A group of three sliders stacked in front of a collection of condiments
Photo by Ali Khan

It was well after midnight the last time I made a trip to White Castle, the 24-hour, century-old slider franchise. I was back in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, for a wedding, and nostalgia and alcohol fueled an ambitious order that was met with laughter by my friend. Dude, that is way too much,” he said. “You just spent $25 at White Castle on yourself. No way will you eat all that.”

He was right; I did go overboard. I should have stuck with just getting a 10-Sack. But I got that plus five double cheese sliders, loaded fries, onion rings, and chicken rings. The idea of eating a 10-Sack alone sounds like something from the show Man v. Food, but it is actually not as impossible as it sounds. It is an approachable act of burger gluttony that can only come from a slider—the essence of a simple cheeseburger in a perfect single bite, maybe two.

The term “slider” refers to a small hamburger patty, about 1 to 2 ounces, pressed down onto a flattop grill and often cooked with chopped onions. In some cases, the meat never touches the cooking surface as the patty is cooked on top of the onions. Sometimes the patty is seared on at least one side before or after being cooked on the bed of onions. Popular slider restaurants like White Manna Hamburgers in New Jersey and Motz’s Burgers in Michigan join White Castle in this method of cookery. Adornments are minimal, to the tune of cheese and pickles, topped with a small, squishy bun. Condiments, like ketchup, are at the discretion of the diner. It’s really all about the gloriously juicy grease bombs of burger.

Now, don’t go confusing sliders with mini burgers, which simply shrink down the experience. This category can feature far more toppings and tends to be favored among caterers and sports bars. George Motz, author of Hamburger America, summed up the shortfalls of the mini burger well: “Miniburgers are usually found at fancy parties, where they’re passed as hors d’oeuvres; they are rarely any good. By the time a miniburger has been fussed over in the catering kitchen, placed on a tray, and paraded around a party, it has become cold and lifeless.”

While mini burgers are sacrilege to some, I believe in adapting methods of slider cooking with nontraditional slider ingredients to appeal to home grillers. Recently, I invited barbecue chef and burger enthusiast Evan LeRoy of LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue in Austin over to my backyard for some slider experimentation. Armed with a charcoal grill and ingredients found in any Texas grocery store, we landed on two excellent slider recipes—one inspired by the traditional approach, another a mini burger with a Texas spin approximating a slider.

White Castle-Style Slider

This recipe homes in on the classic slider experience. Lucky for us, the internet is very generous with the search words White Castle copycat recipe.” It was just a matter of how far we wanted to go with the copycatting.

First, we adapted the recipe for cooking our burgers in a covered grill instead of an oven. It made sense to cook the burgers in a baking pan like many blogs suggested. We chose to butter the pan as if prepping for a pie crust and coat it with minced onions from a food processor. Because onion kept popping up as key to the flavor experience, we doubled down and made a burger rub of onion powder, salt, and pepper. We seasoned both the layer of minced onions and the beef patties once they had been placed on top of the onions. Then we put the baking pan on the grill.

Local Texas beef is at the heart of every burger recipe I do. This time we grabbed some Akaushi ground beef from HeartBrand Cattle in Flatonia via H-E-B. We chose American cheese because it melts so easily and Best Maid pickles because of their classic flavor profile—nothing fancy and fussy, just sour-soaked sense memory. We also used Kings Hawaiian slider buns for availability, texture, and dimension.

The best part about this recipe is that it yields 12 sliders efficiently. We sliced the entire sheet of Kings Hawaiian buns horizontally and toasted each half on the grill grate with ease. We flattened the ground beef in a baking pan and cut it into 12 squares, 2 by 2 inches each. Then we placed the baking pan in the freezer for 30 minutes for easier handling. The cooking took all of five minutes on a hot grill with the lid down. We didn’t even have to flip the patties. During the final minute of cooking, we added the cheese.

The clutch move was the “steam hold.” After we removed the baking pan from the grill, we built the burgers by adding a couple pickles and the top of the bun. We cut them vertically into individual portions, then placed them in Tupperware, fully dressed, so they could steam up. The steam hold makes for a softer bun and allows the aroma of cooked onions to envelop the slider. It’s also a great method for keeping sliders warm for guests if they don’t eat them immediately.

I was instantly taken back to what makes White Castle delicious. Im still glowing about the achievement days later. The onions that simmered in the rendered beef fat were a magical ingredient alone and alleviated the need for additional condiments. No ketchup required, folks! “Grill flavor on the meat, grill flavor on the bread, everything just works harmoniously,” said Evan, right before he reached for seconds. The blend of smoke and steam created an approachable slider experience for the home cook.

Cheesy, onion-y White Castle sliders

Recipe:
White Castle-Style Slider

(makes 12)

Ingredients

• 1 lb. ground beef (local, like Akaushi, preferred)
• Burger rub (2 parts kosher salt to equal parts onion powder and black pepper)
• 6 slices of American cheese sliced into 4 squares per slice (2 per burger)
• 1 cup minced onion
• Hamburger pickles (Best Maid preferred)
• 1 package slider rolls (King’s Hawaiian preferred)

Steps

1. Shape and cut ground beef into 12 squares, 2 by 2 inches each. Place in freezer for 30 minutes and then remove patties and reserve in refrigerator.
2. Butter metal baking pan and add 1 cup minced onion, spreading evenly across.
3. Season the minced onion with burger rub.
4. Add patties and season with burger rub.
5. Place pan onto a hot grill with the lid down. The temperature should be around 400-500 degrees. Check every 3-5 minutes until they look browned, and the onions have turned a pale gold color. Keep an eye out for any onions burning.
6. Place cheese on top of patties and put the lid back on the grill for a minute or two. Remove when done.
7. Halve the entire loaf horizontally and toast on grill grate or bake in a 250-degree oven for no more than five minutes.
8. Build the burgers: add pickles and top bun, then cut into 12 pieces.
9. Place burgers, fully dressed, in sealable Tupperware and allow to steam for a few minutes, then serve at once.

Texas Slider

While its great to honor the legacy of the traditional slider, burger enthusiasts cant help but want to forge a new path true to the Texas spirit. For us, this meant making a bold statement with flavor and presentation. Our first thought was to make the beef patty thicker. We wanted a slider-style meatball for a burger patty, and we wanted it to have bite.

Jucy lucys” [sic] put Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the burger map. Their patties stuffed with cheese ooze with every bite. We decided to explore a mini version of that by mixing cheddar into the ground beef. We used H-E-B cheese smoked with post oak because a backyard Texas grilling session needs every bit of smoked post oak it can get. Taking a cue from queso, we added minced jalapeño into the slider patty as well.

Evan liked the direction and advocated for his LeRoy and Lewis Beet BBQ Sauce. I don’t often reach for barbecue sauce for burgers as some can overwhelm, but this version, spicy like a bloody mary and tangy like a New York steakhouse sauce, played well with the smoked cheddar and jalapeño. We didn’t want the cheese to burn so we let the coals ash over. We also utilized the lid for maximum smoke by closing the vents halfway, creating a hybrid smoker-oven effect. This ensured the burgers were cooked through.

The result was a distinctive mini burger very much influenced by the land of barbecue and Tex-Mex. Purists might hesitate to call this a slider, but when Evan said, “It tastes like the backyard burger of my youth,” I knew we had struck a chord that would resonate with Texans. The White Castle-style sliders need time to steam in Tupperware, but these do not. Still, we found holding the Texas sliders in Tupperware and reheating them in a microwave for a few seconds worked magic when not serving them at once. This is a fine way to feed a crowd while not being chained to the grill. As it turns out, the speed and efficiency of slider cooking in a restaurant can be equally convenient for entertaining at home when the right steps are taken.

A close-up of the Texas-style slider

Recipe:
Texas Slider

(makes 12)

Ingredients

• 1 lb. ground beef (local, like Akaushi, preferred)
• 2 oz. smoked cheddar, diced 1/4”
• 6 oz. minced jalapeño with seeds
• Hamburger pickles (Best Maid preferred)
• 1 package slider rolls (King’s Hawaiian preferred)
• LeRoy and Lewis Beet BBQ Sauce (or equivalent)
• Salt and pepper

Steps

1. Combine first three ingredients and shape into 12 patties. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Place onto the grill over medium heat and cook to an internal temp of 160 degrees*, flipping frequently. Remove when done.
3. Halve the entire loaf horizontally and toast on grill grate or bake in a 250-degree oven for no more than five minutes.
4. Smear a thin layer of barbecue sauce on bottom layer, add slider patties, and top with pickles and the other half of the King’s Hawaiian roll.
5. Cut into 12 mini burgers, serve at once or hold in Tupperware.
6. If holding in Tupperware, reheat as needed in microwave in five-second bursts at full power.

*USDA recommends cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Cook at your discretion.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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