A quick lesson in regional food semantics: people from places without a local barbecue tradition (New York and California come to mind) sometimes like to call the act of cooking food outside a "barbecue." This infuriates people from places with a strong barbecue tradition (North Carolina for instance), because "barbecue" is something you eat, not an event you attend. The event is a "cook out" (duh).

Why the discussion of barbecue and cook outs in a hamburger review? Because down in barbecue country there's a chain of fast food joints called Cook Out (that serves barbecue), and we're thankful they didn't name themselves "Barbecue" because they'd probably be out of business now and that would suck 'cause their burgers are damn good. The Char-Grill aside (speaking of, raise up North Carolina, we need that review!), the Tar Heel State has long needed its own In-N-Out/Five Guys-style burger joint: something that's a major step-up from typical fast food fare without requiring a cloth napkin, and it's found it in Cook Out. Never had their barbecue, and the 40+ milkshake varieties seems a little extra, but a very, very solid burger for less than $3 is a win. The brilliance here is in the bun of all things, fluffy enough to handle even the most severe mustard inundations. A small patty, not too hard, but not too bloody (I don't do rare at chains) is the main act, of course, and it doesn't disappoint. Five Guys sized it's not, but at that price point you'll be hard pressed to find a better meal (let alone burger) anywhere else.

Cook Out: The Pickin' Burgers Index

Price: 5 ($2.39).
Convenience: 3 (75 locations, mostly in North Carolina, with a few in South Carolina, and one each in Tennessee and Richmond, Va.).
Taste: 5 (I'm a little stricter than most with my taste rating—I gave the awesome Five Guys an 8—but don't get me wrong, this is an excellent burger.).
Total: 13 (out of 20).

The Pickin' Burgers Index explained:
Taste is ranked on a 10-point scale, and is entirely subjective, entirely at each individual reviewer's discretion.
Price and Convenience are objective measurements on a 5-point scale. For Price, a "5" is given to burgers costing less than $2.50, a "4" to burgers costing $2.50 to $10, with a point drop for each subsequent $5 price increase (a "3" for $10-$15, a "2" for $15-$20, etc., to a "1" for $20+).
For Convenience, a "5" is awarded to burgers served at over 1000 locations, a "4" to burgers served at 100-1000 locations in more than 30 states, a "3" to burgers served at 10-100 locations in more than one state, a "2" to burgers served at more than one location in a city or region, and a "1" to burgers served at one location.

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