Shake Shack’s Executive Chef Shares the Secret to a Great Buffalo Sauce
John Karangis explains the process — and a modified version of the recipe — behind the chain's newest offering
From tossing “marital aids” onto the field during NFL games to pioneering the practice of jumping through tables at tailgates, the city of Buffalo in Upstate New York has made many noteworthy contributions to the cultural fabric that ties modern America together.
But Buffalo’s biggest gift to the rest of the country is culinary: the Buffalo chicken wing.
A longtime staple of Southern cooking in the U.S. as well as a favorite in other countries including China, deep-fried chicken wings evolved into an entirely new entity in 1964 when one of the owners of family-owned Buffalo Anchor Bar, Teressa Bellissimo, covered a plate of wings in a special spicy sauce and served them with a side of bleu cheese and celery. The rest, as they say, is history.
Buffalo wings and the signature sauce that covers them are now one of the most popular foods in the country, with the average American eating 90 wings per year and the country collectively eating 1.4 billion of the saucy little suckers on Super Bowl Sunday.
While not all of the wings that are consumed are coated in spicy Buffalo-style sauce, that’s undoubtedly the top topping for most chicken wing connoisseurs. It’s also the condiment of choice that John Karangis, executive chef and VP of culinary innovation at Shake Shack, gave a starring role in the chain’s new limited-time Buffalo menu, which can be ordered on the Shack App starting January 25 and will be available nationwide starting the 28th through April 25.
“The goal in developing the sauce was to pay homage to the much-loved Buffalo sauce that’s been served on chicken items throughout my lifetime. I remember having it as a child and I think children today love it. Adults love it,” Karangis tells InsideHook. “It was important for us to go back to the history of it and understand what makes it so well-loved. I think what makes it a great sauce is the balance of things that are in it, starting with really great hot sauce. Butter usually gets added into it to round out the flavor and take a little bit of the aggressive heat away. Then there’s a good amount of bracing acidity that usually comes through white wine vinegar and maybe some garlic or onion notes.”
A take on the butter-based classic version of the sauce that debuted at Anchor Bar in the ’60s, Shake Shack’s new tangy Buffalo sauce features more pronounced vinegary notes accented by a touch of garlic and appears atop the restaurant’s new Buffalo chicken sandwich and Buffalo-spiced cheese fries accompanied by cooling ranch sauce.
“Our sauce has a little more aggressive heat. We use a couple of different chilies to make it a little more interesting and exciting as well as pay homage to what has been done,” Karangis says. “We also wanted to add a touch of smokiness to it through the addition of some smoked paprika. We like to make sure we’re adding different layers of heat that are going to do different things on your palate. It’s all about adding things that are going to enhance the flavor. Everyone has their own threshold for heat pain, but I would say this sauce is three-quarters of the way up on the scale. It’s not going to blow you out of the water, but it’s not mild either. Hopefully it’s a sweet spot for most. That was our goal.”
While Karangis wasn’t able to share the proprietary recipe for Shake Shake’s new Buffalo sauce, here’s a modified version you can make to spice up your next football Sunday or any other day of the week chicken is on the menu.
Shake Shack‘s Buffalo Chicken Sauce
- 12 oz of your favorite Buffalo-style sauce
- 1 tablespoon White Distilled Vinegar
- ½ tablespoon Granulated Sugar
- ½ teaspoon Smoked Paprika
- ¼ teaspoon Chipotle Chili Powder
- ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- 1 ½ ounces Unsalted Butter, cold and cut into 1-inch dice
- ¼ teaspoon Kosher Salt
- Add your chosen Buffalo sauce to a saucepan on a medium flame along with vinegar, sugar, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, cayenne pepper and salt. Stir frequently with a whisk until it comes to a simmer.
- Allow mixture to simmer while stirring for 2-3 minutes. Then turn off the heat.
- Insert a hand blender (stick blender) into the saucepot and add the cold butter to it. Carefully turn on the blender and emulsify the butter by blending until the butter is fully melted and incorporated into the sauce.
- If you don’t have a hand blender, this can be accomplished in a bar blender with the same result. Pour liquid into the blender container, add the butter and put on the lid. Place a kitchen towel over the lid and firmly press on top and turn the blender on low at first. gradually increase the speed until all the butter is melted and incorporated into the sauce.
- Strain the sauce, just like we do at Shake Shack, through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer. This will ensure the sauce has a rich and creamy mouthfeel.
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