Kerstin Kühn: In-N-Out Burger

The Staff Canteen
Coinciding with National Burger Month in the USA, LA-based food writer Kerstin Kühn takes a look at one of the country’s most iconic burger chains: In-N-Out Burger.InNout Few-if any-fast food chains can lay claim to the cult-like following of In-N-Out Burger, whose fan base includes the likes of Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain. It is renowned for its secret menu, crossed palm trees and religious verses on its packaging. But what makes the California-based burger chain so special? And does it really live up to the hype?

First, a bit of history…

In-N-Out’s first store opened in the Los Angeles area in 1948 as California’s very first drive-thru hamburger stand. Run by newlyweds Harry and Esther Snyder, the first restaurant was housed in a space in Baldwin Park that was barely 10sq ft in size. What made it unique was its two-way speaker system for drive-thru ordering (developed by Harry), which allowed customers to get "in and out" without leaving their cars. By 1958, ten years after the Snyders first started flipping burgers, the couple had introduced the famous arrow logo and expanded to five outposts. Fast forward to 1973, at the quarter-century mark, and In-N-Out had 13 restaurants, all in Los Angeles County. IMG_0294By 1994, the chain had grown to 100 restaurants in California as well as Nevada and by 2005 In-N-Out had opened its 200th restaurant also covering Arizona. In 2008 and 2011 expansion to Utah and Texas followed and in January 2015, In-N-Out hit 300 outlets. Despite its huge popularity, In-N-Out has resisted the temptation to franchise or go public and to this day, the company continues to be run by the Snyder family. After Harry passed away in 1976, his sons Rich and Guy took over as president and vice president respectively, and, following their passing, in 2010, Harry and Esther’s only granddaughter, Lynsi, became president of In-N-Out, making her the youngest female billionaire in the USA today.

The (not so) secret menu…

Nostalgia is just one half of why In-N-Out has such a cult following – its secret menu is the other. Except that in reality it’s not so secret a menu at all and if you go to any In-N-Out and listen long enough, you're bound to hear someone order animal fries or a Flying Dutchman. The restaurants’ actual menu is surprisingly small, listing only three main meal options: a hamburger, cheeseburger, and the "double-double" which contains two beef patties and two slices of cheese. Then there are fries, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavoured shakes, and soft drinks. The signature spread is much like a Thousand Island dressing.IMG_0305 But In-N-Out’s (not so) secret menu features six more burgers: the 3x3 or 4x4 (offering the corresponding number of beef patties and cheese slices); the Double Meat burger (no cheese); the Protein Style burger (with a lettuce-leaf wrapper instead of a bun); a Flying Dutchman (2x2 with no bun, no vegetables, and no spread); and the iconic Animal Style burger (with a mustard-fried patty).

In-N-Out’s unique food ethos…

When In-N-Out Burger first opened in 1948, every day before dawn, Harry Snyder would visit the local markets to pick out fresh ingredients, which he prepared by hand. Harry’s mission right from the start was to “give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy” and nearly 70 years later, his mantra remains the core focus of the company’s operations. Every burger at In-N-Out is made to order. Ingredients are never pre-packaged or frozen; everything is delivered fresh to each store and there are no microwaves, heat lamps or freezers to be found in any of In-N-Out’s restaurants. Hamburger patties are made from 100% pure beef, free of additives, fillers and preservatives of any kind, lettuce is hand-leafed and they bake their own buns using old-fashioned, slow-rising sponge dough. And fries are made from potatoes shipped straight from the farm, which are then individually cut in each store and cooked in 100% pure vegetable oil. So high is In-N-Out’s commitment to the quality of its food that even Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, called it the “real deal”. “It isn’t health food, but it’s food with integrity,” he told the New York Times.IMG_0304 The verdict… At the risk of offending its army of loyal followers, in all honesty I struggle to understand what the In-N-Out fuss is all about. To me its burgers are good but not that special and the thin, basic, fast food patties and buns are not much different to what you might find at McDonald's or Burger King. That said, the emphasis on freshness really shines through with the trimmings and the tomato, onion and crispy lettuce are definitely superior to other fast food chains. Then there are the fries…they’re a bit, well, like Marmite – you either love them or hate them and, unfortunately, I fall into the latter category. They’re just not crisp enough and are seriously lacking in flavour. But it’s not all bad. Ultimately at $2.15 for a hamburger; $1.65 for a portion of fries; and less than $6 for a combo meal, including a burger, fries and drink, you can’t possibly complain about the value of In-N-Out, particularly given its unwavering commitment to freshness. I may not love their food but I do love their ethos. So yes, I too am an In-N-Out fan. Kerstin_KuhnKerstin Kühn is a freelance food and travel writer, specialising in restaurant and chef stories. The former restaurant editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, she relocated from London to Los Angeles in 2013, where she lives on the city’s trendy East Side. With a vast network of chefs from around the world, Kerstin has profiled the likes of Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, the Roca brothers and Massimo Bottura. She is a regular contributor to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, FOUR Magazine, M&C Report and Spinney’s Food, and also writes her own blog, La Goulue. You can follow Kerstin on Twitter @LaGoulue_
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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th May 2015

Kerstin Kühn: In-N-Out Burger