An Unnecessary Defense of In N Out Burger
I shouldn't have to do this but here we are.
The thing that most of y’all fuck up the most is how you interpret your own feelings about In N Out. As someone who’s opinion on the matter is perfectly calibrated and fully correct in every way, I just want to help you find out what it is you REALLY think about In N Out. On the spectrum of In N Out opinions you will find zealots, haters, the misinformed, the “I only had it once and what’s the big deal”, the WhataburgerFiveGuysShakeShack comparative & argumentative types, the “I only like fat gourmet burgers from local restaurants" foodies…those are all the types of In N Out opinion holders I can think of for now. Let’s address some of these below -
The Zealot - Many would accuse me of being in this category. Many would be wrong. Strong support and declarations of truth do not make you a zealot. My wife probably does fall in the zealot category though as she was indoctrinated from a very young age. She grew up in San Diego and In N Out was her first job which she worked for almost 4 years and ascended to the position of Level 6 cook, which is highest a cook can go. She wasn’t just flipping burgers, she was changing lives.
I say to this day that even though she hasn’t worked there in over a decade, she remains In N Out’s best employee. She’s an evangelist. I dare you to start pontificating about how they should “open a franchise where you live”. She’s actually had this argument with someone who insisted that you can indeed be an In N Out franchise owner - you can’t. In N Out if fully corporate owned and operated she will tell you all about the chain of command and how vital that is to quality control. Store managers report to area managers to regional managers and then like two more steps and you are knocking on the door of the CEO. They haven’t and won’t ever take the risk of some franchisee fucking up the reputation of In N Out. That shit is on lockdown.
She will then attest to the fact that nothing is ever, ever frozen and if they fuck up your order they don’t just pull of the tomato and put it back in the bag. They remake that shit from start to finish every time. The fries - we will talk about these later - are tested everyday and cooking times and temps are adjusted as needed. Not every batch of potatoes is the same. The bread is made by Puritan bakery and In N Out consists of most of their business. Why do their buns taste so fresh? Because they are only par-baked at the factory. The buns do not complete the cooking process until they are thrown on the grill at the store. Brilliant.
In N Out owns and operates all their own cattle farms. That’s why you don’t see In N Out in Florida. They won’t open a location that isn’t within a days drive of one of their farms or distribution centers. Like I said, nothing is ever frozen. They take the best parts of the cow that they want to grind up for their burger patties and sell the rest off.
They pay their employees really, really well. It is one our goals in life to be living somewhere with an In N Out nearby so that when our kids are old enough to get jobs, we drop them off at the front door and tell them to smile and say yes sir/yes mam and get themselves the best damn job available to any kid in the United States of America. Also, fuck sending your kids to college. If they don’t want to be a goddamn scientist or engineer just tell them keep working their way up to a management position. You can make $100,000 - even $200,000 at a busy store - per year as an In N Out manager. Work five, ten hour shifts per week and you get like 5 weeks vacation per year. Yes you still have to wear that 1955 car hop oh gee golly uniform and paper hat but you can buy a Tesla with that burger $$$$.
My wife (my wife (Borat voice)) will completely punish you with this whole spiel for an hour straight. She is a true believer. And although I am in agreement with her on the merits of In N Out, I do not fall into this zealot category.
The Hater - I don’t need to spend much time on this. Some people just be haters. They pretend not to like stuff just because a lot of other people like something. They use words like “overrated” and say “what’s the big deal it’s just a cheeseburger” or “their fries suck”. And the reason I have hardly anything to say about Haters of In N Out is because they are just objectively wrong. If you get over thinking about how “rated” or popular this restaurant is, and just admit the burger is downright delicious - objectively so…it’s a cheeseburger that is well seasoned with melted cheese and tasty sauce - you can move on with your life and just be happy. You don’t need to be a zealot or an evangelist, but you look like a damn fool hating on In N Out. Your arguments don’t hold up. It’s cheap (go ahead compare the price of a #1 from In N Out to a 1/4 pounder w/ Cheese from McDonald’s) it’s quality, and its insanely consistent no matter the location. Fuck off and enjoy it even just a little bit like a regular fucking person.
The Comparers - Ok so you like another burger place better? That’s fine. Let’s talk about that.
You like Whataburger better? Ok. Are you from Texas? Yes? Fuck you, doesn’t count.
You are blinded by regional bias and nostalgia. You have memories of Whataburger that you view fondly and you love that it’s 24 hours and damn those shakes are good (they are). I’m sorry to break it to you, Whataburger is worse than fucking burger king. Gross, frozen, grey shitty patties that aren’t seared up or seasoned at all. The vegetables look and taste like they’ve been sitting in the walk in cooler for 2 weeks wilting away until it’s the day before they have to toss them out and the manager is like “perfect let’s use these this is on brand”. Also that menu…why the fuck do you have so many different things on your menu? Why don’t you just focus on making a great cheeseburger? Who the fuck wants a salad from Whataburger? There is a reason that In N Out has a line around the block all day every day…they focus on what they do good. It’s like Japanese sushi chefs but for Cheeseburgers.
If you aren’t from Texas and you love Whataburger, I’m just gonna assume you’ve never had good food. Praying for you.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries? You probably like this shit show of a restaurant because your are a “Hater” (see above). “THE FRIES ARE BETTERRRR” are you telling me you are comparing burger joints based on the fucking french fries? Are you insane? If that’s the standard then McDonald’s is the best restaurant on earth and deserves three Michelin Stars because they blow every french fry out of the water and God Bless them for it but who gives a shit? I’m talking ‘bout Cheeseburgers. Five Guys doesn’t melt their fucking cheese on the burger. They throw in on the patty after they take it off the grill when they are wrapping it in that damn foil as if that it gonna get it done. Thing is when you load a bunch of cold vegetables (they have so many toppings you can add whhhhhheeeeeee) on top the cheese isn’t going to melt. Also it’s fifteen fucking dollars for a burger and fries. I don’t mind paying a high price for food, but at least put some damn salt on there? The saving grace of Five Guys is that their hotdogs are good and I love peanuts in the shell. Other than that I find them useless and I doubt I’ll ever step foot in that restaurant again. I swear to God I’d go to McDonald’s (the new quarter pounder is actually really good) or Wendy’s (always been damn good burger for what it is) before I ever give Five Guys Burgers with Cold Cheese Food and Fries my money again.
Ok Shake Shack fans, I see you. And I’m with you. I’m a huge fan of Shake Shack. I think it’s every bit as good as the hype surrounding it. They keep their menu relatively small, they run regional specials, and they really give a shit. It’s quality. I don’t believe that anybody saying they prefer Shake Shack over In N Out is doing so in bad faith. It’s a reasonable argument. I could also lump Culver’s, Freddie’s, and a couple of other national/regional chains in this category of “I Love You but Not Like I Love Her”.
The biggest factors that send Shake Shack a notch below In N Out for me are price, convenience, and burger style. I just can’t get the style of burger that I want at Shake Shack. It’s damn close but there are a couple things missing. More on that later. But seriously, they are doing great work and I’m always happy when I get my hands on a shack burger.
What about gourmet brew pub foodie burger lovers. I’m not saying there aren’t great burgers in this realm…in fact the two best burgers I’ve ever had probably would technically be categorized as this. But in general if this is you, I’m labeling you a fucking poser that wants to seem like a foodie in the know and act better than all the little people that have never had your favorite cheeseburger with brie, apple, fig jam, and a fried egg. Fuck off, you insatiable blow hard. There is no gourmet burger that is better than a double thin patty smash burger dripping with grease, burger sauce, melted American Cheese Food, pickles and onions. Which brings me to my wheelhouse -
That’s almost exclusively how I order/desire my burger. Two thin patties, good browning and greasy on a flat top. Two slices of Kraft American Cheese, a mayo based burger sauce with fresh pickles and fresh or grilled onions (if getting Animal Style at In N Out). This is how burgers were meant to be consumed. In lieu of mayo based burger sauce, mustard is on an even playing field. I know this is right not just because it obviously taste the best, but because almost every chef I dig has talked about eating a burger this way or serves it this way on their menu. Two examples? The two best burgers I’ve ever eaten - The Husk Burger in Nashville, TN by Sean Brock, and the H&F burger in Atlanta. Both are prepared as such - double patty, double American cheese, pickle, fresh onion, mustard. Game over.
The first time I ever had a burger with those basic components only was at Red’s Java in San Francisco. Bourdain filmed a segment there although they use cheddar and serve the burger on a sourdough baguette (a popular preparation in the Bay area). I was hooked when I tried it. They don’t even have lettuce or tomato at that joint and they won’t add ketchup to the burger. I’m a big fan of fascism in cooking. This is the way or go somewhere else. Similarly, H&F burger only has one single way they serve their cheeseburgers. There are no variations on the menu and no extras to add on if I remember correctly. It’s just the way it is. And it’s glorious.
Which brings me to my big point here: In N Out has been is the gold standard. Taking ALL factors into consideration - quality, taste, execution, consistency, customer service, overall experience, price…it just can’t be beat. Through my years of touring and then my time spent living in California I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve been to In N Out Burger over 200 times. Some accuse me of nostalgia. Bullshit. I didn’t grow up on In N Out. I had no incentive to like it. The first time I had it when I was 21 years old, I was picky as fuck when it came to food. It spoke to me from the very first visit. And that was when I was ordering straight up how it came. Once my pallet evolved and I figured out the best combo it solidified itself as my favorite cheeseburger experience and the best “fast food” restaurant (they really aren’t that fast…that’s a good thing because guess what…they don’t start cooking your burger until you order it) in America.
It’s not nostalgia. It’s a large sample size of getting the exact same results 99.5 out of 100 times. If I got to McDonald’s it’s 50/50 that my order is even correct, much less a high quality execution. In N Out quality control is legendary. Their employees give a shit because they get paid well and because of that, high standards are expected of them from their managers and on up the chain.
The Fries…complain all you want. They taste like fresh potatoes. And with salt they are just fine to me. Dip them in the chocolate milkshake and church em up. I’m not going to dock the rating of a place where I usually just get two double cheeseburgers because their fries aren’t the best in the fucking world. I very much enjoy them, just the right amount to be satisfied. Get them animal style. It’s great.
So let me help you. Let’s say you’ve been underwhelmed at In N Out. Let’s say you just like it fine. Take it or leave it. Please, let me tell you how to order. I’ve pleaded with people that I’ve dined with there to copy my order, they don’t listen, and then keep doing their same boring shit about how “it’s fine”. Fuck you, try this.
In N Out’s major flaw is that their standard Double Double as it comes on the menu is just not the best version of their burger. It’s the prototypical burger when you think of a picture of a burger. Lettuce, Tomato, Cheese, Meat, Sauce. Fine. I get it sometimes and it’s enjoyable. But you’ve got to dream a little bigger darling…
Getting Animal Style alone is not enough, although it’s a start. Animal style means they add pickles, they do extra spread (sauce), add grilled onions, and they “mustard fry” the patties. It’s wonderful. But a big problem remains - lettuce and tomato.
“But Aaron, I love lettuce and tomato!” Yes, so do I. Especially a perfectly ripe tomato in August. And if I’m getting a turkey and provolone sub from Jersey Mike’s, I fuck with lettuce and tomato. But something happens on a cellular level when they are on an In N Out cheeseburger. It affects the temperature of the melting cheese. It waters down the grease and sauce and makes it harder to keep track of the drip and make sure you can utilize the bun and wrapper to keep it under control. The proper cheeseburger needs to be disgustingly messy and the lettuce and tomato gets in way. It’s still messy but not in a manageable and delicious way. Tell them to leave off. Trust me. I do not care how much you like those vegetable or how “fresh” you want your burger to feel. Stop fucking it up. Here’s the order:
Double Double Animal Style, no lettuce or tomato.
Simple. Now here are a couple other variations that I will allow. Find your wheelhouse here.
Double Double Animal Style, no lettuce or tomato, medium rare (they won’t do this in Texas for some reason)
Double Double no lettuce, tomato, or spread, add fresh onion, pickle and mustard, medium rare (adding chilies works well here too.)
Try it. Love it. If you don’t, sorry about you.