I ate similar meals at McDonald's and In-N-Out, and I saw why the chains belong to 2 different worlds

McDonald's Big Mac meal

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I ate similar meals at McDonald's and In-N-Out to see what makes the two chains so different.

  • McDonald's and In-N-Out serve similar food, but the two chains couldn't be more different.
  • I went to both chains to eat their most famous double burgers, and to see how they were similar or different to each other.
  • I found that while McDonald's food doesn't taste bad, it tastes far less natural than In-N-Out's perfectly constructed burgers.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

In-N-Out is to California what McDonald's is to the world.

In-N-Out is widely beloved for its friendly service, fresh ingredients, and picture-perfect burgers. But McDonald's has become more than just a fast-food chain: it's become a building block of global capitalism.

I set out to both chains and ate a similar meal at each one. My goal? To find out what makes these two chains so different, and, of course, to compare their food.

I went to an In-N-Out in Los Angeles on a recent trip to the West Coast, and when I returned to New York, I went to a McDonald's in Manhattan near the Business Insider office.

Here's what my meals were like:

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In Los Angeles, I scootered to an In-N-Out restaurant on Sunset Boulevard.

In Los Angeles, I scootered to an In-N-Out restaurant on Sunset Boulevard.

The interior was cheerily decorated with retro booths, neon signage, and red-and-white tiling.

The interior was cheerily decorated with retro booths, neon signage, and red-and-white tiling.

In-N-Out's menu is stunningly simple, although its "animal-style" option is an open secret.

In-N-Out's menu is stunningly simple, although its "animal-style" option is an open secret.

In-n-Out is meticulous about sourcing its ingredients, and it's famous for the freshness of its ... well, everything.

In-n-Out is meticulous about sourcing its ingredients, and it's famous for the freshness of its ... well, everything.

The chain's airtight supply chain is also why it will probably never expand to the East Coast.

The chain's airtight supply chain is also why it will probably never expand to the East Coast.

The condiments stand has just two things: ketchup and hot pickled peppers. It might be simple, but ...

The condiments stand has just two things: ketchup and hot pickled peppers. It might be simple, but ...

The peppers really kick it up a notch.

The peppers really kick it up a notch.

After a bit of a wait, my meal came out in a bright red box. I'd ordered a Double-Double, animal style ($4.35), animal-style fries ($3.95), and a medium soft drink ($1.75)

After a bit of a wait, my meal came out in a bright red box. I'd ordered a Double-Double, animal style ($4.35), animal-style fries ($3.95), and a medium soft drink ($1.75)

Prices are accurate to the Hollywood location of In-N-Out that I went to.

I started with a handful of my animal-style fries. I grabbed a bundle before realizing that a fork was provided for a reason.

I started with a handful of my animal-style fries. I grabbed a bundle before realizing that a fork was provided for a reason.

But even smothered in cheese, grilled onions, and Thousand Island dressing, these fries were nasty.

But even smothered in cheese, grilled onions, and Thousand Island dressing, these fries were nasty.

In-n-Out's fries manage to be soggy and flavorless even though they're fresh-cut every day.

In-n-Out's fries manage to be soggy and flavorless even though they're fresh-cut every day.

The Double-Double animal-style was another story entirely.

The Double-Double animal-style was another story entirely.

This burger is every bit as tasty as it looks.

This burger is every bit as tasty as it looks.

Between two perfectly toasted buns, tomato, lettuce, pickles, beef, and cheese were stacked carefully into a small tower and smothered in grilled onions and Thousand Island dressing.

Between two perfectly toasted buns, tomato, lettuce, pickles, beef, and cheese were stacked carefully into a small tower and smothered in grilled onions and Thousand Island dressing.

Even though the two patties are small, they're tender and juicy, and they pack an incredible amount of meaty flavor.

Even though the two patties are small, they're tender and juicy, and they pack an incredible amount of meaty flavor.

The veggies are fresh, crisp, and flavorful. The pickle and slice of tomato add a cut of juicy tartness to an otherwise savory burger.

The veggies are fresh, crisp, and flavorful. The pickle and slice of tomato add a cut of juicy tartness to an otherwise savory burger.

Soon, I realized why the Double-Double comes wrapped in paper.

Soon, I realized why the Double-Double comes wrapped in paper.

All that juice needs somewhere to go.

All that juice needs somewhere to go.

I attacked the fries again, this time with a fork.

I attacked the fries again, this time with a fork.

But my second bite was just as disappointing as my first bite had been.

But my second bite was just as disappointing as my first bite had been.

It's a wonder how a place that makes such incredible burgers can make such infamously bad fries.

It's a wonder how a place that makes such incredible burgers can make such infamously bad fries.

But In-N-Out makes a burger so good you forget it's fast food.

But In-N-Out makes a burger so good you forget it's fast food.

After all, when you think of fast-food burgers, you think of McDonald's.

After all, when you think of fast-food burgers, you think of McDonald's.

Luckily, there's a McDonald's across the street from where I work.

Luckily, there's a McDonald's across the street from where I work.

It's not one of the new revamped restaurants, which have ordering kiosks and other modernized features.

It's not one of the new revamped restaurants, which have ordering kiosks and other modernized features.

This one still caters to a more lo-fi audience.

This one still caters to a more lo-fi audience.

A McDonald's in New York is no ordinary McDonald's, but this one feels especially dystopian. Its dark grey walls and futuristic lighting made me feel like I was walking in a prison of the future.

A McDonald's in New York is no ordinary McDonald's, but this one feels especially dystopian. Its dark grey walls and futuristic lighting made me feel like I was walking in a prison of the future.

I wasn't allowed to take pictures at the counter. However, this McDonald's has a mobile ordering option.

I wasn't allowed to take pictures at the counter. However, this McDonald's has a mobile ordering option.

You can order ahead of time, check in when you arrive, and retrieve your order at the pick-up counter. Or you can order from a cashier.

You can order ahead of time, check in when you arrive, and retrieve your order at the pick-up counter. Or you can order from a cashier.

I took my meal upstairs. There were no condiments stations, but that's true of most fast-food restaurants in New York. Instead, I was handed my condiments at the counter.

I took my meal upstairs. There were no condiments stations, but that's true of most fast-food restaurants in New York. Instead, I was handed my condiments at the counter.

I got a Big Mac meal for $9.79 before tax. It comes with a Big Mac, medium fries, and a drink.

I got a Big Mac meal for $9.79 before tax. It comes with a Big Mac, medium fries, and a drink.

Pricing is accurate to the Manhattan location of McDonald's that I visited.

Where In-n-Out is one-size-fits-all, McDonald's casts a wide net. It has a massive and ever-changing menu full of beef, chicken, fish, and potatoes.

Where In-n-Out is one-size-fits-all, McDonald's casts a wide net. It has a massive and ever-changing menu full of beef, chicken, fish, and potatoes.

However, the Big Mac is probably the chain's most iconic sandwich.

However, the Big Mac is probably the chain's most iconic sandwich.

Three buns, two patties, and a smidge of lettuce, sauce, pickles, onions, and cheese. It's superficially similar to the Double-Double in many ways.

Three buns, two patties, and a smidge of lettuce, sauce, pickles, onions, and cheese. It's superficially similar to the Double-Double in many ways.

But the Big Mac is a nonperishable burger. There isn't really anything in the sandwich that tastes or needs to taste fresh.

But the Big Mac is a nonperishable burger. There isn't really anything in the sandwich that tastes or needs to taste fresh.

The beef is pretty dry, the cheese a non-factor, the lettuce for show. What carries this burger is the creamy, tangy Mac sauce.

 The beef is pretty dry, the cheese a non-factor, the lettuce for show. What carries this burger is the creamy, tangy Mac sauce.

Unlike its In-n-Out counterpart, which flaunts its fresh ingredients, the Big Mac could be frozen and reheated a dozen times and still taste roughly the same.

Unlike its In-n-Out counterpart, which flaunts its fresh ingredients, the Big Mac could be frozen and reheated a dozen times and still taste roughly the same.

McDonald's fries, however, are another story.

McDonald's fries, however, are another story.

Even though they're no longer fried in beef tallow, many fast-food fans still swear by McDonald's fries.

Even though they're no longer fried in beef tallow, many fast-food fans still swear by McDonald's fries.

Again, unlike In-N-Out, McDonald's doesn't really care about how processed its fries are. These aren't fresh-cut potatoes. They're fried from frozen.

Again, unlike In-N-Out, McDonald's doesn't really care about how processed its fries are. These aren't fresh-cut potatoes. They're fried from frozen.

But somehow, McDonald's still makes a much better fry than In-n-Out.

But somehow, McDonald's still makes a much better fry than In-n-Out.

They're salty, reasonably oily, and reasonably crispy.

They're salty, reasonably oily, and reasonably crispy.

That said, they still have a relatively empty and artificial taste. And once they're cold, they're not worth touching.

That said, they still have a relatively empty and artificial taste. And once they're cold, they're not worth touching.

McDonald's food is factory food. It isn't made with love, it's made on an assembly line.

McDonald's food is factory food. It isn't made with love, it's made on an assembly line.

Assembly line food, if nothing else, is at least reliable. McDonald's has built a global empire based on the reliability of its food.

Assembly line food, if nothing else, is at least reliable. McDonald's has built a global empire based on the reliability of its food.

I can't say I didn't enjoy my Big Mac Meal. I did. But afterwards, I felt like I'd put bad things into my body.

I can't say I didn't enjoy my Big Mac Meal. I did. But afterwards, I felt like I'd put bad things into my body.

But after my meal at In-N-Out, I felt refreshed. Sure, a burger might not be the healthiest choice, but at least my In-N-Out burger tasted like real food.

But after my meal at In-N-Out, I felt refreshed. Sure, a burger might not be the healthiest choice, but at least my In-N-Out burger tasted like real food.
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