Survey question: how many people love In N’ Out? I do. I love it. My favorite burger in the world. But I ask because it’s recently come to my attention that not everyone loves In N’ Out. And honestly, I’m shocked. This all started when we went to Five Guys. Blair believes it to be a far superior burger to In N’ Out. I don’t agree personally, but I can understand – Five Guys is a very good burger and I can see how people might prefer it, even if I don’t. What does shock me is not how much he likes Five Guys, but how lukewarm he is about In N’ Out. It’s not just him. I surveyed some people at church and quite a few of them thought In N’ Out was either just OK or decent. “It’s consistent and you can sit outside” is the best Lee had to say about it. What??? People honestly don’t love In N’ Out? My mind was blown. It’s like when I realized how to pronounce the words segue and feral, or when I learned that the penultimate line to the Three’s Company theme song is “down at our rendezvous.” Really?
I just took it for granted that everyone loves In N’ Out, because I do so much. Here’s why.
Actually, if you have time, read this fascinating Malcolm Gladwell essay about ketchup. The condensed version: one of the great marketing realizations of the 70s is that people don’t like the same thing. Before, companies used to sell just one kind of everything, be it mustard, or spaghetti sauce, or whatever. They’d make focus groups to test different recipes, and sell the one people liked best. It seems obvious now, but it took a few pioneers to realize that different people like different things. Those companies that took advantage of it, by introducing dijon mustard, or chunky spaghetti sauce, or whatever, were enormously successful. And this realization lead to the endless variety we have today, the world of organic Cherry Vanilla Berry Burst Cheerios.
The interesting this is, this doesn’t apply to ketchup. No one has successfully introduced a new variety of ketchup like they have with pretty much any other condiment or food. The reason is, ketchup is in some ways an ideal food. The human palate has five known fundamental tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Ketchup delivers all of those tastes in balance. And that just tastes right. It’s why children instinctively like to cover their food in ketchup. And because it’s so well balanced, anything that deviates from it ends up tasting off.
I bring this up because that balance between different tastes is why I love In N’ Out. It is, for me, the ideal balance of tastes combined with high quality. The bun is slightly sweet and soft, contrasted with the toasted part that helps manage the juices. The lettuce is cold and crisp. The tomato is slightly sweet, slightly tangy. The onion is slightly sweet and sharp. The meat and cheese, salty and warm. The sauce adds additional tang and sweet. If I’m in a spicy mood, I ask for sliced chiles. The combination of tastes, texture, and temperature in an In N’ Out burger is, to me, almost ideal.
I’m still blown away that not everyone shares my love for In N’ Out. It’s not that I don’t appreciate other burgers. I do. I like variety. But In N’ Out is nearly my platonic burger ideal.