I grew up in the land of In-N-Out Burger. My early years were spent in Southern California, the birthplace of the iconic burger joint (founded in Baldwin Park, California, in 1948). The big yellow arrow with classic red lettering was as familiar to me in my childhood as the golden arches at McDonald's. The logo has never changed. The menu, too, has remained constant throughout the decades — hamburger, cheeseburger, double double. Milkshakes, hand-cut fries. The food is fresh, simple and inexpensive. Always consistent in flavor and quality.
By high school, when I lived in Northern California and the chain wasn't as widespread as it is today, I would drive eight or nine hours down the entire length of the state of California to stop at the first In-N-Out Burger in my path and sink my teeth into a cheeseburger (I was never there for the fries). My friends and I all had multiple In-N-Out Burger T-shirts we would wear as pajama shirts every night, cult followers to the core.
My order has been the same since high school: cheeseburger, animal style. "Animal style" is a not-so-secret off-menu customization that means grilled onions, extra sauce, and some sort of magical mustard pizzazz, described on the In-N-Out website as "mustard cooked beef patty." Here in Alaska, where it would require a passport and days of driving to get to the nearest In-N-Out Burger, I often try to replicate this nostalgic favorite at home. I come close, just close enough to touch the food memories of my youth and leaving me longing for more.
Cheeseburgers Animal Style
For the special sauce:
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1/2 teaspoon distilled vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
For the onions:
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
For the burgers:
1/2 pound ground beef, formed into two 1/4-pound patties
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 slices American cheese
8 dill pickle chips
1 tomato, thickly sliced
iceberg lettuce leaves, torn into bun-size pieces
hamburger buns (no seeds), toasted
To make the special sauce: Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside (or cover and refrigerate until ready to use).
To make the onions: Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan and add the onions. Season generously with salt. Cook, stirring and tossing often, adding small amounts of water (1 tablespoon at a time) whenever onions appear to be dried out (you'll need to add water several times). Cook 10-15 minutes until onions are very soft and browned. Set aside.
To make the burgers: Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Toast the interior of the buns. Place the toasted buns into a 200-degree oven to keep warm. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the patties with salt and pepper and add them to the hot pan. While they cook on the first side, spread 1 tablespoon of mustard onto the raw sides of the patties. Flip. Place a cheese slice on each patty. Remove patties from pan when cheese is well melted and burgers are cooked through.
To assemble the burgers:
On the bottom bun, spread a generous amount of the sauce. Top with 4 pickle chips followed by tomato and lettuce, then patty. Place the grilled onions directly on top of the cheese. Complete with the top bun and serve.
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats.