Cook Out Is To The South What In-N-Out Burger Is To The West Coast

Where else can you get a double cheeseburger with a corn dog on the side?

Cook-Out Restaurant
Photo: Photo courtesy of Cook-Out Restaurant

When most people hear the phrase “cook out” they think of a backyard barbecue with hot dogs and burgers on the grill. But in the South, those two words mean something entirely different thanks to the iconic fast-food chain that goes by the same name. Cook Out opened its first location in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1989. Since then, the company has become a regional phenomenon with more than 250 locations across the South.

My introduction to Cook Out came on a road trip during my sophomore year of college. Our car stopped for a bite to eat at the behest of a North Carolina native who grew up with the franchise. Thirty minutes later, we left with full stomachs, huge smiles, and plenty of cash to spare. It's been almost 10 years since, and I’m still not convinced you’ll find a better deal or better on-the-go food anywhere.

If you’re lucky enough to have a Cook Out in your neck of the woods, then you know that the only thing to order is the beloved Cook Out Tray. Taco Bell has their Cravings Box and Wendy’s has their 4 for 4s, but everything pales in comparison to the mighty Cook Out Tray. So, what is a Cook Out Tray exactly? It’s precisely what you want it to be, and therein lies its magic.

A Cook Out Tray consists of four components: an entrée, two sides, and a beverage. Entrees can be anything from a double cheeseburger or chicken strips to a barbecue sandwich or two hot dogs. Sides include fast-food fixtures like fries, slaw, cheese curds, and onion rings, but also chicken wraps, corn dogs, quesadillas, and walking tacos.

Cook Out Big Double Burger Tray with Milkshake
Cook Out Big Double Burger Tray with Milkshake. (c) Tammy Biondi

Mix and match whatever you’re feeling, and be sure to ask for a side of Cook Out sauce. My go-to order is a double cheeseburger paired with a chicken quesadilla and either fries or a Cajun chicken wrap depending on my mood. Add a Coke float (at no extra charge might I add), and you’ll be stuffed clear through dinner.

Even with rising food costs, the entire meal will set you back somewhere just south of $7. And for an extra $1, you can add signature Fancy Milkshake, which comes in 40+ flavors ranging from Butterfinger to Peach. Special seasonal flavors include fresh watermelon in summer and eggnog in winter. Not seeing what you want? Cook Out allows you to blend as many flavors as you please. I’m partial to a chocolate-peanut butter-banana combo. Oh, and did we mention Cook Out also serves Cheerwine?

California, you can keep your In-N-Out. Because here in the South, we’ve got something much, much better.

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