God, I love burgers. I love them every which way. I love beef burgers, chicken burgers, bison burgers, halibut burgers, turkey burgers, even the occasional veggie burger as long as it’s topped with cheese and bacon. I cannot for the life of me think of anything more satisfying than a big juicy burger on any given day, no matter what my temperamental actressy “bitch get out my way” mood may be. I eat them when I feel like celebrating, or when I’m splayed out on the couch hungover, on summer days off the barbecue and on winter days when I need a pick-me-up. They are my very favorite food indulgence. Ice cream? I’d take a cheeseburger with extra pickles over that any day. Unless it was cheeseburger pickle ice cream. (Yeah, I know, I have problems.)
I’ve got a rather extensive list of my favorite burgers throughout the world, but there is one mother of a burger that can’t be topped. It’s simple but yet masterfully designed, messy but yet picture perfect pretty, and seriously revered by many of my fellow burger lovers frequenting the west coast. It’s the “animal style” burger at In-N-Out, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of scarfing one, I feel terribly, so sadly sorry for you.
In-N-Out is a chain of fast food restaurants specializing in burgers only, although you can order a mean milkshake and a side of fries, too. But they’ve taken fast food to a whole new level. Their burgers, unlike McDonald’s, don’t make you feel like your stomach is leaden with wet sand half an hour after eating them. They’re seasoned to total perfection. The toppings are sometimes so fresh, I swear I’ve seen actual dew on the tomato slices. The employees seem to care about what they’re serving you and always seem to do so with a happy little spring in their step. Maybe because they get a lot of free burgers, I dunno. But the coolest thing about In-N-Out is the secret menu. Those behind the curtain know that the minimal burgers-and-fries only menu ain’t all that’s on offer. Ask for a grilled cheese and they’ll give you everything but the beef, even the special sauce I crave so much, it’s most likely made of heroin. Order your burger protein-style and they’ll wrap it up nice and neat in lettuce for you. But the best way to get your burger is animal style: smothered in grilled onions, melted cheese, extra pickles, and extra sauce. It’s Jesus, in burger form. I’ve prayed to it. I’m not ashamed.
Problem with my beloved In-N-Out is that it’s only available in certain areas, Southern California being the primary carrier as well as a few popping up in Nevada and Texas. So I set off on an attempt to replicate the recipe as best I could. And damned if I didn’t get close to the Holy Grail.
Forget your diet, or your cholesterol count, or your plan to eat a salad as a meal tonight. (Also: SALAD ISN’T A MEAL.) You need to eat this. Starting now.
Ingredients: (makes 4 burgers)
2 lbs extra lean ground sirloin
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp sweet pickle relish
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
sliced dill pickles, 2 slices per burger
sliced tomatoes, 2 slices per burger
4 large leaves of iceberg lettuce
4 white burger buns
French’s yellow mustard
4 slices of cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
Start your onions. Heat a medium pot or pan over medium heat with 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the onions, season with a little salt and pepper, and sauté until golden and soft, covered with a lid, for about 20 minutes. Stir them every once in a while but keep the lid on so they caramelize. After 20 minutes, take the lid off, add 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar and a few splashes of water. Scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan and let them caramelize further for another ten minutes.
Once the onions are started, make your secret sauce. Mix the mayonnaise, ketchup, sweet pickle relish, and remaining 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar. Season with some salt and pepper and set aside.
Form your beef into 4 patties about half an inch thick. Once your onions are in the home stretch, heat a big skillet over high heat. Toast your buns cut side down in the dry skillet until golden. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan. Generously salt and pepper your patties and add them to the pan, seasoned side down.
Spread some secret sauce on the bun tops and bottoms. Assemble the bun bottoms starting with the iceberg lettuce, then the tomato and pickle.
Season the uncooked side of the patties. Squirt with a generous squiggle of yellow mustard, and then flip the patties over. Cook for another 3 minutes, top with the cheddar cheese, and then cook until the cheese melts, about two more minutes. Arrange the patties on the buns, top with the caramelized onions. Behold the glory. Eat the glory. Get messy. Get happy. Thank me later.