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Fresh shakes, burgers, BBQ! Now that I have your attention, my vegan friends, let’s talk about Cook Out, one of the most happening places in the South of the United States. Started in 1989, Cook Out has flipped an incalculable number of burger patties, blended an immeasurable number of milkshakes, fried zillions of French fries, and satisfied countless hungry stomachs.
Cook Out was founded by Morris Reaves, a man on a mission to give the good people of North Carolina the best hamburgers at an affordable price. Even if he believed in his patty formula, he couldn’t have anticipated becoming such a success. Today, Reaves sits at the head of an empire that counts more than 250 locations in 100 cities across 10 states.
If you haven’t been there, you’re most likely wondering what Cook Out is all about. To put it plainly, it’s a fast-food restaurant that aims to give its customers a tasty, filling experience for cheap.
Are There Vegan Options?
Finding vegan options at Cook Out is akin to finding a fish in a mud pond. If you end up at Cook Out, your options will be significantly restricted. Indeed, the entire menu is comprised of animal products. Still, if you can withstand the smell of cooked meat, chicken, pork, hot-dogs, and other BBQ items and are a flexible vegan, you might be able to find something to eat at Cook Out.
What About The Experience?
Cook Out was mostly a drive-through burger spot, but more sit-in locations have opened over the years. A majority of the sites mimic a rustic log cabin with picnic-styled tables. The walls have jerseys of local teams or famous records of bygone artists of the area.
Your ordering experience is not unlike the one you get a McDonalds or Burger King. You order at the counter, pay, and wait for your name or number to be called. However, unlike the other fast-food chains just mentioned, Cook Out will give you the option to customize your burger completely.
You can expect a fast-paced environment during peak hours, so don’t expect a relaxing vibe when you cross Cook Out’s threshold.
And you’ll hear Christian rock over the speakers. Yes, the South is known for its fiery religious passion.
Even if the Cook Out vegan choices are more than limited, learning something new is still worthwhile. Here are a few fun facts that may impress your friends:
- Cook Out has over 40 milkshake flavors.
- They give away free stuff; all you have to do is check their Twitter feed and fly to the location offering it.
- The place barely sleeps! Open till 3 am, you’ve got a place for late-night munchies.
- A little dose of Christian flavor, please. You’ll find bible verses on all their milkshake cups. Is Cook Out converting the world one cup at a time?
- Watch yourself. The BBQ plate contains 1000 calories!
What Are People Saying About Cook Out?
Fast-food joints are often challenging to gauge. But looking through reviews can often give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect from a place. But with humongous restaurant chains, it’s a little more challenging. Some locations are newer than others. Some are managed more efficiently than others. And finally, your experience greatly depends on the staff’s customer service mood of the day.
We must also acknowledge that people are more likely to leave a review when they’re unsatisfied than when they have a pleasant experience. Keeping that in mind, after looking at 400+ Yelp reviews, this is what I make of it:
- Good burgers
- Open late
- Inconsistent servings (patty size)
- Outdated decor
- Slow service
The positives seem to outweigh the negatives (in terms of food). What people want is a good burger that’s cheap and flavorful.
The Cook Out Menu
The Cook Out menu is wide-ranging, borderline intense. And it’s a little overwhelming to look at. Vegans, be warned that staring at the menu for too long may break your heart. Animal products so overpower the menu that it would make a steakhouse look vegan-friendly. There isn’t a single section that could offer a genuinely vegan option. Let’s have a look at the menu to get a feel for what I mean. Here is each section:
- Trays (combine items from the menu to build a super-sized meal)
- Char-grilled hamburgers
- Char-grilled chicken breast
- Crispy spicy breast fillet
- Homemade style chicken strips
- Crispy chicken wraps
- Sides (massive number of them, no salads)
- Creamery (milkshakes)
- Floats & cheesecakes
Each section listed above comprises 3-6 options. The creamery section lists over 40+ milkshake options – got milk?
Now that you’ve had a look at the menu, just imagine what the kitchen would look like.
Visualize beef patties surrounded by chicken breasts and bacon sizzling on a greasy grilling surface with the combined fat slowly traveling down the fat catchers. Envision friers lifting chicken tenders, French fries, and onion rings. Then picture those being dumped on a cooling surface waiting to be hit with a rain of salt and cajun spices. Not far from this graphic scene, condiments are ready to decorate burgers, hot-dogs, and sandwiches. Then nearby, you’ll glimpse gallons of milk and tubs of ice cream awaiting the next order to become blended into a thick, artificially sweetened milkshake. Add to this the cacophony of it all, and you’ve got yourself a ghastly sight.
The scene is gruesome, but that’s what it boils down to at Cook Out.
Your Vegan Menu
Looking at the menu and envisioning what goes on behind the counter is enough to know that Cook Out isn’t vegan-friendly and offers no vegan options. Considering the cross-contamination chances, I believe that the entire kitchen isn’t vegan-friendly. However, you may not mind and still find something to order if you’re a very flexible vegan. There may be one thing on the menu that’s semi-vegan: French fries.
French fries are always a pretty good choice for vegan dieters. The potato sticks are tasty and made with one ingredient. Well, two when counting the oil.
Cook Out has a lot of frying to do in a day. It’s unclear if the French fries’ oil isn’t the same oil used for chicken tenders. Besides, I can’t imagine that the French fries have their designated area, and it’s a sure bet that all the friers are in the same place, meaning that cross-contamination is undoubtedly guaranteed.
In short, you can order French fries if you are semi-vegan but stay away from them if you’re a full vegan.
Is It Worth It?
No. It’s only worth it if it’s raining or snowing and you’ve locked your keys and cellphone in your car and have no other place that could provide shelter. Cook Out doesn’t offer any vegan options. The French fries are the closest thing to a vegan-ish option, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Finding vegan options at fast-food restaurants is becoming more common, but it’s evident that Cook Out will never be a vegan option.
Learning about the history of the restaurant was fun when I prepared to write this article. It’s always interesting to know how a place can be loved by so many people across state lines, cultures, and demographics.
Looking through Yelp reviews is both entertaining and revealing. I was surprised to see how many people love the place and keep coming back for more. Some commented that they had given the place several tries before writing that they would not be back to that specific location without ruling out the option to try another location. That’s truly remarkable, and it means that Cook Out has something that keeps people coming back. However, whatever it may be that makes this place popular will never attract vegan dieters.
Looking at the menu for a full minute will be enough for a vegan to walk out of place in a hurry. Cook Out may be a superb experience at an affordable price for meat lovers, but a vegan should only experience this place from afar.