- McDonald’s and In-N-Out serve similar food, but the two chains couldn’t be more different.
- I went to both chains to eat their most famous double burgers and to see how they were similar or different.
- I found that while McDonald’s food didn’t taste bad, it tasted far less natural than In-N-Out’s perfectly constructed burgers.
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In-N-Out is to California what McDonald’s is to the world.
In-N-Out is widely beloved for its friendly service, fresh ingredients, and picture-perfect burgers. But McDonald’s has become more than just a fast-food chain: It’s become a building block of global capitalism.
I went to both chains and ate a similar meal at each. My goal? To find out what makes these two chains so different – and, of course, to compare their food.
I went to an In-N-Out in Los Angeles on a recent trip to the West Coast, and when I returned to New York, I went to a McDonald’s in Manhattan near Business Insider’s office.
Here’s what my meals were like:
In Los Angeles, I scootered to an In-N-Out restaurant on Sunset Boulevard.
The interior was cheerily decorated with retro booths, neon signage, and red-and-white tiling.
In-N-Out’s menu is stunningly simple, though its “animal-style” option is an open secret.
In-N-Out is meticulous about sourcing its ingredients, and it’s famous for the freshness of its … well, everything.
The chain’s airtight supply chain is also why it will probably never expand to the East Coast.
The condiments stand had just two things: ketchup and hot pickled peppers. It might be simple, but …
… the peppers really kick it up a notch.
After a bit of a wait, my meal came out in a bright red box. I’d ordered an animal-style Double-Double ($US4.35), animal-style fries ($US3.95), and a medium soft drink ($US1.75)
Prices are accurate to the Hollywood location of In-N-Out that I went to.
I started with a handful of my animal-style fries. I grabbed a bundle before realising that a fork was provided for a reason.
But even smothered in cheese, grilled onions, and Thousand Island dressing, these fries were nasty.
In-N-Out’s fries manage to be soggy and flavourless even though they’re cut fresh every day.
The animal-style Double-Double was another story entirely.
This burger was every bit as tasty as it looks.
Between two perfectly toasted buns, tomato, lettuce, pickles, beef, and cheese were stacked carefully in a small tower and smothered in grilled onions and Thousand Island dressing.
Even though the two patties were small, they were tender and juicy, and they packed an incredible amount of meaty flavour.
The veggies were fresh, crisp, and flavorful. The pickle and the slice of tomato added juicy tartness to an otherwise savoury burger.
I soon realised why the Double-Double comes wrapped in paper.
All that juice needs somewhere to go.
I attacked the fries again, this time with a fork.
But my second bite was just as disappointing as my first.
It’s a wonder how a place that makes such incredible burgers can make such infamously bad fries.
But In-N-Out makes a burger so good you forget it’s fast food.
After all, when you think of fast-food burgers, you think of McDonald’s.
Luckily, there’s a McDonald’s across the street from where I work.
It’s not one of the revamped restaurants, which have ordering kiosks and other modernised features.
This one still caters to a more lo-fi audience.
A McDonald’s in New York is no ordinary McDonald’s, but this one felt especially dystopian. Its dark grey walls and futuristic lighting made me feel like I was walking in a prison of the future.
I wasn’t allowed to take pictures at the counter. However, this McDonald’s has a mobile-ordering option.
You can order ahead of time, check in when you arrive, and retrieve your order at the pickup counter. Or you can order from a cashier.
I took my meal upstairs. There wasn’t a condiments station, but that’s true of most fast-food restaurants in New York. Instead, I was handed my condiments at the counter.
I got a Big Mac meal for $US9.79 before tax. It comes with a Big Mac, medium fries, and a drink.
Pricing is accurate to the Manhattan location of McDonald’s that I visited.
Where In-N-Out is one-size-fits-all, McDonald’s casts a wide net. It has a massive and ever-changing menu full of beef, chicken, fish, and potatoes.
However, the Big Mac is probably the chain’s most iconic sandwich.
Three buns, two patties, and a smidgen of lettuce, sauce, pickles, onions, and cheese. It’s superficially similar to the Double-Double in many ways.
But the Big Mac is a nonperishable burger. There isn’t really anything in the sandwich that tastes or needs to taste fresh.
The beef is pretty dry, the cheese a nonfactor, the lettuce for show. What carries this burger is the creamy, tangy Mac sauce.
Unlike its In-N-Out counterpart, which flaunts its fresh ingredients, the Big Mac could be frozen and reheated a dozen times and still taste roughly the same.
McDonald’s fries, however, are another story.
Even though McDonald’s fries are no longer fried in beef tallow, many fast-food fans still swear by them.
Again, unlike In-N-Out, McDonald’s doesn’t really care about how processed its fries are. These aren’t fresh-cut potatoes. They’re fried from frozen.
But somehow, McDonald’s still makes a much better fry than In-N-Out.
They’re salty, reasonably oily, and reasonably crispy.
That said, they still have a relatively empty and artificial taste. And once they’re cold, they’re not worth touching.
McDonald’s food is factory food. It isn’t made with love — it’s made on an assembly line.
Assembly-line food is, if nothing else, reliable. McDonald’s has built a global empire based on the reliability of its food.
I can’t say I didn’t enjoy my Big Mac meal. I did. But I felt like I’d put bad things into my body.
But after my meal at In-N-Out, I felt refreshed. Sure, a burger might not be the healthiest choice, but at least my In-N-Out burger tasted like real food.
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