As a native Texan, I believe two things about a burger. #1, it has to have mustard. #2, it’s all about the vegetables. A generous amount of properly prepped lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle will compensate for a thin leathery patty, but a juicy and oversize patty will never make up for measly condiments no matter how good the meat. And it does not have Thousand Island dressing which makes the burger a gooey mess.
I went to school in California’s San Gabriel Valley, near In-N-Out’s original location, so I was exposed to this now-iconic burger earlier than most folks. (A colleague had a meeting at In-N-Out’s corporate headquarters, in Azusa, and reported that their “that’s what a hamburger is all about” theme music was piped into the board room.) I found the burger was pretty good, but it needed some tweaks. The Thousand Island dressing had to be replaced with mustard, we needed pickles, and some extra onion wouldn’t hurt. Luckily, the In-N-Out folks are very tolerant of mods like this.
Well, the other day I mentioned to my friend and fellow blogger Daniel Berman that I was headed to San Francisco and my first gustatory stop would be the In-N-Out on Fisherman’s Wharf. He asked me if I would be ordering Animal Style and I explained my preference. But it occurred to me I really should do a taste test.
Animal Style is one of those urban legends which really does exist… the not-so-secret “secret menu” which were requested by at least half the diners on this foggy night. You can’t find it on their website (the many food articles that give a link now come up with dead air) but it’s programmed into the cash registers. An Animal Style cheeseburger specifically has grilled onions, pickles, and a patty that’s been exposed to some mustard on the griddle. (They squirt it on top as it’s grilling.) It also has Thousand Island dressing.
The result? Absolutely no question my version is better though I encourage you to do your own test. Putting the mustard right on the bun (which has been lightly toasted) allows the flavor to develop. And the onions have to be raw and plentiful. You need that crunch and that jolt of the sulfur compounds to set off the coolness of the tomato and the crisp of the lettuce. Sauteed/grilled onions lose their edge in taste and weigh down the burger; I want it light and crisp so I can eat several of them.
My “in progress” photographs say it all. Halfway through, the Animal has devolved into a mélange, its individual components no longer distinguishable. While the Texas style remains a symphony of tastes and components including crisp, spicy and fatty.
So order it this way: “extra onions, pickles, mustard instead”. You will thank me. Bonus tip: In-N-Out now has packets of hot pickled peppers under the counter. Ask them to toss in a couple with your order.