We put In-N-Out and Five Guys to the test in a battle of the burger chains — and the winner surprised us

In-N-Out's Double Double burger.

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In-N-Out’s Double Double burger.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

In a battle of the burgers, Five Guys is winning. The East Coast burger sensation claimed the top spot in a 2017 brand report from Harris Poll, based on input from over 100,000 consumers.

In-N-Out, a cult favorite on the West Coast, held the title for the previous two years and has long been considered Five Guys’ top rival. The burger chain recently announced it’s opening a distribution center in Colorado, which could allow it to expand further east. All stores must be located close to these hubs because of the company’s strict policy of serving its food fresh.

Five Guys has grown its footprint along with its fandom. It has over 1,500 locations worldwide, while In-N-Out has about 300 stores across soon-to-be seven states.

With the rivalry heating up between these East Coast and West Coast chains, my colleague Rob Price and I decided to give them both a try in a back-to-back taste-test. Here’s what we thought.


The San Francisco Bay Area is a burger-lover’s paradise, in part because it’s home to Five Guys and In-N-Out locations. We tried the home team, In-N-Out, first.

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When we arrived, nearly every table had been claimed.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The West Coast burger chain has a noticeably slimmer menu than fast-food giants like McDonald’s and Burger King, with few options beyond burgers, fries, and shakes.

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There are no freezers or microwaves in In-N-Out restaurants because the company has a strict policy of serving its food fresh. Burgers are made to order, one at a time.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Our food took about 10 minutes to arrive, but it looked worth the wait. Right away I was impressed by the fully melted cheese that ran over the sides of the patties.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The Double Double burger offers crisp lettuce, tomato, and onion, two patties, two slices of cheese, and a scoop of “special sauce” sandwiched between a sponge-dough bun.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

And I wolfed it down. The ingredients were fresh and flavorful. It didn’t drip grease like some fast-food burgers. Plus the burger held its shape thanks to an ingenious paper pouch.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The “Animal Style” fries were another story. Thin scraps of potato, fried in sunflower oil, were covered with a glistening heap of melted cheese, grilled onions, and special sauce.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

But the toppings congealed faster than I could eat them, and the fries broke off in chunks under the weight of hardened cheese. Most of our fries ended up in the trash.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

We departed In-N-Out feeling mixed — and still hungry for a taste of Five Guys.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Upon arrival at Five Guys, I felt like I had crossed some space-time continuum that led me back to In-N-Out. The stores had the same red-and-white tiles and 1950s diner vibe.

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Hollis Johnson

But Five Guys seemed sad. The tables were mostly empty. Awards and signs featuring rave reviews from magazines covered the walls.

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The menu takes a “more is more” approach. It has burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, fries, and milkshakes. Items can be customized with lots of toppings — no secret menu required.

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Seriously, there are a lot of toppings and they have no additional cost.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Customers can also dig into a giant bin of peanuts.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Five Guys, which started out as a modest burger shack in a Virginia strip mall, shares In-N-Out’s commitment to fresh food. There are no freezers here, either.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Our food arrived in a paper bag dappled with grease. It took less time than In-N-Out.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

My expectations sank at first sight. The cheese was unmelted, and the lettuce was wilted. And last I checked, the cheese goes on top of the patty.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

People are furiously debating the correct placement of cheese in the burger emoji »


But a hefty patty with perfectly charred edges looked redeeming. At first bite, my spirits lifted. The meat was juicy, tender, and flavorful.

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The bun sponged up the run-off juices and condiments, creating a dilapidated mess.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Five Guys uses potatoes grown in Idaho that are cut by hand, blanched in hot water, oven-cooked, and fried in peanut oil. The result, I learned, is the best fries I’ve ever had.

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Bags of potatoes are displayed proudly at a Five Guys store.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The fries were crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, like they had been injected with mashed potatoes. I ate one salty stick after the next and licked my fingers clean.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Choosing a favorite was a difficult, because I saw room for improvement in each brand. In-N-Out toppled Five Guys in the burger category, but its fries were dismal in comparison.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

When I got home, I sprawled out on the couch (in slight agony) and thought longingly of that Double Double smothered in melted cheese and special sauce. In-N-Out won my heart.

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Sarah Jacobs