The untold truth of In-N-Out Burger

Chances are that if you've ever been to In-N-Out Burger, you were sold after your first bite — that toasted sponge bread, the fresh-never-frozen patty, the grilled onions, the secret sauce — it's the antithesis of most drive-thru burgers. So it's no surprise that the chain has long been heralded the "it" fast food restaurant by its fans, and since opening in 1948 has managed to gain a cult following that other burger joints could only wish to achieve. Somehow they do this without all the fancy marketing or television commercials, and without any locations further east than Texas. In fact, they operate just 328 stores in five states (California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, and Texas), but that hasn't stopped them from being revered by foodies around the globe.

Though there is plenty of talk of the chain's not-so-secret menu (Animal Style fries, anyone?), there might be a few secrets that even the biggest aficionados don't know about their beloved burger spot. Read on to discover some surprising In-N-Out Burger facts, but be warned, you'll definitely want a Double Double when you're done.

You're doing animal-style fries wrong

We all know the "animal style" menu hack by now — French fries topped with melty cheese, grilled onions, and so much spread it'll make your head spin. But it can be hard to get to the bottom of your tray before that glorious culinary concoction turns into a pile of soggy potatoes, and as we all know, In-N-Out's fries tend to be on the less crisp side. Fortunately, we have a solution, thanks to former In-N-Out manager, "Kathy," who spoke anonymously to Thrillist and let us in on some key insider info. She spills, "I like fries that are a little soft. But if you're going to eat Animal fries, the best thing to do is to order them 'fry well' because the fries will hold their shape. They won't get soft and mushy under all the sauce, especially if you take your time eating them." Now that's a useful hack. 

There are secret menu items you might not know about

Any In-N-Out enthusiast worth their salt knows all about the usual not-so-secret menu items by now (they're so well-known they're even listed on the company's website). But here a few lesser known menu hacks that still fly under the radar:

  • Those of us with a penchant for tangy food will appreciate this tip from the Redditor at the helm of In-N-Out AMA: You can, and should, order a mustard-fried patty, which they say "is when the cooks add mustard to the meat while it's grilling and add pickles to the bottom bun."
  • How about something for the person who only likes meat and cheese? That's a Flying Dutchman, which is literally just two patties with cheese melted between them. No bun, no toppings, no spread.
  • Can't decide what flavor shake to get? Go Neapolitan. Yes, you can get all three flavors in one cup — just ask.
  • If you're really into those grilled onions, you don't need to settle for chopped. You can request whole grilled onions and your burger will come topped with full slices instead.
  • If you simply must have a salad, it's doable. Ask for a side salad and you'll get a Double Double wrapper full of produce along with some spread to use as dressing. Genius. 

The 100x100 ruined it for everyone

In-N-Out diners with an insatiable appetite might be familiar with one of the not-so-secret menu items, the 4x4 (or Quad Quad) — a ginormous burger that comes complete with four beef patties, four slices of cheese, all the fixings, and a bun. While four patties might seem like plenty, once upon a time a few overzealous customers pushed the limits of the multiple patty system by ordering a 100x100 (with a price tag of $97.66 and an estimated 19,490 calories). Why? Well, they were in Vegas…

The bad news is, according to a former In-N-Out worker on Quora, the restaurant no longer allows anything more than a quad because of this 100x100 debacle. There go our dreams of a 6x6.

Elaborating on the reason for the maximum order, an In-N-Out associate explained on Reddit that this has everything to do with presentation, saying, "We aren't allowed to make anything larger than 4x4s anymore. 4x4s are already ridiculously hard to wrap and anything larger would just look like a total mess."

That sounds about right, considering the 100x100 was an utter disaster of meat and cheese.

The discounts are far and few between, unless you're a police officer

In a revealing AMA, a Redditor claiming to be an In-N-Out Burger associate shed some light on the freebie situation when a commenter asked about the employee discount. Police officers, take note here — if you haven't been taking your lunch breaks at In-N-Out, you're missing an opportunity.

The employee explained the ins and outs (get it?) of the discount, saying, "Associates get a free meal every shift. We can order anything up to the size of a double double. However, we can't order animal fries or shakes unless we pay for them ourselves. We also can't give discounts to friends or families."

The commenter went on to explain who does get a discount — and why. "The only discount we do give out is a police officer discount… We only give police officers discounts if they're in uniform, too. Otherwise, no discount. This is because seeing an officer in uniform in the restaurant makes customers feel safer apparently."

There's finally a new menu item

In-N-Out is known for a fairly simple, basic menu, and there haven't been any changes to it in about 15 years. If it ain't broke, why fix it, right? So customers were excited to see the addition of hot cocoa to the beverage section in January 2018 — though the drink isn't exactly new.

According to The Orange County Register, In-N-Out president Lynsi Snyder said in a statement, "This is actually the return of hot cocoa. My grandparents, Harry and Esther Snyder, served it for many years beginning in the '50s. I'm not sure how it fell off the menu but it's part of our culture and something special for kids, and I'm happy that we're bringing it back."

The 8-ounce cup sells for $1.60, and is made with Ghirardelli cocoa powder and topped with mini marshmallows. And if you love it, have no fear, it's back for good and available at all locations.  

The cups and wrappers feature Bible references

If you've ever peeked beneath your cup while noshing at In-N-Out, you might have spied what looks like a Bible reference. Spoiler alert: It is a Bible reference. Much of the restaurant's food packaging is marked with such a notation. The soda cups cite John 3:16, the milkshake cups bear mention to Proverbs 3:5, and the water cups are stamped with John 14:6. Even the burger wrappers and the French fry trays reference a verse in an inconspicuous spot.

The company's founding family, including now-president Lynsi Snyder, are known for their strong religious beliefs. People reports that the burger heiress has commented that faith saved her life, saying, "I really value the love and good times I had with my dad but even that can't compare completely to the love that God has for me. God got me back up after all of these failures and he can lift me up and see me go forward and I know that he can be glorified." She even also has two tattoos citing Bible verses, though they aren't the same as those on In-N-Out's packaging.

They're VERY serious about food quality

It shouldn't be too surprising from a company whose tagline is "Quality you can taste," but In-N-Out goes above and beyond when it comes to the quality of their food.

In fact, the reason that you don't see the fast food chain across the country is because they refuse to use frozen patties, and will only open stores within 300 miles of their patty-making facilities (located in California and Texas). This ensures the product can be delivered fresh to each restaurant every day. Associates at the facilities are involved every step of the way, removing the bones, grinding the meat, and ultimately making the patties, which, of course, are 100 percent USDA ground chuck and free of preservatives, additives, and fillers.

This commitment to quality extends to every ingredient — the lettuce is hand-leafed, the fries are hand-cut, the buns are freshly baked, the shakes are made with real ice cream — and you will never find a microwave or heat lamp in any store. Ever.

Famous chefs love it

There's a reason In-N-Out has a cult following: It's good food, plain and simple. This belief is held not only by your casual fast food connoisseurs, but by legendary chefs, too. Behold…

First We Feast reports that the inimitable Julia Child was such a fan that she carried a list of store locations around with her, and even sent an assistant out on a burger run while she was in the hospital.

Napa Valley chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller certainly knows how to party, once taking to Twitter to proclaim, "Celebrated The French Laundry's anniversary with what else? In-N-Out burgers!" He's also quoted as saying, "My first experience at In-N-Out Burger inspired me to do a hamburger restaurant. I've had it in the back of my mind for sixteen years but I haven't gotten around to it. It's kind of a secret fantasy."

And the notoriously cranky Gordon Ramsay also approves, having stated, "People think Americans are obese and burgers are bad for them—they are delicious. In-N-Out burgers were extraordinary. I was so bad, I sat in the restaurant, had my double cheeseburger then minutes later I drove back round and got the same thing again to take away." Been there, Gordon, been there.

Even Anthony Bourdain approves

That's right, even the food world's saltiest critic digs In-N-Out.

Talking to Eater, Anthony Bourdain was full of colorful anecdotes, musing that he could post a photo of himself, Christopher Walken, Keith Richards, and the Dalai Lama — in a hot tub doing bong rips, no less — to Instagram, and that the aforementioned image would garner fewer "likes" than a photo of his In-N-Out burger sitting alone on a table. Probably true.   

He also confessed that it's his favorite place to eat in L.A, saying that he stops at In-N-Out on his way into town and again on his way out. "It's the only fast food chain that I actually like, and think is reasonably good for the world," he said, before going on to praise the bun selection, the maximum meat surface area of the thin patties, and the perfect "cheese-like substance." Ultimately, the entire thing was deemed "brilliant."

Bourdain offering nothing but praise? What more proof do we need?

Managers make a ton of money

Considering a career change? You might want to think about In-N-Out. The California Sun reported that the burger chain's managers make more than $160,000 per year on average, not to mention a benefit package including paid vacation, health insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance, and 401(k) plans. Denny Warnick, vice president of operations, explained in a statement that the company's founders wanted employees to focus on quality service, and that "paying their associates well was just one way to help maintain that focus, and those beliefs remain firmly in place with us today."

To ensure their employees have all the tools they need, the company sends their new managers to In-N-Out University (yes, it's really a thing), where, according to their website, they "receive the training that lets our guests look forward to the highest quality food, cleanliness and customer service."

The fast food restaurant also promotes internal advancement, giving associates the opportunity to climb the ladder even without a college degree. In the meantime, they start at $13 per hour (as of March 2018).

The brand's logos have special meanings

When In-N-Out opened in 1948, the store's sign displayed the phrase "No Delay," presumably an indication of its fast drive-thru service. The red and yellow sign you're familiar with today has been around since 1954, when the brand's iconic arrow made its debut. That new logo was said to have inspired the restaurant's employees to adopt the sayings, "The arrow points to pride," and "We all work under the same arrow."

And those crossed palm trees that grace the logos and stand tall in front of stores? The company's website explains that it's actually an homage, stating, "One of founder Harry Snyder's favorite movies, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, features characters racing to find treasure buried under four palm trees planted to resemble the letter W. Because each In-N-Out store is Harry's treasure, a tradition of planting crossed palm trees in front of most In-N-Out locations [began]."

They sell oddly high-end swag

If you're really, really into In-N-Out, a regular ol' T-shirt just might not do. Maybe you're looking for something with a little more pizzazz? Well, look no further than Vault Forty Eight. Sounds like somewhere you'd need to know the password to get into, right? It's actually not a secret club, but the curated merchandise section of their shop, and according to their website, it offers "a collection of unique items fit for the most avid In-N-Out Burger fan." It is a treasure trove of fancy swag. We're talking about $50 Swarovski crystal keychains plated in rose gold(!) and emblazoned with the palm tree logo. And there's a $125 jewelry box, presumably for all your In-N-Out bling, also encrusted in crystals and featuring those ubiquitous palm trees. You're probably noticing a theme here — there are a lot of palm tree logos — but hey, hard core fans like to represent.

All about the heiress

She's called the burger heiress. At just 35, she inherited the company and instantly became a billionaire. But In-N-Out president Lynsi Snyder is notoriously private, and tends to stay out of the limelight. Over the years, though, she's given the media a glimpse of what her life is really like, and it's full of personal ups and downs.

Snyder has been married four times, and has said that her father's passing (due to overdose) caused her to "fill the huge void" with men, drugs, and alcohol. During her time of struggle, she ultimately turned to God, saying, "I realized, I'm gonna follow in the footsteps of my father in that I'm gonna meet an early death if I do not get right with God and follow him." After three failed marriages, she met her current husband, Sean Ellingson. Together with Ellingson, the mom of four channeled her faith and formed the Army of Love ministry, whose mission is to "Deploy this 'Army of Love' to minister directly to, and provide resources and referrals for, people in need.

What does she do to unwind? Synder loves drag racing. She told Orange Coast Magazine, "I'm a lot like my dad, a little bit of a daredevil. I like an adrenaline rush. My dad took me to the racetrack for the first time when I was 2 or 3… Anything with a motor, that was in my blood."