In Utah, the milkshakes are so thick that a straw is useless—decidedly impotent in the face of such a viscous, towering dessert. To consume these milkshakes, a spoon is a requirement, which raises the question: Hey, isn’t that just ice cream, Utah?
Seriously, good luck finding a thin, drinkable milkshake anywhere in the Beehive State. Thick milkshakes are pretty much a statewide edict. Whether you go to Iceberg Drive Inn, Arctic Circle, Dairy Keen, LaBeau’s, Purple Turtle, The Moab Diner, or Millie’s Burgers, you’ll be served the same “above the rim”–style milkshakes, all of them sturdier than a DQ Blizzard. But none of them tower above the cup’s lip quite like those at Iceberg Drive Inn.
I recently spent two days in Utah, a calculated decision made while planning out a cross-country road trip, and I have long heard that Iceberg Drive Inn is the place to order a thick milkshake. There are 17 Iceberg locations, and though it’s far from a national chain, there has been some expansion into Arizona and California. No matter how far it strays from Utah, however, Iceberg claims to use the same “tried and true recipe from 1960” for its famously thick shakes.
I ordered a mini size strawberry and peach milkshake and it came in a multi-story cup. There is absolutely no way I could ever finish this thing by myself, but holy moly, it was smooth, creamy, and incredibly decadent. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t advertised as custard, because it’s got that enriched-with-egg-yolks body and taste to it. The vibe here is pure ice cream with a high butterfat content, maybe thinned out ever so slightly with milk.
Because of this richness, fruit shakes at Iceberg are the move. The shake itself is so luscious that the tart fruit injects some much needed balance. Another reason straws are useless here: the fruit shakes feature tons of actual fruit chunks. And even if you had the power to suck this thick concoction through a straw, it’s so much ice cream that you’d never choose to take it down that way. I took maybe 15-20 spoonfuls and I didn’t even make it down to the rim of the cup. Again, this was the “mini” shake.
The question remains: Isn’t this ice cream? Couldn’t this thick and chunky shake, akin to a Fosters Freeze Twister, reasonably be called soft serve instead? Absolutely not, as it turns out.
Soft serve, which also requires a spoon, has more swirl action. More importantly, it’s made in a machine. Per the FDA, soft serve needs to be made in a machine which also injects air into the mixture. That air, and the temperature at which it’s served, is what lends soft serve its unique, swirlable texture.
Conversely, Utah’s thick milkshakes are made the same way all milkshakes are: by blending ice cream with milk. It’s just that the amount of milk added in Utah is negligible, resulting in a thick, scoopable viscosity. Add more milk to the blender and you’ll get the thinner milkshake we’re all more familiar with, the kind you can easily suck through with a straw.
So how did this thick milkshake become such a staple? Apparently at the behest of customers. Per Iceberg Drive Inn’s website:
In the early days of Iceberg Drive Inn, Lamar served “regular” milkshakes that used a straw. One day, a group of customers asked for thicker shakes that didn’t have as much milk. These thick concoctions were only available to the regulars that requested them. When many other customers began making the same request, Lamar and his staff abandoned the original formula for our now over-the-top Famous Thick Shakes. No wonder we’re known for having the best shakes in Utah!
So, if soft serve has a set of unique rules, what are the actual requirements for a thick shake? As mentioned by Iceberg Drive Inn, a shake needs to be “over-the-top.” That isn’t a figure of speech—the shake literally needs to hang over the top of the cup in a sort of solid, cylindrical shape. If it doesn’t, it’s not a Famous Thick Shake.
But, some of these shakes do share attributes with soft serve. Check out Arctic Circle, a fast food chain that also claims it invented fry sauce way back when. Its thick shakes are almost identical to the format of Dairy Queen’s Blizzards, except that Arctic Circle puts a plastic dome over the top. Arctic even offers the same range of candy toppings: Oreo, Heath, Cookie Dough, Snickers, Raspberry Cheesecake, Mint Chocolate Chip, and more.
At the Arctic Circle in Cedar City, Utah, I ordered a Butterfinger shake. Though I couldn’t do a direct side-by-side comparison, Arctic Circle’s shake tasted noticeably creamier and milkier than either a Dairy Queen Blizzard or a Fosters Freeze Twister. Soft serve has got more of a frozen, sugary texture to it. In fact, Dairy Queen can’t even legally refer to its Blizzards as containing ice cream, as the product doesn’t contain the 10% butterfat required by the FDA to meet the definition. That’s why it’s a frozen “treat.”
It doesn’t seem that the FDA enforces any set standards for defining milkshakes, but one thing’s for sure: Utah’s thick milkshakes are more ice cream than anything at Dairy Queen. Still, because the shakes are thinned out ever so slightly with milk before serving, they’re technically milkshakes whether a straw can be used or not.
If you’re wondering why Utah shakes are so thick in the first place, part of it has to do with the climate: The ice-cream-heavy dessert melts to a drinkable texture in the blistering Utah heat, so you can start with a spoon, then move on to a straw later. At The Moab Diner, located in a beautiful and desolate canyon city in Eastern Utah, the shakes thin out wonderfully as you’re sightseeing from the car. This quote from the Salt Lake Tribune sums it up:
“They are thick enough to eat with a spoon for the first little while, but become sippable by the time we get to the turnoff to Dead Horse Point,” Cheri Ause wrote. “My husband, who usually drives, says they get really good by Crescent Junction. Mine don’t ever last that long.”
How long does it actually take to melt, though? I sat down to consume my thick milkshake outside of Iceberg Drive Inn in 95-degree summer heat. It took about 10 minutes for the shake to begin melting even a little bit; still, it wasn’t drinkable. I had to wait an additional 10 minutes just to strain a few sips through a straw. If you order a thick milkshake in Utah, clear your schedule.
This is a milkshake meant to stay with you, it seems. And given how delicious it is, I’m thrilled that it lingers. It could easily take 30-60 minutes to consume this entire thing—but when the temp creeps up past 100, a prolonged frozen treat is exactly what’s called for. This isn’t a nighttime milkshake, nor is it the ideal pairing for a burger and fries. This is a beat-the-heat shake, meant to be consumed by itself in peak afternoon temperatures. A frigid lunch break.
Though people are often baffled by Utah’s shakes, this isn’t just some local, nonsensical oddity. The thick milkshake, in the proper context, makes all the sense in the world. In order to fully enjoy it, you need to abandon everything you think about a milkshake in the first place. Let go of expectations and you’ll be pleasantly surprised in more ways than one.