"What happens when you take the world's most awesomest fast food burger and combine it with the world's most awesomest sandwich?"
Like most great ideas, this one came after a late night of hard work, long baths, and a few too many drinks.
One night last week I was up until nearly the crack of dawn working on the breakfast chapter of my book* when I realized to my dismay that I'd spent so long writing about breakfast that I hadn't actually stopped to consider what I'd actually be eating for breakfast. Normally I only have a couple of cocktails or a glass of wine late at night to get the creative juices flowing, but this particular night I'd also been helping my liver cram for its upcoming trip to Napa, courtesy of the folks at Ford,** who were kind enough to lend us an Escape for a weekend of research for our upcoming Napa dining guide.
* Yes, I'm still working on it.
Needless to say, I was more than a bit peckish and having spent the last half hour or so surfing the internet, it was natural for me to think to myself, if only I'd made a Shooter's sandwich last night, I'd have something to tide me through the long, dark, early dawn ahead. Or, ooh. An In-N-Out burger. I could really go for a Double Double Animal Style right about now, or... uh... hang on... In-N-Out... shooterrrrRRRARRAAAAHHHHHAOHMYGODTHIS-ISGONNABEAWESOMEASWOOOOOOOOOOOO!
The image floating through my head at that moment: An In-N-Out Shooter's Sandwich.
Make that an Animal Style In-N-Out Shooter's Sandwich.
Before we jump too far ahead of ourselves and get into the actual process, a few of you may be scratching your heads here. Come crawl out from under your internet rocks and we'll give you some definitions.
The Shooter's Sandwich
This is not just a sandwich, it's a veritable internet sensation. Go ahead. Google it if you dare. I (and I think most web-goers) were first introduced to it by Tim Hayward of the Guardian on April 7, 2010 when he posted a slideshow detailing its construction. Basic directions: Hollow out a loaf of sourdough bread. Fill with steaks, mushroom, and onions. Cover, wrap in paper, and press the hell out of it overnight with a heavy weight. Slice into pie-like wedges for consumption the next day.
The sandwich was supposedly invented during Edwardian times as a means for chefs to be able to sleep in when their masters had an early morning of hunting. They'd make the sandwich the night before, wrap them in paper, and press them. The next morning, you'd end up with a perfectly portable, edible meal.
As a means for sandwich making, it's pretty awesome. It helps fillings meld, it creates a much neater package than a traditional sandwich, and let's face it, it's pretty freaking cool. It has been described by more than one person as the world's greatest sandwich.
In-N-Out Burger is a California-based burger chain famous for low price, high quality, fast-food burgers served with an upbeat smile and a can-do attitude. Though their menu is small (cheeseburger, burger, double-double—that's double meat, double cheese—and fries) they are notorious for their secret menu—a set of phrases with which you can customize your order to a staggering degree (see every secret menu item here). You can, for example, ask for hot peppers to be cooked directly into your patty. Or you can order a Flying Dutchman—two beef patties with two slices of cheese melted in between them, hold the bun and condiments.
The most famous secret menu item is Animal Style. Ask for any burger Animal Style and it'll get four changes. First, the patty will be cooked in mustard on the griddle. Second, you'll get a spoonful of caramelized onions on top. Third, you get extra spread (a Thousand Island-esque sauce—get the recipe here). Fourth and finally, you get extra pickles.
What happens when you take the world's most awesomest fast food burger and combine it with the world's most awesomest sandwich? Serious Eats Senior Managing Editor Carey Jones and I were about to find out.
Tell me this: Has anyone ever had poor service at an In-N-Out? In all of my escapades there, I believe I have probably pushed the envelope of acceptable behavior as far as anyone, and I've never been met by anything but smiles, enthusiasm, and support.
This time, I was going to go one step further. After acquiring a loaf of fine sourdough bread from Model Bakery in St. Helena, I headed over to the closest In-N-Out, walked up to the counter and said with as much confidence as possible, "Hi. Could I have twelve Flying Dutchmen please?"
"Sure! Is that to stay or to go?" As usual, my pretty-eyed register-operator didn't so much as bat an eye.
"That's to stay. Could I also get them all mustard grilled? Oh, and add some chopped pickled peppers to them too, please."
"You want those peppers cooked into the patties, or on the side?" This girl is good.
"Cooked right in please. And if you don't mind, could I also get some pickles, spread, and griddled onions on the side?"
"No problem. I'll give you twelve sides of each."
So far so good. I head back over to the table as I hear her call out the order to the cooks. Carey is already there, starting to remove the inner crumb from the loaf of bread. I begin to help her when I see a manager making his way over, a look of grim determination clouding his features. Uh oh, busted.
"Hey, are you the folks who ordered the dozen Flying Dutchmen?"
"Yes, is there a problem?"
"Yes, there is," he begins, ominously. We're about to get kicked out. I can sense it. "The onions are just too hot and messy to serve on the side. Would you mind if we scooped them right in between the meat patties and the cheese?"
Why yes, my good sir. Onions between the meat and cheese would do nicely.
Man, I love In-N-Out.
Another few moments go by before a server comes by once more to double check with Carey that we did indeed want twelve Flying Dutchmen, and that we wanted them all to stay. Carey answers in the affirmative and within minutes we're presented with the booty.
Ah, three glorious trays of cheesy, beefy delight, and a fourth tray of condiments.
I was tempted to dig right in, but we had a bigger mission afoot.
As we start slipping beef patties into the hollowed out sourdough, a small group of onlookers begins to casually walk by, glancing over our shoulders. A grandfather and his grandson ("That's a really big hamburger, boy"), a family of three ("Get a load of this burger!"), and finally the manager and a cook. This time, they aren't shy and ask us directly what we're doing. We tell them and both crack a big smile.
"So basically, you're trying to make like the best sandwich ever?" says the cook, a conspiratorial glint in her eye. "You guys should blog about this or something. I'd read it."
I sure hope so, I thought to myself. I sure hope so.
Layer after layer of beef, cheese, hot peppers, onions, pickles, and sauce went into that hollowed out loaf. In the end, we managed to fit eight full Flying Dutchmen, giving our finished sandwich a grand total of 16 patties, 16 slices of cheese, 6 ounces of In-N-Out spread, and approximately 32 pickles.
After pressing the top down and wrapping up the goods, we take our leave, bidding a fond farewell to the good folks who had treated us so well, and getting a big thumbs up from the manager in return.
All that was left was to wrap up the sandwich in paper and weight it down overnight, courtesy of an overturned side table from my hotel room. I briefly considered snagging a few extra weights from the hotel gym a few doors down before quickly deciding that my time would be better spent drinking wine that I might be in a better position to fully enjoy the benefits of the sandwich in the morning. (Those squeamish of bacteria need not apply).
And enjoy it I did.
At least, I enjoyed looking at it. Truth be told, after all that work, it tasted like...cold hamburgers. Really good cold hamburgers in an exceedingly transportable package, but cold hamburgers nonetheless. In retrospect, I should have toasted the darn thing in the oven before biting in. As is, I'd take a real Double Double hot off the griddle any day of the week, but then again, there are no In-N-Outs in New York and the flight back home is awfully long...
For a full step-by-step walkthrough of the process, click through the slideshow above.