Culver's Vs. In-N-Out: Who Makes Better Food?

There are few fast food chains that gain notoriety even in the places where the restaurants are absent. Two great examples of famous regionally located chains are In-N-Out and Culver's. Both chains offer famed food and experiences, but both are hard to come by if you're not in the regions they hail from.

In-N-Out is based in California and the Southwest and has gained fame in other areas because of its Animal Style fries and mastery of the burger. This restaurant also sells merchandise for its brand like T-shirts, sweatshirts, and more. In-N-Out prides itself on quality, and on the fact that it's a family business.

Also family-owned is Culver's. Originally based in Wisconsin and still strong in its Wisconsin roots, Culver's has since expanded to more than 25 states and territories and is predominantly located around the Midwest. Culver's is very clear with its customers that there are many options they can choose from, but the chain appreciates those who choose the quality of Culver's.

But, because both restaurants pride themselves on similar mission statements and are known for their burgers, which should customers pick? Of course, you can base it on where you are located regionally, but if you're just choosing which has the better food, here are some key points to consider.

Both chains are known for their burgers

In-N-Out and Culver's have many things in common, but arguably the largest similarity between the two is their signature dish: a burger. Both chain's burgers are made with great love and care, using specific recipes that each restaurant has perfected for decades. Though they both have excellent burgers, Culver's might have the slight edge to In-N-Out in terms of the texture and taste.

For In-N-Out, burgers are the main aspect of the menu. The chain serves burgers in a single, a double, three patties, or four patties. In-N-Out also has the protein option with no bun, with cheese or without cheese, and its signature Animal Style, which includes grilled onions cooked in meat juice, a Thousand Island-like spread, mustard-grilled patties, and extra pickles.

On the Culver's menu are the signature ButterBurgers. These can be served with or without cheese, as well as with two or three patties and a variety of toppings. The ButterBurgers are made with fresh beef seared immediately after you order. There are also deluxe burger options and burgers with bacon.

Their shakes are second to none

Both In-N-Out and Culver's have great shakes. What a classic combination, the shake and the burger, with a side of french fries. In-N-Out has three different shake options: chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. All three types of shakes are made with real ice cream, a fact that In-N-Out is proud to emphasize. If you are in the mood for more than one flavor, though, you can mix and match — creating the perfect blend of vanilla and chocolate, or all three together for a Neapolitan taste.

Culver's shakes are also made with real ice cream, and the chain also offers chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. However, Culver's has many more shake options than In-N-Out. First, there are more flavors. In addition to the classics, Culver's offers root beer, salted caramel, peanut butter, raspberry, and mint. Some of these flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry, are all also available in malt. The malt differs from a regular milkshake because it has an additional milk powder in it that makes the taste even richer. Though both In-N-Out and Culver's have fresh and delicious milkshake options, Culver's has more flavor options and malt options in addition, giving customers more to choose from.

Culver's appetizers exceed In-N-Out

One key difference between In-N-Out and Culver's is the appetizer menu. In-N-Out doesn't offer anything on its menu that's billed as an appetizer. There are french fries, of course, but they're technically a side dish. However, at Culver's, there are many options you can choose from for a small bite or an appetizer to your main course.

First, Culver's side dishes and small bites include the chain's classic items, like crinkle-cut fries, coleslaw, mashed potatoes and gravy, and broccoli. In addition to these, though, there are some upgraded sides like a salad, some soups, and the classic onion rings. Culver's also has a list of signature sides and appetizers, including chili cheese fries, supreme chili bowls, and plain chili, pretzel bites with cheese, and, one of Culver's most popular menu items, cheese curds. The wide range of appetizers on the menu make Culver's the better option for choosing small bites.

In-N-Out's Animal Style is iconic

One of the most iconic things about In-N-Out is its Animal Style. Culver's has some clever names for the items on its menu, but none are so well-known as the Animal Style from In-N-Out. On the menu, Animal Style is applicable to fries and to burgers. Eaters are able to request the Animal Style for an upgraded version of the regular menu items.

Animal Style for french fries means taking the regular, steel-cut fries and topping them with cheese, Thousand Island spread, and grilled onions. This will almost certainly require you eat the fries with a fork because of the mess, but the extra toppings are definitely worth it for the taste. For the burger, Animal Style means grilling onions in meat juice, adding extra Thousand Island sauce spread, using mustard-grilled patties, and adding extra pickles. The taste difference is clear in both the french fries and the burger, and fans feel having one or the other with the Animal Style preparation is the "right way" to do it.

You can get seafood at Culver's

A unique aspect about Culver's that you will not find at In-N-Out, let alone most fast food chains, is the inclusion of seafood on the menu. Always prepared fresh and sometimes in a full dinner setup, the seafood menu has four options. First, there's the Butterfly Jumbo Shrimp Dinner. This includes several pieces of jumbo shrimp, coleslaw, fries, a roll, and lemon to taste. The next dinner option is the North Atlantic Cod Dinner, which includes a few pieces of fresh, breaded North Atlantic cod, as well as fries, coleslaw, a roll, and lemon to taste.

Though the butterfly jumbo shrimp and the North Atlantic cod are the two dinner options, customers can also find options separate from full dinners. First, the Butterfly Jumbo Shrimp Basket comes in six- or 10-piece versions with one side and lemon to taste. If shrimp is not your taste, the North Atlantic cod comes in a filet sandwich topped with the Culver's family tartar sauce recipe, olives, capers, sweet relish, crisp lettuce, and Wisconsin cheddar, of course. All of these ingredients are served in a lightly buttered, toasted hoagie roll. All of the seafood options are of great quality, and some even call the North Atlantic Cod Sandwich the best item on the menu.

Drive-thru speakers wouldn't exist without In-N-Out

When you go to the drive-thru, no matter what the chain may be, you will be familiar with the two-way speaker box system. The server asks for your order through the box, you hear their question, and you proceed to tell them your order. They can hear your requests, as well, and that is how the convenience of drive-thru restaurants works. However, all of this fast-paced ordering and receiving of food is thanks to In-N-Out.

According to the chain's website, in 1948, In-N-Out owner Harry Snyder was working in his garage late one night. He had been working long hours, putting time into making In-N-Out what it is today and cooking burgers for loyal customers. Snyder's goal was to create a way for guests to be able to get their food without having to get out of their cars, which prompted him to think up the two-way speaker box. Because of Snyder and In-N-Out, every fast food chain was altered forever.

Culver's homestyle cooking

A theme with the pros list for Culver's has to do with its vast, varied menu. In addition to the classic foods, many appetizers, and seafood, Culver's also features a very unique list of "Homestyle Favorites" that are comparable to traditional homemade meals from childhood. The six items on the list are not typically found on the menus of fast food chains, making it a very special aspect of Culver's menu.

First up on the menu is the Pork Loin Sandwich, topped with your choice of items and made with a premium center-cut pork loin that is hand-breaded and fried. Next is a simple sandwich: the Beef Pot Roast Sandwich. Culver's uses a slow-braised roast and hand-shreds it in the restaurant for a fresher taste, all to be served on the restaurant's signature bun. Culver's also offers the Grilled Reuben Melt with lean corned beef, Wisconsin Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing served on rye bread. For people who do not eat meat, Culver's also offers the Harvest Veggie Burger, complete with fire-roasted chickpeas, mushrooms, corn, peppers, and Wisconsin cheese. 

In addition, the Homestyle Favorites menu offers two dinner options. The Beef Pot Roast Dinner has slow-braised chuck roast, sourdough bread, beef stock gravy, and your choice of sides. Finally, the Chopped Steak Dinner includes mushrooms and onion on top of the steak, with a dinner roll, gravy, and two sides.

Let's talk sauce

Both In-N-Out and Culver's have excellent choices for sauce. For In-N-Out, the choices are limited. Of course it offers ketchup and mustard, as those are classic burger toppings. But, the real crown jewel of the In-N-Out menu is the special spread the chain uses on the burgers and fries. In-N-Out's special sauce is very similar to Thousand Island dressing, but there are some differences, like the thickness and the lack of boiled eggs.

For Culver's, one of the great appeals of its menu is that there are so many different sauces to choose from with not only your ButterBurgers but any dish you might choose. Culver's sauce menu includes Wisconsin cheddar cheese sauce, honey mustard dressing, Culver's signature vinaigrette, Frank's RedHot Buffalo dipping sauce, Ken's Country French sauce, Ken's raspberry vinaigrette, Ken's blue cheese dressing, Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce, and the classic buttermilk dressing. Additionally, Culver's offers mustard and ketchup, too. The sauce options far exceed that of In-N-Out, but Culver's doesn't have a special sauce in the same way that In-N-Out does.

Watching your health? Culver's is, too

When going to In-N-Out, or any fast food chain for that matter, it's likely you aren't choosing those businesses for your health. At In-N-Out, the healthiest option available is on the Not So Secret Menu, called the Protein Style. This features a normal cheeseburger with the toppings and condiments you choose, but instead of a bun, the sandwich is wrapped in lettuce to keep it all together. At Culver's, though, if you are trying to make healthier choices while still choosing a fast food restaurant, there are many options for you.

First, Culver's has an array of salads that are a healthier choice than its burgers. The Chicken Cashew and Cranberry Bacon Bleu salads with grilled chicken, as well as the Garden Fresco Salad, with or without chicken, are all available to adjust to your liking, with a dressing of your choice. The other great aspect of the healthy choices from Culver's is the Mindful Choices menu, which advertises lighter bites full of flavor. There's a Chicken Sandwich Value Basket, a Beef Pot Roast Value Basket, garden fresco salad and soup, and more.

In-N-Out's specialty is notoriety

The fame associated with In-N-Out comes down to one thing: the hype surrounding the chain. Everyone who does not have an In-N-Out restaurant near them romanticizes it, and In-N-Out has done an excellent job of capitalizing on that. Having specific merchandise associated with the restaurant, as well as an old-timey diner aesthetic for people to sit in while they enjoy their food, all while having the well-known Animal Style preparation, makes for a lot of hype and excitement with the In-N-Out brand.

In a Reddit thread discussing why some see In-N-Out as overrated, user r/supersheesh posts that the reason that In-N-Out is met with disappointment is because it does not live up to the hype it receives. They say, "It's a matter of equating the hype to the quality of food and In-N-Out has a ton of hype by people on the west coast that when someone on the east coast finally tastes it they're like 'these fries suck, sandwich is fine.'" They continue that even though In-N-Out's food is fine, it just isn't able to live up to the expectations its hype creates.

In-N-Out does not mess around with a long menu but instead picks the classic burgers and fries and sticks with them. It makes people excited to dine there solely because of the hype, rather than because of the actual quality and taste of the food.

Charitable giving

Leaving their food aside for a moment, in terms of the good these brands do for the world, In-N-Out and Culver's are pretty evenly matched. In-N-Out has started both the In-N-Out Foundation and the Slave 2 Nothing Foundation. The In-N-Out Foundation exists as a way to help children who have survived child abuse and to prevent it from happening again. It has raised millions of dollars toward the cause and supports efforts such as foster care and adoption services, intervention and enrichment, and domestic violence and homelessness assistance. The Slave 2 Nothing Foundation works to free people to from both addiction and human trafficking. The foundation supports organizations dedicated to these causes in seven different states.

Culver's has the Thank You Farmers Project, which shows appreciation for farmers and supports their sustainable agricultural efforts. Since 2013, Culver's has donated over $4 million to the project. Another charity Culver's started is Give Local, which enables local communities to make a difference within their schools, organizations, or agriculture. Additionally, Culver's has the Culver's Foundation, which helps all of the members of the staff in their educational efforts and goals.

So, which one is better?

Ultimately, Culver's takes the cake in this debate. Culver's has better variety with the menu, and though it is less iconic than In-N-Out, it has better food. Even In-N-Out's burgers, which the chain is famous for, do not compare to Culver's burgers. Both are very delicious, of course, but when it comes down to it, Culver's definitely has the edge.

In Reddit's r/burgers forum, u/babechonk states that no matter where they eat, be it In-N-Out, Shake Shack, Tasty, Five Guys, or Whataburger, Culver's has a "special place" in their heart. It is undeniable that In-N-Out has an appeal and a large sense of establishment among fans, and both restaurants do a great job with community outreach. But with seafood, healthy options, many more appetizers, and an all-around more substantial burger, Culver's is the winner. However, both restaurants are worthwhile and delicious options depending on where you are.