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Ultimate Showdown: In-N-Out Burger vs P. Terry’s

headtohead

Here we go. The ultimate showdown between the hometown hero, hailing from AUSTIN, TEXAS, and the challenger, just in from CALIFORNIA. Lots of buzz surrounded the invasion of In-N-Out Burger into the home turf of P. Terry’s. The people are split: the West Coast transplants came out in force when the first store opened while the locals dug in their heels defending their local love. As an unbiased outsider* I felt it was my duty to pit them head to head and settle the debate once and for all**. So let’s get into it.

*it’s true I live in Austin, but I have no allegiance to either fast food chain.

**in other words, somehow angering everyone while pleasing no one. God bless the Internet.

I first drove to In-N-Out around 8pm on Thursday night, ordered a single-single (lettuce, tomato, special sauce, no onions please; $2.35) and fries ($1.60) for $4.28, and waited while the army of hatted, apron-ed employees behind the counter buzzed around. I couldn’t believe how many people they had cranking out burgers, fries, and shakes considering how brief the menu is.

in n out menu

in n out sign

With my In-N-Out order in hand I quickly made my way over to P. Terry’s to place the exact same order. They wisely don’t offer onions so I went with a cheeseburger (lettuce, tomato, special sauce; $2.25) and a side of fries ($1.65), for $4.22. While waiting I learned about what “All Fresh” means and watched the much smaller uniformed army assemble my meal.

p terrys menu

p terrys sign

p terrys staff

Finally home, with both bags ready to throw down, the time had come. I snapped a few glamour shots before diving in.

p terrys in n out bags

The most striking difference came from burger presentation. In-N-Out looked like a monster, channeling its inner Pacman while P. Terry’s, honestly, looked a little sad. The boat of In-N-Out fries stacked nicely to match its burger’s height. The P. Terry’s bag of fries, like its burger counterpart, seemed a little… comfortable.

p terrys in n out side by side

In-N-Out drew most of its height from an overly generous portion of lettuce. So much lettuce, in fact, that I almost call it a negative. An easily-correctable problem, but still worth noting. Otherwise it tasted great. The special sauce that sends people into a frenzy –a little heavy-handed– combined with the tomato guaranteed it couldn’t be dry. And the bun held it all in check while also keeping its shape and tasting good on its own.

As for the fries… oh, those polarizing fries. Some people love ‘em. I am not one of those people. I hear you can special order them to be double-fried or something, which makes them “so much better,” but if that’s the case, then why don’t they always just do that? Anyway, they’re below average at best, both in flavor and texture. I will say they’re well seasoned.

p terrys in n out innout

p terrys in n out pterrys

As I mentioned, P. Terry’s first impression did not impress. There was some unmelted cheese hanging out of the bun and some places where the top and bottom buns came together without any meat in between. Overall it was just sloppy. But once I got into it, the poor assembly wasn’t too much of an issue. Picking it up I noticed the soft and fluffy bun that hugged everything inside. The lettuce, tomato, and special sauce balanced each other nicely. The whole burger, when properly reassembled, makes it clear why Austin loves this place.

The fries rock. Salty and soft and addictive. You can’t help going back for “just one more handful.”

The Verdict

Alright, that’s a lot of talking. But who prevailed? Well, as far as the fries go, it’s no contest: P. Terry’s by a mile.

The burger, on the other hand, was a

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much tighter race. After taking alternating bites from each burger, without being able to put my finger on any single trait, overall the winner is…

P. Terry’s!

As far as I’m concerned, P. Terry’s gets my money. Don’t feel bad for In-N-Out though. The lines, inside and the drive-thru, were huge. And as much as “presentation” can be considered for fast food, In-N-Out looks much more appealing. But let’s not kid ourselves, we want the one that tastes better, and that’s why I’ll be heading to P. Terry’s the next time I have a craving.

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p>Regarding “what’s next?”, surely you noticed these places serve milkshakes, didn’t you?

    • Tony
    • March 17th, 2014 3:05pm

    I’ve wanted to do a lot of comparisons in the past, particularly of the above. Christina and I kept running into the same question, and inherent problem.

    How badly does the quality of the burger depreciate during the travel home? The burger experiences travel squishing, cooling and even absorption of it’s steam onto the bun. We’ve talked about ordering at the same time then hurrying to meet each other in the map-center to give both burgers the best chance, but have yet to exercise our plan.

    I think we just need to wait for In-n-out to have a truck, so we can pit them side by side without the pesky travel/packaging/car sweats going on to make a scientific judgement.

      • Mike
      • March 17th, 2014 3:43pm

      Yea, that was one (of the several) experimental variables I just had to accept. I got In N Out first, so it was probably ~20 minutes older than P. Terry’s. However, by the time I actually got to eating both of them, they were equally not-hot. Next time, when there may even be a third contender as well, it’ll take some coordination with multiple people at different places and then meeting up.

    • Rod
    • July 4th, 2014 4:36pm

    Thanks for the comparison. I love burgers and fries, and both chains are wonderful. I also favor P. Terry’s, if for no other reasons than what their sign (above) says.

    I used to be a contract ‘mystery shopper.’ Among those food chains I shopped were Whataburger, Taco Cabana, Logan’s Road House and Papa John’s. If you want to do a fair comparison, don’t eat them cold, side-by-side, but develop a list of common questions and do a complete checklist on each. If you are consistent, you can eat them at different meals and still get a good comparison.

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