Here's a neat video made by Josh "Mister Cutlets" Ozersky showing the Shake Shack cooking process. I like the little inset "burger cam" that appears as the patty is slapped on the griddle.
The video illuminates a process that is somewhat behind-the-scenes and reveals that the Shake Shack uses the "smash" technique. I've talked about the smashed-burger technique here, but if you missed that, it may surprise you to know that I'm in favor of this method.
While it runs counter to everything you hear—that you should handle the meat as little as possible and never, ever press down on it—the smash technique (especially when employed on a hot, hot griddle) creates all sorts of great crunchy-chewy bits on the patty surface.
My favorite Kansas City burger joints from my youth do this, but it's something that's sorely lacking in New York, the city I now call home. Why is this? I have two theories:
1. This is actually Ozersky's theory paraphrased. At old-school diners or pubs here, they just have a different notion of what a should be—and that's usually a big ol' hunka meat on a bun. Ozersky himself has theorized that this happens because places in New York have to pay high rents, thus charge more, and then justify the price by forming more meat into the patty (a marginal materials cost for them that can be marked up on the consumer end). Cooking a larger patty brings prompts places like these to use griddle domes, thus steam-griddling. And many pubs use broilers or grills, which are nonstarters as far as developing a great crust—though grills can put the nice char on a patty that many people like.
2. At places with "trained" cooks or fancy-pants chefs, the people cooking know that pressing on the patty squeezes out juices, and it's just runs counter to everything they believe in to do it. Hence, no smash.
What's great about the Shake Shack (and, yes, I guess this is turning into another rah! rah! SS post) is that the people running the show A.) know good food and good ingredients, and B.) take the time to meticulously study how things are done at the places they love. So I'm guessing that Shake Shack owner Danny Meyer (himself a St. Louis native), along with his crew, figured out how the great burgers of the Midwest were made. This is just pure conjecture on my part—imagining Shacksters at some mom-and-pop drive-in, crouched at griddle side, eyes level with the cooking surface, stopwatches in hand, timing cooking length and weighing out patties. But it's pure conjecture I like to believe.