I’m not a risk taker. I always wear a helmet on my bike, I hate roller coasters, and I wait until the signal changes to cross the street. But whenever I watch Hot Ones, in which celebrities are interviewed as they fight their way through servings of increasingly hot chicken wings, I always think to myself, I could do that. How hot can it be? With Shake Shack’s new Hot Ones menu, I was able to put myself to the test.
What really brings the spice to this menu is the Spicy ShackSauce, which features both Hot Ones Classic Hot Sauce and The Last Dab: Apollo, which clocks in at 2.5 million Scovilles, according to Shake Shack. That sauce is added to a burger, a chicken sandwich, and a dipping sauce for cheese fries. For the risk takers among us, packs of The Last Dab: Apollo are available on the side, so customers can taste it straight. I decided to take that risk.
On its own, the Spicy ShackSauce has a strong kick with the great flavor we’ve come to expect from the signature condiment. The heat from the sauce lingers, and it left my mouth wavering with a slight vibration that comes from numbing ingredients. This is easily one of the hottest sauces I’ve ever received from a fast food establishment that doesn’t typically deal in spice. I was suddenly regretting my declaration to my coworkers the day before that I would indeed try the very hottest hot sauce on its own.
It seems that Shake Shack knows the sauce might be a bit much for the average customer—there’s little more than a dollop on both the burger and the chicken sandwich. It brings a nice amount of spice when you get a taste of it, but used this sparingly, it leaves the burger patty in particular feeling a bit dry.
Shake Shack’s best kept secret is its chicken sandwich, which is juicy and flavorful every time, making it a much better vehicle for this particular sauce. Each sandwich is topped with bacon and monterey jack cheese, but could also use a pickle or onion, something to add some crunch and texture to each bite.
With the cheese fries, Shake Shack has replicated the winning formula of its Buffalo menu. These fries rule, and whether you dip them into the Spicy ShackSauce or not, there’s a really pleasant spice from the Aleppo pepper dust. That incorporation of dry spice adds a nuanced layer to the flavor profile of the spice, rather than just elevating its heat level. Please bury me with Shake Shack cheese fries.
Fans of spice will be satisfied with the heat level of the Spicy ShackSauce, though it might be worth asking for extra on the side or on your sandwich if you want to make sure you get full sauce coverage. And if you want to kick it up even more, well, there’s that fiery little packet of The Last Dab: Apollo.
The sauce packet itself costs $1.99 to add to your meal, and is bigger and sleeker than your average condiment package. There’s an opportunity for you to get a nice big dab, if you please. But from my experience, you won’t need one. The flavor is what comes through first, a nice spice from the Apollo pepper, which was bred with both flavor and heat in mind. I tried it first on a dry fry and was so bold as to think it wasn’t that bad, so I took a drop from the packet straight. I flew too close to the sun.
At first I was disappointed—I was prepared for this sauce to destroy me, and I thought I was in the clear. But it’s a slow burn, and the tingling sensation trickled in gradually, followed by a burning heat, and finally a pure numbness in my lips. The greatest blessing was that the sauce didn’t seem to affect my throat, which didn’t feel the same effects as my tongue and lips. Luckily, I had a vanilla milkshake standing by to soothe the burn, and I didn’t consume nearly enough of the hot sauce to experience any, ahem, digestive issues.
If you’re looking for a hot and spicy fast food bite, you’ve found it. This is the one. It’s exciting to see national chains lean into this quest for heat and find a way to preserve great flavor as they do it. Just don’t forget to add a milkshake to your order for when you want relief from feeling the burn.