bubbles, the Vanilla Frosty seemed much thicker than the chocolate one. Like the chocolate, the flavor was a bit light and the texture was icy and not creamy. This was our least favorite of the vanilla shakes, but again, it might complement a salty fry very well. And, again, this shake is so small that it will give you a little hit of creamy and sweet without an overload of sugar and calories.
Burger King's Vanilla Milkshake
Burger King currently offers five kinds of shakes: Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Oreo Cookie Shake, and Chocolate Oreo Cookie Shake. The vanilla is hand-spun and made with the chain's vanilla soft serve. (Guess they aren't using that Insta-Shake machine anymore!)
The look: The Burger King shakes stood out in one glaring way from the others: they were much bigger. Burger King has just one shake size and it is 16 ounces, whereas McDonald's and Wendy's have a few different sizes. We ordered a small of all the shakes and Burger King's towered over the others. The shake was a uniform, creamy-looking super-pale gold.
The taste: Oddly, one taster thought this shake had an over-the-top vanilla flavor and the other thought it was bland. It was definitely thicker than the McDonald's shake and a bit cloying on the palate. It was the smoothest of the shakes, though, and would hold up well to a salty fry dip. While we don't know all the ingredients of the Burger King shakes because it doesn't publish them we can see that it has an astounding 79 grams of sugar, so that could be causing the sugar overload.
McDonald's Vanilla Milkshake
McDonald's vanilla shake is made with the chain's signature soft serve and vanilla flavoring.
The look: This shake had a pale golden tan color with little striations that make it look homemade. A little whip and a dome top to keep that whipped cream in good shape.
The taste: This thick shake had a lovely pure vanilla flavor that was borderline custardy. It's not heavy like Burger King's and it's not icy like Wendy's Frosty. This is the Goldilocks of vanilla milkshakes with the flavor, texture, and amount being just right.
It was initially hard to sip but with a quick stir it went up smoothly through the large hole of the signature McDonald's straw. This shake tasted like childhood to one taster—McDonald's always seems to hit all the right nostalgic notes. If you go for vanilla over chocolate, this is the perfect shake for you. If you're a chocoholic, read on.
Burger King's Chocolate Milkshake
Burger King's Chocolate Shake is hand-spun vanilla soft serve with the addition of chocolate syrup.
The look: This shake wasn't as uniform as the other and the mixer left a bunch of chocolate syrup on the bottom of the cup. The shake didn't look completely mixed and was striated with vanilla.
The taste: Both tasters liked the flavor of this shake, but were torn on whether it was better than McDonald's. One thought it had an overpowering chocolate flavor and wasn't as nuanced in flavor as McDonald's version. The other gave this shake the highest rating because of the powerful chocolate flavor. If you are a chocolate lover, this could be the perfect milkshake for you. Again be aware that this has a gut-busting 83 grams of added sugar.
McDonald's Chocolate Milkshake
McDonald's Chocolate Shake is made like the Burger King version with soft serve and chocolate syrup.
The look: The shake was well-blended with a little cloud of whipped cream on top. Little striations throughout the shake show it was well blended by not completely uniform. It is smaller than the Burger King version and a bit larger than the Wendy's Frosty. It's probably not much bigger than the chocolate Frosty, but it looks bigger—and looks definitely count when it comes to fast food.
The taste: This shake was smooth with just the right amount of chocolate. The chocolate doesn't overwhelm the palate. It had almost coffee-like undertones. It lacks the cloying sweetness of Burger King's chocolate shake, but again, one taster preferred the Burger King one slightly over this one.