The best In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe

If a fast-food sandwich were capable of becoming a legend, it would definitely be the In-N-Out Double-Double burger. Sure, its status as the best fast-food hamburger has been disputed over the years by those who claim Whataburger and Five Guys make a superior sandwich. But, even if you've moved on to loving other burgers, it's almost impossible to argue that In-N-Out has inspired a cult following over the years. People travel hundreds of miles for their burgers, hire the In-N-Out Cookout Truck to serve up burgers at their wedding, and some have even figured out how to get burgers shipped to their homes.

The menu is strikingly simple and has only a few options (not counting their not-so-secret menu, of course). That said, it's the simplicity that we crave. It's just two never-frozen, all-beef patties, cooked to order and smothered with ooey, gooey American cheese, In-N-Out's famous secret spread, and topped with freshly sliced onion, lettuce, and tomato. We wondered if it was as easy as that to replicate the famous burger at home. It turns out that it's not only possible to pull it off, but you don't even need magic to make it happen.

Gather the ingredients to make an In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe

Before we made the ingredients list for our In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe, we popped over to the official website to check out what In-N-Out was willing to disclose about their famous burgers. First off, we learned they make their burgers from 100 percent USDA ground chuck. In fact, they have a team dedicated to removing the bones, grinding the meat, and forming the patties. Since most of us don't have meat grinders at home, we didn't start with a chuck roast for our copycat recipe. Instead, we chose pre-ground beef. Since chuck is usually 80 to 85 percent lean, we picked up 85/15 beef for our test patties, but 80/20 beef would work just as well.

We also learned that their lettuce is "hand-leafed," so we opted for the whole head of iceberg and pulled the leaves apart at home. From there, we grabbed the rest of the Double-Double ingredients: real American cheese from the deli, a yellow onion, a juicy, ripe tomato, and a package of soft hamburger buns. The only thing left to figure out was In-N-Out's famous spread, a recipe that's been unchanged since 1948.

For the full list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions, check out the directions at the end of this article.

What goes into a copycat of In-N-Out Burger's famous spread?

In-N-Out's spread is the secret to why their burgers (and animal-style fries) are so damn tasty. Secret is the right word to choose, too, because the company isn't disclosing any information about what goes into this tasty treat. The only thing we know for sure is that it contains eggs, thanks to their online allergen information. So how in the world did we go about figuring out how to recreate it? Well, we used the help of chef and food scientist, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

In a Serious Eats article breaking down how to make In-N-Out's Animal-Style Double-Double Burger, Lopez-Alt calculated the ingredients in the spread based on its caloric makeup. Brilliant! He washed two tablespoons of the spread through a fine-mesh strainer to determine the exact quantity of pickle relish (one teaspoon) and used math to determine how many of the remaining calories were ketchup and mayonnaise. In the end, it turns out this secret sauce is just a version of Thousand Island dressing: mayonnaise, ketchup, pickle relish, sugar, and distilled white vinegar.

So we mixed the ingredients in a small bowl and gave it a taste test. We used sweet pickle relish in our first version and determined the sauce wasn't tangy enough. When we finely minced dill pickles for the second version, it turned out perfect. Add a pinch of salt, cover the bowl, and let it rest in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.

How to make the perfect patties for this In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe

Now that we knew how to make the most important component of the In-N-Out Double-Double — the secret spread — we got started on making the burgers themselves. In-N-Out is able to cook their burgers fresh to order because the burgers only take about four minutes to cook. That's because the patties are extraordinarily thin. You can replicate this at home by portioning out two-ounce patties and flattening them as much as you can go on a piece of wax paper. By the time the patty is a four-inch round, it will be thin enough to cook in about two minutes per side.

The other thing that makes In-N-Out burgers taste so good is that they're cooked to a perfect crisp on a flattop. The key to making this happen is by salting the burger right before it hits the grill. Cook's Illustrated explains that salt removes water from meat while also dissolving some of its proteins. That might be good for creating a juicy steak, but salting ground meat in advance can lead to a dry, limp burger. When you salt the burger immediately before cooking it, the salt doesn't have time to draw out that moisture, resulting in a crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside burger.

Preheat the pan and toast the buns for your In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe

The key to making the perfect burger is paying close attention to textures. You want melty cheese, slightly crispy — but juicy — burger patties, and fresh, crunchy lettuce. In all of this, it's easy to overlook the role of the bun's texture in creating a perfect burger. After all, most people pay closer attention to the flavor of the toppings. But it's essential to nail the bun, or it won't bring the burger together.

For starters, you need a very soft bun. This is not the time or the place for a crunchy ciabatta or baguette. Buttery brioche buns have become popular (especially for chicken sandwiches), but for the In-N-Out burger, we're choosing the classic potato bun. It's soft and relatively flavorless, but it has the perfect squishy texture to complement the toppings inside. The best way to make sure your burger turns out like a true In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe is to toast the buns beforehand in a dry pan, heated over medium-high heat for at least four minutes. Adding this crispy, almost burnt component will take your burgers from tasting like it was made by a backyard newbie and rank you among the seasoned fast-food pros.

Season the beef and cook the burger patties for the perfect In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe

Once the buns are toasted, remove them from the pan and get ready to make the magic happen. Be sure you have everything prepared by this point because the cooking will go very quickly. You don't want to be messing around with slicing tomatoes or onions and accidentally burn the burger patties.

Wipe out the pan to remove any bun residue and lightly spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Generously season the top of each burger patty with kosher salt and add the patties, salt-side down, to the hot pan. They will immediately begin to sizzle and shrink. If you can't fit all four patties in the pan at once, start with two at a time. Season the other side of the patty with kosher side and let the patties cook until they're lightly crispy and browned on the bottom, about two minutes. If the patties take longer than two minutes to cook, increase the heat in the pan slightly.

Fold the cheese before adding it to each patty for an authentic In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe

This completely genius piece of advice comes courtesy of Todd Wilbur of The Food Hacker. When Wilbur was trying to replicate In-N-Out's famous burgers, he struggled to figure out how many slices of American cheese to include per patty. When he looked at promotional photos of the burger, it appears to have two slices of cheese on top of each burger patty. But making the burger with four slices of cheese was way too cheesy of an experience (we know, is that even possible?).

Then, he learned the chain instructs its employees to "make the burger smile" by folding the cheese over in the front. By folding down the top quarter of each cheese slice and facing this doubled-cheese piece at the front of the burger, In-N-Out employees give their burgers the appearance of having twice the cheese without actually having to double-down. We gave the hack a try, and sure enough, it worked! As the cheese melts, it makes its way to the back of the burger anyway, so we didn't miss that quarter of cheese in our last bites of the burger.

Flip the burgers to finish this In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe

Now that the burgers are cooked on one side, it's time to flip 'em over and finish the cooking process. Using a thin spatula, flip each burger patty over and top it with the prepared folded cheese. Be sure to place the folded cheese part close to the edge of the burger patty so you'll be able to see it through the bun later. By the time the burger is finished cooking on the second side (about two minutes), the cheese should be sufficiently melted. If it's not, you can remove the pan from the heat and cover it with a lid for about a minute to help things along.

The other thing we'll do in this step is to add an onion slice to the top of one of the cheesy patties. The onion will still have a pleasantly raw flavor, but the steam from the cooking burger will help soften it up a little bit. If you're going Animal Style with your burger, you can skip the raw onion here and whip up a batch of grilled onions instead.

Build the In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe toppings on the bottom bun

We're almost at the finish line! While the burgers are cooking, you'll want to get your buns ready to go. They're already nice and toasted, so all you need to do is stack up all the toppings. It starts with adding a heaping tablespoon of spread on the bottom bun. If it seems like a lot of spread, that's because it is. In our test batches, we found that this amount of spread created the messiest eating experience — when we added the patty, it flowed over the bun and spilled out onto our fingers. That said, it was also the most authentic eating experience. Halving the spread didn't taste quite the same, so the mess was worth it.

Top the spread with a juicy tomato slice. Our tomatoes were roughly the same size as the bun, so we only needed one. If you came home with a small tomato, go ahead and add two slices. Then, pull off some iceberg lettuce leaves and cup them in between your hands. This helps to compact them enough so the burger isn't massively tall.

Stack your burger and enjoy this In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe

The final step to creating your In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe is to add the patties. Using a spatula, stack the cheese patty on top of the onion-topped patty. You'll want to move quickly here because the cheese loves to slide around and make a mess. Gently place the patties on top of the iceberg lettuce of your garnished bottom bun. Then, add the top bun on top and voila: An In-N-Out Double-Double Burger, made in the comfort of your own home. Serve the burger as-is, or whip up a batch of In-N-Out fries to go alongside it. If you made extra spread, drizzle it over the fries, add cheese, and sprinkle on some grilled onions to create Animal Style fries.

Resist the urge to press down on the burger to make it easier to eat. Compressing the burger will flatten the soft bun and get rid of the fluffy texture that's essential to the eating experience. If you find the burger to be too messy (which, spoiler alert, it is), feel free to wrap it in wax paper before eating it. We didn't want to risk squishing the bun, so we enjoyed it sans-wrap.

How close did we get to the original In-N-Out Burger Double-Double?

Now that we know how easy it is to make an In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe at home, we may never visit the chain again. Seriously, we couldn't tell the difference between our homemade burger and the fast-food restaurant's. Both burger patties were deliciously salty, and the buns were soft on the outside and crispy on the inside. The difference between the two secret sauces was virtually indistinguishable, and both burgers had the perfect combination of texture and flavor.

Was it easier to make the burger at home? Well, no. We did make a tiny mess in the kitchen between making the sauce and frying the burgers on the stovetop. And we certainly made a mess at our kitchen table when eating the saucy burger. So, if you're looking to avoid cleaning up, go ahead and visit the In-N-Out nearest you. Otherwise, you'll derive a lot of satisfaction fooling your friends into thinking you interned at a fast-food restaurant to perfect this recipe.

In-N-Out Burger copycat recipe directions

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Servings: Makes 2 burgers

Ingredients:

(For the spread)

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons dill pickle relish
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • Pinch kosher salt

(For the burgers)

  • 1/2 pound ground chuck, preferably 80/20
  • 2 small plain hamburger buns
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 4 slices American cheese
  • 2 slices white onion, not separated
  • 2 large tomato slices, about 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 leaves iceberg lettuce, core removed and torn to fit the bun

Directions:

  1. Make the spread by combining all the spread ingredients in a small bowl. Cover the bowl and store the mixture in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the burger patties by dividing the beef into four 2-ounce portions. Place the portions on a large piece of wax paper and flatten each piece with your hands into a 4-inch, super-thin patty.
  3. Preheat a large stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat. Add the burger buns, cut-side down, and cook until they're deeply golden brown and crispy, about 4 minutes. Remove the buns from the pan and set aside.
  4. Lightly spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray and season the top side of the burger patties with kosher salt. Add the patties, salt-side down, to the hot pan. You may only be able to cook two burger patties at a time. Season the other side with kosher salt and cook the burgers until they're lightly crispy and browned, about 2 minutes.
  5. Flip the burgers over. Before adding the cheese, fold the top quarter of each cheese slice on top of itself, creating a portion of the cheese that is doubled. Add one folded cheese slice to each patty. Top one of the cheese slices with one onion slice.
  6. Continue to cook the burgers for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is browned. If the cheese is not fully melted in this time, remove the pan from the heat and cover it with a lid for 1 minute.
  7. While the patties finish cooking, assemble the bottom bun of the burger. Place a heaping tablespoon of the spread on the bottom bun, followed by a tomato slice. Cup a few leaves of iceberg lettuce between your hands to compact them and place the lettuce on top of the tomato.
  8. When the burgers are finished cooking, use a spatula to stack the cheese patty on top of the onion-topped patty. Gently place the patties on top of the garnished bottom bun and finish the burger with the top bun. Be careful not to press down on the burger, which will flatten the soft bun.
  9. Wrap the burger in wax paper, if you desire, before serving. Serve immediately.