I’m not much of a burger connoisseur. I’ve never ground my own meat, think the Angus mushroom and Swiss from McDonalds is pretty good and don’t often grill in my backyard. I like my steaks medium rare, toppings kept to a minimum and my buns fresh. Like any man’s man, I do get the craving for the occasional burger, though it’s usually the 99 cent double burgers from Burger King. Steadfast in my refusal to eat fast food more than once every few months, I haven’t had a meal from a joint like Burger King in quite some time.
But today was different. After reading a Zagat article declaring Five Guys burger to be superior to In-N-Out, I took it as a personal challenge. I’ve never eaten at Five Guys until today, nor am I a huge fan of In-N-Out. When it comes to impartiality, this is one subject where I’m your man.
I’ve been craving a burger since I read the aforementioned article at 9am. After spending most of the day trying to convince myself that burgers aren’t that good for you and I should be considering Fat Off, Katie came home hungry and ENCOURAGED me to take her to get a burger. My willpower, quite weak at that point, completely left me.
So here’s what I did. I drove 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix to Mill Ave, and ordered a cheeseburger from Five Guys, which consisted of two patties, American cheese, ketchup, mustard and pickles. After getting it to go, along with fries for Katie, we headed to In-N-Out where I got a double-double burger with two patties, mustard, ketchup and pickles. We did have a discussion on whether I should have ordered the secret sauce with the double-double, but I wanted them to be as even as possible.
Here’s how it started:
I decided to judge the burgers based on five criteria: Meat, Condiments, Bun, Overall Taste and my desire to frequent the establishment. I tossed out price, as the Five Guys burger was twice as much as In-N-Out.
While I have no doubt that In-N-Out’s burgers are fresh, the neatness of their patties feels manufactured to me. They don’t fall apart and are a little too uniform for me to really get excited about munching on them. Five Guys burger’s texture looks like the burgers were made on the premises, and they have that slight crumbly quality of a high-fat, high taste patty. While In-N-Out burger is certainly heads above any other fast food burger I’ve ever had, Five Guys wins this one.
I know I chose boring condiments. Five Guys had an array of free toppings (I’m hesitant to call them condiments because they were way more than sauces) and In-N-Out has a huge menu of special ways to prepare their burgers, but I wanted to keep it simple, so I chose ketchup, mustard and pickles. Five Guys went pretty light on the ketchup and mustard, but had thicker pickle slices. In-N-Out arranged their pickles to completely cover the bottom bun, a very cool touch for those of us used to pickles just being piled on. Oh, In-N-Out won this one. They put a healthier amount of sauce on, and I tasted their pickles every bite.
There are people who like fancy buns with sesame seeds or other adornments. There are those who like thick, elaborate potato buns. I am not either of those guys. I want my buns simple, thin and not mushy, soggy and in any other way squished.
Five Guys has one of those thicker, sesame-seed adorned buns. In-N-Out has a simple bun that’s toasted so it keeps more of its shape. While eating the Five Guys burger, I found myself wanting to take half the bun off, something I often do with restaurant burgers, because it felt like too much. The perfection of the In-N-Out bun made me want to keep eating. Easy winner call for In-N-Out here.
Burgers aren’t something most of us have seconds on. Their big and thick and usually do a pretty damn good job of filling us up. While it certainly looked like my Five Guys burger had more meat (cost twice as much, too), I found myself not wanting another In-N-Out burger, but perhaps another, smaller one from Five Guys. Also, the potential for more toppings is HUGE. Five Guys wins this one.
My desire to frequent the establishment
Again, I’m not a huge burger or fast-food joint guy, but I do eat out fairly often. I do not like being in In-N-Out. It’s not the employees, as they’re usually the friendliest people I talk to all day. It’s not the smell, as most places have a far greasier aroma that permeates whatever you’re wearing. Maybe it’s the booths that seem too small for normal people, the crowd of unwashed masses looking to save a few bucks or just the fact that I know everyone LOVES it and I rebel against that, but it’s just not inviting. Five Guys, however, is airy, more open and has a crowd that’s likely there for some good food, rather than to eat cheaply. Strangely, neither smell much like burgers. Five Guys wins this one, by a long shot.
Five Guys wins, 3-2. Closer than I expected, but I’m fairly certain I’d go to Five Guys again. In-N-Out, especially the one in Tempe packed with screaming kids and too many college students, is definitely off my list. Other locations might be okay, but I think I’ll stick with drive thru. Or just make my own.
Now I’m full, thirsty and I need to figure out how I’m going to work all these extra calories off. Rail Life and I are planning a larger, burger joints on the light rail article for early September, so be ready to hear about EVERY burger joint that’s within ten minutes of the Light Rail. Also, I’m going to try all of them in one day.