Summer Favorite: Cookout’s Watermelon Milkshake

The gourmet drive-through frozen treat

by Jessie Ammons

A few favorite summer sippers: Iced tea; Arnold Palmers; Mint Juleps. Cook Out watermelon milkshakes. “At first, it seems like an odd combination, but it’s nice and sweet and kind of soothing. It’s just very refreshing,” says Nick Jusino, manager of the North Raleigh location of the Greensboro-owned chain on Falls of Neuse Road.

Come July, Raleigh customers hanker for the unlikely fruity-creamy mix. “They’ll be out to the street,” Jusino says of the folks at his spot. “Somebody will wait in line for 20 or 30 minutes, just for a milkshake.”

Cook Out isn’t the sort of place known for serving up fine dining. Burgers, barbecue, corn dogs, hush puppies, and onion rings are the fuel loved by growing teenagers and roadtrippers, so it might be easy to dismiss the milkshake menu as standard drive-through fare.

Au contraire: Cook Out’s 40-plus options will give any ice cream shop a run for its money. A neutral—not vanilla, Jusino clarifies—soft serve made from reduced fat milk and High Point’s Hunter Farms ice cream mix serves as the base for a plethora of mix-ins. Banana pudding features hunks of Nilla wafers and real bananas; peanut butter is blended with scoops of JIF; chocolate nut includes whole walnuts; and the eternal crowd favorite (Jusino says this is a widely known Cook Out company truth), Oreo, is prepared meticulously with “nickel- and dime-sized pieces of Oreo. We only prep ingredients for six milkshakes at a time so the cookies don’t get stale.”

Meticulous preparation pays off for ice cream lovers. The milkshake flavors have cult followings, as evidenced by the hilarious (and PG-13 rated) website, which uses a detailed rubric to consider and score each shake, and then offers food pairing suggestions. Beneath the humor is proof  that Cook Out fans are serious about their milkshakes.

Watermelon shakes are available during July and August only, because they’re made with the actual fruit in its peak season. Raleigh restaurants get their melons from a distributor in Winston-Salem and cut them up one at a time to ensure freshness. “We dice it up into cubes, and then it’s approximately three heaping tablespoons of watermelon chunks blended together with ice cream,” Jusino says.

The result is subtle, creamy and, well, summer-y.

A hallmark Cook Out milkshake trait is the consistency: These are the sorts of blended treats that require spoons, not straws. Jusino says you can request to your liking, though: “If you want it thicker, or blended more, just tell the employee and they’ll do it.” That goes for the flavor combinations, too. Ask a longtime Raleighite what their favorite Cook Out combination is, and they’re likely to have an answer (banana fudge-peanut butter; strawberry-Butterfinger; cherry cobbler-walnut; oreo-M&M).

Watermelon, though, needs no mixing or matching. Much like summer, the shake is best enjoyed by embracing its fleeting simplicity.

Slice and dice

If you’re looking for an extra excuse to indulge in a milkshake, National Watermelon Day is August 3. To enjoy the melon in another frosty way, you can stick popsicle sticks into triangle-shaped slices of the fruit. Spread them on layers of wax paper, pop them in the freezer, and within a few hours you’ll have watermelon popsicles.

Here’s an easy recipe from for making a watermelon milkshake at home:

4 cups coarsely chopped seeded watermelon (rind discarded)

1 cup (1/2 pint) vanilla ice cream

Blend watermelon and ice cream in a blender until smooth. Pour into 2 (20-ounce) glasses.

photos courtesy of (sign); courtesy Halle Sinnott (woman)