A bogus banner erected at the site of the former Sonoma Truck & Auto Center on Broadway announcing the “future home of In-N-Out” got me thinking. How a fast food hamburger can achieve the status of a cult following is culinarily baffling to me. Where the customer base is so devoted that they do all the grassroots marketing for the restaurant chain creating brand recognition well beyond its geographic reach. Some of the most sophisticated and food-worldly people I know are simply devoted to the In-N-Out hamburger. I needed to know why.
A mark of a true In-N-Out devotee is knowing the “secret menu.” Drive up to the speaker box and you’ll see only six menu items listed. Those in the know, know they can custom order specially prepared burgers just the way they like it. Secret spread, multi-dimensional arrangements of patties and cheese, gooey-grilled onions, and the top secret cooking ingredient that categorically defines the In-N-Out burger: mustard sizzled into the meat while it cooks.
Really, the secret is quite simple. Only the freshest and highest quality ingredients are used. This commitment to freshness is so much a part of the cult burger that the privately owned company has a policy of never opening a location that is not within a day’s drive of their meat processing plant located in Southern California. Other secrets making the In-N-Out burger worthy of devotion includes the sauce.
To the average bun, it resembles Thousand Island dressing. In replicating it, I added a few drops of pickle juice (right from the pickle jar) to my version and made the perfect imitation of what they call “the spread.” The beef patties must be thin, just about a quarter-inch thick and 4 inches round, the buns should be toasted both inside and out, and the stacking order of ingredients is crucial. The slathering of mustard must be done on the raw side of the patty before it is flipped to cook. A finishing touch: wrap the assembled burger in waxed paper just like the restaurant does. The most devoted fans tell me it’s the pooling of ingredients puddled in the bottom of the wrapper that keeps them coming back for more.
(Tip: To get those fast-food-style patties, “roll out” the meat with a rolling pin and cut round with a large biscuit dough cutter.) Now to investigate how they make those fries….
Nugent’s copycat version is below...
In-N-Out’s Double-Double, Animal Style
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
½ teaspoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon pickle juice
½ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus 2 teaspoons
1 large white onion, finely chopped
½ pound fresh ground beef, 70/30 beef to fat ratio
2 soft white hamburger buns
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
8 dill pickle chips
2 slices tomato, ¼-inch thick
2 leaves iceberg lettuce, torn to bun-size
4 slices American cheese
1. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, ketchup, pickle relish, vinegar, pickle juice, and sugar and mix together well. Set aside.
2. Form ground beef into four 2-ounce patties and press each into a patty ¼-inch thick and 4 inches round. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet; add the onions and season with salt. Reduce the heat to low and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until very soft and browned, approximately 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
4. Place the closed buns in a preheated 350-degree oven and toast until slightly darkened and crisp, approximately 2 minutes. Heat 1-teaspoon oil in the skillet and place the buns facedown in the skillet. Toast until browned, approximately 1 minute. Set aside.
5. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the pan and heat until lightly smoking. Add the meat patties and cook without moving until well browned, approximately 2 minutes. While cooking, spread a tablespoon of mustard on the raw side of each patty. Flip patties so mustard side is down and continue to cook until well browned, approximately 2 minutes more.
6. Spread the mayonnaise mixture on each bottom bun and top each with 4 pickles, 1 slice tomato, and lettuce. Top each patty with a slice of cheese. Divide the onion mixture between the two patties and place the second patties on top of the onions. Transfer the patty stacks to the bottom buns. Top with the top bun, wrap in waxed paper, and serve immediately. Enjoy!