Dueling Dishes: Five Guys vs. In-N-Out

Edwin Goei

This week in Dueling Dishes: Washington D.C.-based Five Guys Burgers and Fries versus the home team, In-N-Out. A Five Guys opened in Orange last week, the first of many more planned for OC.

If you've read about Five Guys anywhere, you won't go a few sentences without some mention of In-N-Out. This is especially true if they're within driving distance from each other.


Edwin Goei
Five Guys

The two burger joints seem to be inextricably linked, attracting comparisons like two sides of a magnet. And there are undeniable similarities. Both embrace a red and white motif for their store design. Both start their fries from raw potatoes cut in-store.

But more than anything, I noticed the glaring differences. After all, Star Wars and Star Trek are both set in space, but they have totally different M.O.'s. Here's a list:

  • A burger at Five Guys is automatically a double patty. A single is called “Little”.
  • Five Guys employs a sesame seed bun. In-N-Out uses plain.
  • In-N-Out half-wraps their finished burgers with one side exposed so that it's smiling at you. Five Guys wraps their sandwiches completely inside foil.
  • In-N-Out packages their meals in white bags when you take-out, an open-faced box if you're eating in the car, a plastic tray for when you decide to dine in. Five Guys hands everything to you in brown bags, which will soon enough be stained with grease-spots.
  • Five Guys does hot dogs. In-N-Out does not.
  • Peanuts are the de rigueur way to pass the time while waiting for your Five Guys order. At In-N-Out, you have your date.
  • Prices are higher at Five Guys. A cheeseburger at In-N-Out: $2.05. A comparable Little Cheese Burger at Five Guys: $3.99.
  • Five Guys offers more toppings than the In-N-Out standards of pickle, tomatoes, onion, grilled onions, lettuce, and cheese. Among them, bacon (at a nominal charge), hot sauce, and mushrooms.
  • Five Guys puts on their cheese cold, after the patty is cooked and already on the bun. In-N-Out applies the cheese as the patty sizzles on the griddle so that it melts.

Most importantly, there are differences in the inherent qualities of burgers themselves. Quantitatively, I noticed that a Five Guys burger has more meat than a comparably-sized In-N-Out Double (as it should be, considering the higher cost). However, Five Guys' patties are underseasoned, if they're even seasoned at all. This is not to say that In-N-Out's patties are any better.

What makes an In-N-Out burger so enjoyable is in the way it snaps, at least for the first few tenuous minutes when the burger is freshly made. A lot of this is due to In-N-Out's griddle-toasted bun's crispiness and the crunch of its veggies. To me an In-N-Out burger is less about the patty and more about the contrasting interplay of textures between the meat, the veg, and the bread.

A Five Guys burger, at least the one that I had, seemed to lack that crucial detail. The bun was damp and compacted. The lettuce was limp. The whole thing seemed soggy, and dare I say steamed?

I have a theories to why this is (and again, these are just theories).

First theory: they've been open a week and are still adjusting.

Another theory: it's the way they wrap their sandwiches. Since it's almost hermetically sealed, the trapped-in moisture immediately starts working against the burger. Though I ate it in-store, unwrapping it barely seconds from when they packaged it, it was already at this state. I wonder how it would fare if I decided to take it home. The sogginess, by the way, is exarcebated if you are greedier on the free toppings. The mushrooms for instance, while a good choice, seems to hasten the dampness.

Edwin Goei
Five Guys

Now to the fries. Let's get it out of the way: I do not like In-N-Out fries as they are made. Ask for them well-done, now that's a different story. When a well-done order is executed by an experienced fry cook, it's unerringly crisp, all of its limpness cooked out. The perfect french fry.

I don't know whether Five Guys offers the option of doing their fries this way, but if they don't, I hope they consider it. They are cut thicker and brown darker than an In-N-Out fry. Thus they tend to get floppier faster. As is, I consider them good “fried potatoes”, but fry them a little longer, they could become the fries as they are meant to be.

A light dusting of cajun spices can be added to make them “cajun fries”, but I hardly detected much of a difference from the plain. They do, however, give you an excessive amount (which is not a bad thing for the $2.49 price they charge).

So the winner this week? In-N-Out. But I welcome Five Guys. As to which one is Star Wars and Star Trek, well that depends.

Five Guys Burgers & Fries, 1549 E. Katella Ave., Orange; (714) 532-5544; fiveguys.com.

In-N-Out, everywhere; www.in-n-out.com.

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