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Shake Shack Is Testing a Grilled Chicken Sandwich, And It’s Not Good

The burger chain’s new sandwich has a “gentle mealiness,” Eater critic Ryan Sutton says

Shake Shack grilled chicken
The “Griddled Chick’n Club” at Shake Shack
Photo by Ryan Sutton

Shake Shack, the billion dollar chain that specializes in indulgent roadside fare — griddled burgers, malted shakes, cheese fries — is currently testing out a chicken breast club, a dish that feels more in tune with the ethos of a suburban shopping mall.

Brooklyn locations of Shake Shack are now selling the Griddled Chick’n Club. The sandwich comes topped with lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, and Niman Ranch bacon. It is served on whole wheat buns. Indulgent roadside fare this is not.

It appears to rank as one of the more healthy-ish items at Shack, at 470 calories and 21 grams of fat, versus 550 calories and 37 grams of fat for the classic cheeseburger. The cost is $7.69.

I’ll tell you how the club sandwich tastes in just a bit, but first, a little context: Chicken is having a bit of a moment in New York, from fatty roasted thighs to spicy fried breasts. An era of sky-high beef prices prompted chefs and operators to look for slightly more sustainable sources of deliciousness, from indulgences like The NoMad’s foie-gras stuffed chickens to everyday treats like Fuku’s crispy and spicy thigh sandwiches — a loose ode to Nashville’s famous hot chicken.

Shake Shack Brooklyn
A Brooklyn location of Shake Shack, where the chain is testing the sandwiches

Skinless grilled chicken breasts, by contrast, aren’t really trending in New York restaurants. They are, however, still plentiful at spots like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, while Chick-fil-A reportedly spent $50 million over seven years developing an improved chicken club sandwich.

In other words, Shake Shack doesn’t feel like it’s staying true to its roadside roots (or New York environs) as much as it’s trying to capture fast food market share. And I suppose that’s not completely unexpected for a public company striving for shareholder value.

If only the sandwich actually tasted good.

Make no mistake: The lettuce is crispy. The bacon is stunning — with sweetly rendered fat crisp pork. And the bun is fine. But the tomatoes are watery; they always are here. And then there’s the question of the meat. Shake Shack is famous for using a patty that’s so wonderfully beefy and clean tasting that you feel comfortable eating it pink on the inside.

Shake Shack’s griddled chicken breast, by contrast, isn’t anything a good breast should taste like. The meat isn’t quite dry, but it’s far enough from juicy to exhibit a gentle mealiness. The seasoning blend evokes Paul Newman’s Italian salad dressing. And the level of saltiness is intense, at 1340 milligrams — compared with 824 for a regular cheeseburger.

Shake Shack has always been about more than pursuing mediocrity. It’s always been about serving dishes memorable enough that folks would seek them out regardless of the slightly higher prices. I wouldn’t order a fast food burger anywhere else but Shake Shack. I can’t even think of a New York diner that serves a better chili than Shake Shack.

But the chicken sandwich tastes pretty much like any other. It’s very average. It’s very fast food — except it took me 12 minutes to get my order in a not terribly busy Shack. By comparison, Chick-fil-A can get folks in in less than half the time.

Then again, this is only a test item. Consider this my feedback.