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August 09, 2006

That's What a Hamburger is All About

The other day on NPR, I heard that the last living founder of In-N-Out burger died last week, and the story speculated that her death may allow the chain to expand beyond California, Arizona, and Nevada, currently the only states where one can experience the world's best fast-food burger. I won't say it is the best burger I have ever eaten -- that would be at Miller's Bar in Dearborn, MI -- but it certainly is the best fast-food burger I have ever eaten. David disagrees: he prefers Blimpy Burger here in Ann Arbor. I agree that Blimpy has a good burger, and that their menu is a lot more varied and interesting than In-N-Out (Blimpy offers blue cheese as a burger topping and deep-fried veggies as a side), but as far as just straight-up burger quality goes, In-N-Out is definitely a better burger. As someone on facebook said, you know you are an Angelino is if, "you know what In 'N Out is and feel bad for all the other states because they don't have any."

What makes In-N-Out so good? It is the freshness of their food. As I learned on NPR, they get the meat from live cow to burger in your hand within five days. The buns are made daily on-site, and I have also seen them cutting up potatoes to make fries. They are able to serve up such good food by keeping it simple -- the official menu only has three items: cheeseburger ("double-double"), fries, shakes. But In-N-Out has a cult following because of its lengendary secret menu. Vegetarian? Order grilled cheese -- a double-double with no meat. On Atkins? Order your burger "protein style" -- it will come wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Don't like cheese? Order double meat -- a double-double with no cheese. If a double-double just isn't enough for you, try a 3x3, 4x4, or even 5x5. "Animal style" will get you a burger with grilled onion instead of raw.

Another unique thing about In-N-Out is that there are references to bible verses hidden in their packaging. Having never read the bible, I didn't know what these meant, but this website explains it all. Kinda bizarre, actually.

I had only been to In-N-Out a couple of times until I went to college, where In-N-Out is a weekend ritual. The first time I went back to LA after David and I started dating, I brought back an In-N-Out t-shirt for him, though, having never been to In-N-Out, he didn't appreciate it and refused to wear it anywhere except the gym. So when he came along, I made sure to take him there, and then he started to understand the mystique.

In-N-Out is one of the two fast-food restaurants that Eric Scholosser does not disparage in his expose Fast Food Nation. The other is Hot Dog On A Stick, where I worked in high school. These restaurants offer clean and safe working environments, fresh healthy food, and better wages than most fast-food establishments. Hot Dog is even employee owned!

So why does the death of In-N-Out's founder suggest that the chain might expand beyond California, Nevada, and Arizona? Apparently, she was committed to keeping the chain relatively local so that they could use a single distribution center to get fresh ingredients to the stores quickly. Her granddaughter wanted to move into other states, but the founder doubted that they could uphold the same level of freshness and quality if they got too big. But with grandma out of the way, expansion is now possible, though it might mean selling out. I say, keep it local. Sure, I would love to have In-N-Out here in Michigan if it were as good as it is in California, but if expanding means selling out, we don't need another mediocre burger chain here. We have plenty of good local chains, such as Halo Burger, where you can get a burger with green olives. And I can always go to In-N-Out when I visit my mom!

Posted by eklanche at August 9, 2006 10:39 AM


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