In-N-Out Burger is a family-owned California icon. Step off the plane at LAX and there’s an In-N-Out with a line out the door less than a mile from the terminal — usually hungry tourists with suitcases in tow, anxious to make the burger stand their first official meal in California. Thankfully, it also has locations in Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Texas, and Arizona. In operation since 1948, In-N-Out prides itself on serving the freshest food possible, prepared by a friendly staff in a clean restaurant. The original founders Harry and Esther Snyder’s granddaughter, Lynsi Snyder, now heads up the company, claiming she aims to continue upholding their standards, if not exceeding them.
While the french fries and milkshakes are the brand’s sideline staples, it’s the burgers that really keep people coming back. In fact, most people don’t even like the fries, but are willing to let it go because they love the beef so much. Why are these burgers so exceptional? There are several factors that make the Double-Double worth waiting in a drive-thru line that’s 20 cars deep. Read on to fully grasp the hustle behind the legendary In-N-Out burger.
The beef from In-N-Out is never frozen
So if you’re an East Coaster who’s bitter about no In-N-Out in your state, don’t hold out for their eminent expansion. The burger joint has a firm policy of never opening a restaurant more than a day’s drive from one of their meat processing plants. The rule, while excruciating for those who don’t enjoy the spoils of In-N-Out in their town, is because the restaurants do not have any freezers or microwaves.
In 2017, Carl Van Fleet, the then vice president of planning and development at In-N-Out, told Business Insider, "At In-N-Out Burger, we make all of our hamburger patties ourselves and deliver them fresh to all of our restaurants with our own delivery vehicles… nothing is ever frozen. Our new restaurant locations are limited by the distance we can travel from our patty-making facilities and distribution centers." So all the food delivered has to be within 300 miles of an official distribution facility so that it arrives fresh and stays that way, hence the most flavorful hamburger patty you’ll ever eat.
Honestly, it makes you realize how much red meat out there probably isn’t that fresh — but don’t think too hard about that. No doubt freezing then thawing takes away from the quality of fast food grub so this is probably one of the biggest reasons why In-N-Out hamburgers make you swoon so hard.
All the beef at In-N-Out is free of additives, preservatives and fillers
In-N-Out is in the business of beef, and the brand takes that business very seriously. According to In-N-Out’s official website, the beef is "100% USDA ground chuck—free of additives, fillers and preservatives." To give you some perspective, not all fast food places can truthfully make this designation about their burger meat. For example, while Jack in the Box claims to use 100 percent beef (via Eat This, Not That!), a 2018 Ingredients and Allergens Statement indicates otherwise — unless we missed the memo and stuff like hydrogenated cottonseed oil and triacetin are naturally occurring in cows?
The fact that In-N-Out doesn’t need to use preservatives makes sense, seeing as how it insists on serving only the freshest of meat. So apparently, the absence of preserving agents, unnecessary additives and fillers is definitely a good thing when it comes to getting a delicious burger. Props to In-N-Out for again never cutting corners in the name of expansion or cheaper meat.
In-N-Out patties undergo some intense quality control
The quality control goes beyond making sure all the meat is 100 percent pure beef, free of additives and never frozen, prior to being served. At the In-n-Out distribution facilities, they grind the meat themselves using whole chucks (from cattles chosen just for In-N-Out) that have each been inspected. They also take the time to remove any bones themselves before they form the burger patties.
It makes sense that In-N-Out associates work hard to maintain the quality of the beef, since they tend to earn a better living that most fast food employees. When there’s room for growth and good health insurance, there is certainly incentive to make sure the meat is top notch. The inspection of all the beef is definitely part of what makes In-n-Out hamburgers so coveted by burger lovers on the West Coast and beyond. You know what you’re getting is the good stuff.
The vegetable toppings at In-N-Out are prepared fresh daily
The burgers patties are top of the line fresh, so one might also assume that the burger fixings also fall in line with that policy. Assuming doesn’t get you very far though, does it? Fortunately, In-N-Out has something to say about their toppings, too.
Per the In-N-Out website, the iceberg lettuce that tops your burgers is "hand leafed." Every morning, associates slice fresh onions and tomatoes, in addition to sorting through lettuce. A former In-n-Out employee told Delishably, "After working at In-N-Out, I can say without a doubt that its [sic] the cleaniest [sic], freshest ‘fast food’ you can ever have… lettuce, tomato and onions are prepared in the morning for fresh produce throughout the day." We believe she speaks the truth — if you peek behind the counter when you order inside at In-n-Out, you’ll likely see an employee sifting through a massive counter of veggies.
The former associate also added that if anything falls on the floor behind the scenes at the restaurant, it’s immediately trashed. Well, that’s comforting. Since there is such a limited number of burger toppings at In-n-Out, it clearly creates more time to focus on making sure the ones they do have are the finest fixins’ available.
There are very few prepackaged ingredients at In-N-Out
Because there are so few items on the In-N-Out menu, there aren’t too many ingredients required to assemble the meals. The only way In-N-Out could get any fresher would be if they made their own ketchup and mustard — and perhaps churned their own ice cream? A former In-N-Out associate reported on Delishably that the only items that aren’t prepared fresh in store and that do come in packages (besides the aforementioned condiments, obviously), are the drinks, the burger’s infamous spread, and chili peppers (you can order a burger with chopped chilis, or chilis on the side).
In-N-Out insists on calling what you’d normally dub as a sauce, a "spread" and even though it’s odd, we’ll give it to them because why question the masters. Allegedly, the special spread that comes on a burger (unless you request leaving it off when you order) is basically just a variation of Thousand Island dressing. Order "animal-style" and get an extra dose of the spread, among other burger bells and whistles.
Prepackaged or not, the special spread keeps people coming back for the burgers time and time again. And the rest of the ingredients that come in the purest of form seem to speak for themselves, if you’re wondering why fresher is always better.
If you like onions, you’ve got plenty of options at In-N-Out
Folks usually have strong opinions about onions. People hate them, and people love them, and sometimes the lovers have conditions. For example, not everyone can stomach raw onion. But fried onion… bring it on. So perhaps the reality of everyone’s varying onion preferences is why In-N-Out offers so many styles of onion toppings.
Normally, the burgers come with a slice of fresh onion, unless specified otherwise in your order. And mind you, it’s a whole, legit slice, not just a single ring or a couple of rings. You can also order them diced, or you can also ask for the onions to be grilled, which essentially means they’re caramelized onions —a bit of an underrated specialty at In-N-Out, if you ask us. In fact, the grilled onions are so tasty that they’re part of the beloved "animal style" concoction, so no need to specify grilled onions when you order your burger that way. You can also ask for a grilled whole onion (we told you there are a lot of onion variations at his place). Clearly, In-N-Out is eager to please the world’s onions-on-burger lovers.
The meat-to-cheese and meat-to-bun ratios at In-N-Out are perfect
While there may be conflicting views on how thick a burger patty should be, you can’t disagree that a thin patty does allow the condiments to shine a little more. The cheese to meat ratio on an In-N-Out burger lends to slightly more cheesiness than a thicker patty would. The meat is so tasty that the condiments definitely don’t overshadow the beef, but they definitely have room to flourish in all their flavorful goodness.
The In-N-Out patties fit perfectly on the In-N-Out buns too. In a tell-all for Delishably, a former In-N-Out worker showed a side by side comparison of an In-N-Out burger patty on a bun bottom next to a McDonald’s one, and the difference is clear. You aren’t getting cheated with an overwhelming amount of bread to account for a measly amount of meat. Every bite of bread will likely have some meat to go with it.
These ratios explain why every single bite of an In-N-Out burger is equally satisfying.
Apparently sponge dough bread like they use at In-N-Out makes amazing hamburger buns
In case you haven’t noticed (or, gasp, have never had the privilege of eating them), the buns that In-N-Out uses are soft and delicious. The hamburger giant gets its buns from another family-owned Southern California institution, Puritan Bakery. Since the 1930s, the establishment has ensured the finest quality buns by not skipping any crucial steps in the dough making process. The powers that be at In-N-Out describe the buns on their website as "baked using old fashioned, slow-rising sponge dough." Puritan believes in letting the bread take its sweet time in order to reach its full potential. They’re clearly not your average dough slinger.
The result of their seven-hour bread making process is a burger holder that is both spongy and pliable, and very pleasing to the palate. Since Puritan Bakery places such an emphasis on quality too, it’s no surprise that their buns are the perfect complement to In-N-Out’s hamburgers — and part of the reason they’re so delicious.
You can customize In-N-Out burgers to be slightly healthier, but still delicious
For some reason the high quality and freshness you know you’re getting from In-N-Out can make you feel like it’s somehow a "healthy" way to eat fast food — whether it’s smothered in their secret spread or not. While not everyone agrees with that notion, there is no doubt you can still get a delicious burger that’s "healthier" in the sense that it has less calories and fat.
Besides being able to order the burger "protein style" so that the burger is wrapped in lettuce rather than bread, you can also lower your caloric intake by asking for ketchup and mustard instead of the special spread. In fact, according to Eat This, Not That!, you can enjoy a Double Double minus an extra six grams of fat and 170 calories simply by asking for one less slice of cheese and going without the special spread. Yes, we are giving you permission to use these shortcuts so that you can deem your decision to dine at In-N-Out a healthy one — but you may really miss that spread. The choice is yours.
Since In-N-Out only really does one thing, they do it really well
In-N-Out doesn’t really mess with anything except burgers and their perfect side pairings, fries and shakes. While other famous chains like Burger King and McDonald’s tout tons of ever-changing menu items, the California-born burger staple offers less than 15. There is a calculated intention to this strategy though, and it’s why In-N-Out doesn’t succumb to the pressure of serving every fried concoction the human brain can devise in order to lure in customers. In-N-Out CEO Lynsi Snyder told Forbes, "It’s not [about] adding new products. Or thinking of the next bacon-wrapped this or that. We’re making the same burger, the same fry… we’re not going to compromise." Side note: there is no bacon on the premises at In-N-Out, ever.
Her mission is in keeping with Harry Snyder’s motto, which was to do one thing, and to do that one thing as best as you can. This motto is clearly still embodied today and definitely seems to working for the brand, which is allegedly worth around $300 billion. Snyder also told Forbes, "I felt a deep call to make sure that I preserve those things that [my family] would want. That we didn’t ever look to the left and the right to see what everyone else is doing, cut corners or change things drastically or compromise." The lesson seems to be, small menu equals massive amounts of burger goodness.