Restaurant Reviews

In-N-Out Vs. Whataburger: A Petty Patty Smackdown

California import In-N-Out Burger arrived in Frisco, and people lost their minds. They waited in line for hours. They cried tears of joy. And immediately after all the "OHMAHGAWDY'ALLIT'SFINALLYHERE!" crazydust settled, it was clear that among our readers there are two serious-as-their-obviously-impending-heart-attacks fast-food burger camps: You're either Team In-N-Out or Team Whataburger.

The only way to settle this epic fast food burger debate once and for all is to ask some real-deal burger experts. So we invited three dudes who make some of the best burgers in Dallas to a fast-food-burger taste-off: Brian Luscher, chef/owner of The Grape (2808 Greenville Ave.) and winner of Texas Monthly's "2009 Best Burger in Texas"; Jack Perkins, the straight-up, ain't-taking-no-shit owner of Maple & Motor (4810 Maple Ave.) and Todd Dickerson, co-owner of Angry Dog (2723 Commerce St.) who claims never to have eaten at In-N-Out or Whataburger. (Burger virgin in the hooouuuse!).

The challenge: In-N-Out's standard double-meat versus the original Whataburger from the Texas-based chain. As the In-N-Out burger patty is only 2 ounces, we hooked them up with a double patty to keep things approximately even, meatwise. Gotta keep these burgers in the same weight class for a fair fight, right?

First up was In-N-Out's double meat burger and fries. Dickerson's first ever bite into an In-N-Out burger elicited a "Who pooped?" face, but his verbal response was much nicer: "It's not ... terrible." Luscher, who'd never had the In-N-Out burger either, said, "I can see at 2 a.m., sitting in your car, windows down in California, this thing showing up screaming hot, right off the grill — it's not awful."

When I brought the In-N-Out burger to Perkins, I noted that we had received approximately one million napkins with these burgers. "Worst part is that these are so dry you probably won't need one napkin," he replied. One bite and Perkins was already done. "Yeah, not juicy at all," he said. "You couldn't cook this 2-ounce patty medium rare if you wanted to. But I like the whole disk of onion on there." When asked which celebrity the In-N-Out burger best resembled, Perkins replied, "Probably Michael J. Fox. Clean-cut. Not spectacular, just solid. I like it — but I don't want to sleep with it."

Next up: the Whataburger. Dickerson's first bite of a Whataburger went well. "Whataburger is definitely better." He added, "I can go ahead and say Texans are smarter than Californians." I asked him which drive-through he'd prefer to go through if he had to pick one. "If we were closed and The Grape was closed and Snuffer's was closed and Chip's was still in business ... then Whataburger wouldn't be a bad alternative."

I told him it was OK to try the fries, and that's when Dickerson blew my mind. "I don't eat anything fried." Brainsplosion. Wha ... Who ... How's it possible to be co-owner of fried-pickle heaven and never eat anything fried? I can see rotating through the menu every day Super Size Me style, but to abstain from fry-age? He never took one fry bite.

Perkins' comments on the Whataburger were similar to Dickerson's, only he didn't wait to finish chewing before he spoke: "Er, yer. Merch better." He added, "This is easier to handle. Toasted bun is way better. Fresher tomato. Pickles are on there. That's nice." I asked him which celebrity this burger brought to mind. "Rosanna Arquette, you know, from Desperately Seeking Susan." (For you Youngs, get out your Chicks Old Dudes Think Are Hot Translator and it'll tell you "old school Rosanna Arquette" is "2011 Madonna" or "Amy Poehler.") "Maybe not put together that well, but there's something about it that makes you want it," Perkins said. "It's a nice total package."

Luscher barely (and extremely reluctantly) preferred the In-N-Out burger to the Whataburger, saying of the In-N-Out burger: "My uncle and my grandfather owned a burger joint in Chicago. This conjures the most fond memories of that greasy burger griddle. It's seasoned more aggressively than the Whataburger." Nostalgia aside, though, he doesn't see why chain fans are so into their faves. "My buddy goes apeshit over the Whataburger," he said. "I don't get it." When I asked which drive-through he'd prefer, Luscher shook his head. "Go to Burger House, Keller's, come try ours." How would he describe the In-N-Out burger in one word? "Meh," he said, which I totally count as a word whether or not the OED has accepted it yet.

Luscher and Perkins agreed that the Whataburger fries were better. At one point, Perkins twisted an In-N-Out French fry into a fry corkscrew."You shouldn't be able to do that with a fry," he said. "Fresh-cut fries are just a bad idea — they end up bland and limp." I looked at the Whataburger fries a little worried, since they looked twistable too. Perkins tasted one and was visibly disappointed. "These Whataburger fries actually aren't much better. But they are better." And that's based on? "Based on I'm from Texas, dammit."

And so, in our highly scientific battle of Team Whataburger versus Team In-N-Out, that's two votes for Team Whataburger (Perkins and Dickerson) and one really reluctant vote for Team In-N-Out (Luscher).

All three guys were good sports, but were clearly on Team Local Burger if they had to pick a true winner. If you're on that team too, congrats. It'd be great if nobody in Dallas ate at chain drive-throughs, but the reality is that most of Dallas' fast food double drive-throughs are so packed the joints have to put traffic cones in the street every lunch and dinner hour just to manage the herds.

I was so proud of Dallas when the In-N-Out on Central Expressway opened and it wasn't jammed like Frisco's. I was chest-bumping City Hall, butt-slapping SMU, high-fiving Reunion Tower. And then lunchtime hit on its first Monday after opening and the place was packed. Dammit, Fourth Fattest City. I'm not saying don't eat a burger, but when you eat one, please make sure it's a good one.

Don't kid yourself into thinking you're saving yourself any money sitting in line at In-N-Out for 30 minutes with your Yukon in park. At Maple & Motor or Angry Dog, you save the gas and you can get a regular burger combo for less than nine bucks. Plus, you get flat-screens and the promise of delicious beer. Sure, you could buy three Whataburger combos for the price of one burger combo at The Grape, but that's like choosing to kiss your aunt three times instead of kissing Megan Fox once. If you have 30 minutes to wait in line at In-N-Out, you have time to patronize a local establishment that serves up a much better product. Make time, Dallas. Make time.

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Alice Laussade writes about food, kids, music, and anything else she finds to be completely ridiculous. She created and hosts the Dallas event, Meat Fight, which is a barbecue competition and fundraiser that benefits the National MS Society. Last year, the event raised $100,000 for people living with MS, and 750 people could be seen shoving sausage links into their faces. And one time, she won a James Beard Award for Humor in Writing. That was pretty cool.
Contact: Alice Laussade