In-N-Out: the 20 x 20
with help from John Marcotte
It all started—as you would expect—when we were drunk. Somehow my cousin Greg and I got on the topic of eating and we got into a little argument about who could eat more. I told him that I was going to go to In-N-Out and eat a 10×10, 10 beef patties, 10 slices of cheese. The strange thing was, it still sounded like a good idea to me when I sobered up.
Greg and I are the same height (6’2″), weight (200), and age (20), so all things considered, it was a fair contest.
I picked up a 10×10 on the way down to Santa Barbara with my best friend Miles. We stopped at the Salinas In-N-Out. I easily ate the 10×10. Hell, I even managed to scarf down an order of fries and a soda on the side. I called up Greg and let him know the game was on.
I pretty much forgot about the whole thing, until about a month later. I got a phone call from Greg. He started talking trash saying that he did an 11×11—no problem—with fries and a soda. He held the record for about two weeks. Then I was ready for a 12×12—no problem. I called Greg to tell him the news and to talk a little trash. That’s when things started to escalate. Greg decided to eat a 15×15. He figured that would be a gastro-intestinal knock-out punch.
A few months passed by and I pretty much decided that he was all mouth and no stomach. I called him out. He responded that he didn’t have a chance to go to In-N-Out. OK, that’s actually pretty legit. The nearest In-N-Out is more than a half-hour from our school. It was hard for either of us to get to an In-N-Out. That didn’t stop me from talking a little more trash.
A few weeks later Greg still hadn’t topped my 12×12, but I tickets to an A’s game in the City, so I decided to go for the jugular and take Greg out of the game permanently. I would eat a 20×20. I brought my friends Jason and Wendy to act as witnesses, and also because I figured one of them might know CPR. We even left early so that I would have lots of time to slide all that beefy-cheesy goodness down my throat.
On the drive to meet my hamburger destiny, I began to get nervous. A 20×20 is a whole lot of meat, and quite frankly—I was scared. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that nerves are for wusses—like Greg.
“I will have a 20×20 and a soda,” may go down in history as the best thing I’ll ever say in a fast-food establishment. The cashier looked up from her register, to make sure I was serious. I was. With a stunned look on her face, she began to enter the order into the register. Apparently a 20×20 is complicated, because it took a good five minutes and about three employees to get it entered in. By this time everyone that worked there had heard about the order and one by one they came over to look at the freak while I was waiting to pay. I think I’m now a permanent part of In-N-Out lore.
They charged me about $22. I’m pretty sure that they didn’t charge me for a few of the patties. Sure, it may have been a technical snafu from a complicated order. But I choose to believe that they gave me the discount to recognize the greatness of what I was attempting to accomplish. At any rate, they were all on the burger. I counted.
They called my number. I could feel my stomach acid churning as I walked up to pick up the order. I told myself it was just because I was really hungry. Five employees handed me the burger. I’m guessing they all wanted to be a small part of greatness. When they handed me the tray, I got a new theory: it takes five people to carry this thing. It was heavy.
After actually seeing the thing, Jason and Wendy decided that there was no way I could eat it. And even if I could, I probably shouldn’t. I decided that unwarranted optimism was my first line of defense. “Meh. No problem.” I sucked down some Sprite and dug in.
I started with four patties with cheese and the bottom bun. They went down fast. The middle sections were trickier, as there was no bun to grab. But, no guts, no glory—I grabbed another four off the bottom. Cheese oozed between my fingers. I ate them
Five minutes in and eight patties were gone. I was averaging better than a patty per minute. I started on the next 4 patties. At this point the entire staff of In-N-Out dropped the pretense that they cared about the drive-thru window, other customers, etc. and all gathered around my booth to watch me eat. They were all surprised to see how far I had gotten.
One of the cooks finally spoke up and said, “I am so proud that you are eating my burger. The only time we have ever seen one anywhere near that big was a practical joke we did on our friend for his birthday and he only ate seven.” I think he may have been crying. I ate another four. Twelve down—eight to go. The staff reluctantly went back to work, leaving a spy. One employee was busy sweeping the same two feet of floor in front of the trash can. There wasn’t any dirt there. But he only had eyes for my burger.
Right about then I started feeling it. I nursed the Sprite for a bit. Then got a refill. It took almost 15 minutes to eat patties 13 through 16. The staff lost interest. Even my friends became skeptical. Jason told me point blank, “You are never going to finish that thing.” I started to believe him.
By this time, I was chewing on rubber. After 16 patties, even delicious In-N-Out makes you want to shoot yourself. Another 20 minutes passed as I struggled with the last four patties. There were only about four or five bites left, but those four or five bites seemed impossible.
It wasn’t that my stomach was ready to burst. It was just the pain of swallowing. Each bite I had to fight down because it was like I forgot how to swallow. My saliva glands mutinied. They wanted no part of the 20×20. I guess that is the body’s reaction when it wants you to stop eating. I felt drained. I hunched over the tray and poured soda and water down my gullet to lubricate the way for the last four patties. It was me or the burger, and damn if I was going to let some USDA Choice Beef get the better of me. I hunched over the tray and poured soda and water down my gullet to lubricate the way for those last four bites.
I finished the bite number four, grabbed a glass of water, threw my keys to Wendy, walked straight to my car and laid down in the back seat. I thought I was dying. Is beef poisoning a disease? It should be.
In all seriousness, this was by far the hardest thing that I have ever done in my entire life. I was in more pain then when I broke my arm. I passed out in the back of the car, and slept for a good hour and thirty minutes until we got to the ball park. Jason woke me up.
I felt a little better, but I still felt like God had abandoned me and the terrible, satanic beef devil had devoured my soul. Did you know that if you eat enough ground beef, you start to feel like ground beef? At that point I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone told me I looked like ground beef.
We met a few more of my friends in line. Brett took one look at me and said, “You look like shit. Did you finish?” They all began to laugh until Jason said, “Sure did.”
The power of beef brought silence to the masses. No one thought it was possible. They were dumbfounded. Brett actually tried to buy me a jumbo dog during the game. I just shook my head and laughed.
By the end of the game I felt a lot better. So I sent Greg a text message that read, “Consider the 20×20 in the record books, bitch!” It may have been a stupid idea when we were drunk, and stupider yet when we were sober, but that 20×20 is now my claim to fame. The story has traveled far beyond my immediate circle of friends, and I think people look at me differently now. Perhaps with a mixture of pity, admiration and fear.
As a follow up, I bet some of you are wondering how it all came out. Well, it came out the same way it went in, four patties at a time.