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Are Sliders Just Mini Sandwiches?

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For most of its life, the word slider didn’t mean tiny hamburger. Its debut dates back to 1530, when it just meant “skater.” Fast-forward to the late 1800s, and it indicated a type of turtle. Fast-forward again to the early 1900s, and it specified a baseball pitch, one that laterally zooms toward home plate. So how did we get to burgers?

Well, something else happened in the early 1900s: White Castle opened. Legend has it that slider had been Navy slang for burgers that slipped and slid on a greasy grill, but it took White Castle to spread the word. Within just 10 years, there were nearly a dozen restaurants. And within 100, Time magazine named the small, square beef patty “The Most Influential Burger of All Time.” Of all time!

Wild Rice Veggie Sliders with Herbed Ricotta
Wild Rice Veggie Sliders with Herbed Ricotta

To Adam Kuban, White Castle’s recipe—beef, onion, pickle, bun, done—represents sliders in their natural state. In 2008, he defended the real definition over at Serious Eats: “A slider is something very specific,” he wrote. Skater? Turtle? Baseball pitch? No, no, no. A slider is:

not just a mini hamburger. It's a thin, thin slip of beef cooked on a griddle, with onions and pickles piled atop the patty. The steam from the onions does as much cooking as the griddle. The buns are placed atop the onions, absorbing the pungent aroma and flavor.”

Which, of course, I completely disagree with. A slider is a honey-I-shrunk-the-sandwiches situation, and I’ll happily debate anyone on this over lunch (but you’re buying). I can only wonder whether, in the decade since Kuban’s article, the definition of sliders has evolved—again. A century ago, it did just mean a mini hamburger with onions and pickles. But centuries before that, it also just meant a skater. In 2018, does it mean a tiny any-which-way sandwich that you should totally make for your next party? You tell me.

The Food Lab's Ultra-Smashed Cheeseburgers
The Food Lab's Ultra-Smashed Cheeseburgers

SLIDER MATRIX

Bun. Crusty is not the way to go here. Head to the bread aisle of the supermarket for something white, soft, and squishy. To upgrade, steal a short-order-cook trick: Smear the inside of the bun with butter, margarine, or mayo and griddle until toasted and charred around the perimeter. This can be done in advance of assembly.

“Burger.” Where’s the beef? Doesn’t have to be here! Think about it this way: If you can sandwich it, you can slider it. And don’t worry about the filling fitting perfectly either. If there’s overhang, that’s cool—it looks abundant. Evidence: Fuku’s ever-Instagrammable fried chicken sandwich. Here’s where to start:

  • All the patties: straight-up ground beef, turkey, chicken, or pork; loose sausage; your favorite meatball or meatloaf or veggie burger recipe
  • Large, round vegetables: cut into thick circles, then bread and fry or simply roast; try eggplant, green or red tomatoes, or sweet potatoes
  • Eggs: fried (over-medium unless you want egg yolk all over your couch); boiled and sliced into rounds; slab frittata, sliced into squares
  • Miscellaneous: frozen hash browns; fried chicken; pulled pork shoulder or brisket; glazed tempeh; marinated tofu

Toppings. The original slider toppings—onions, pickles—can share some wisdom here: Don’t go overboard. The sandwich size doesn’t limit flavor, but it does limit ingredients. Too many and everything will fall all over the place and then you’ll have no toppings and no slider. Choose up to three: cheese; lettuce; herbs; tomato; raw, red onion; sautéed mushrooms; caramelized onion and bell pepper; cucumber or jalapeño pickles.

Sauce. One more thing about the original slider—it’s sauceless. This feels wrong to me. Stay close to classics like ketchup, mustard, mayo, and relish. Or branch out toward Thousand Island, spicy mayo, or aioli. Or even tzatziki, marinara sauce, or chimichurri. Or these:

Roberta's Roasted Garlic Dressing

Roberta's Roasted Garlic Dressing by Food52

Simple Vegan Pesto

Simple Vegan Pesto by Gena Hamshaw

CHORIZO-HASH BROWN VS. EGGPLANT-PARM SNACKDOWN

Chorizo–Hash Brown Sliders

Little potato bun. Potatoes on potatoes: yes, please and thank you.

Chorizo patty + diner-style hash brown. Chorizo-potato is a classic taco combination that’s pretty hard to beat (Say what?! says our eggplant-parm slider). Reworking it into a slider is easy as can be: Form loose chorizo into patties. Pan-fry in an oil-slick, squealing-hot cast-iron skillet. Meanwhile, bake frozen hash browns until crispy and greasy (you know, in a good way!). One of each per sandwich.

Chopped onion and cilantro tufts. Just enough freshness to cut through all that richness. You can cook the onions with the chorizo patties, in the spirit of White Castle, if you want. But I like them totally raw.

Chipotle mayo. Think spicy—like sriracha-spiked—mayo but smoky and even spicier. Buy a can of chipotles and mince one pepper into a paste. Stir into mayonnaise and adjust to taste. A little squeeze of lime goes a long way.

How many baby burgers equals one big burger? Two? Four? Eight? Actually, don't tell us.
How many baby burgers equals one big burger? Two? Four? Eight? Actually, don't tell us. Photo by Julia Gartland

Eggplant-Parm Sliders

Tiny hamburger bun. Fluffy, white, preferably on the unsweet side. If you have the time, brush the inside of the bun with olive oil, then griddle until just browned but still soft.

Fried eggplant. Cut a small eggplant into thick circles. Do a 1-2-3 breading: flour, eggy milk, and bread crumbs (panko, if you have it) mixed with finely grated Parmesan. Pan-fry in olive oil. Sprinkle with so much salt. Drain on paper towels. These can hang out for a while—you’ll be rewarming them in the oven with the cheese and tomato sauce.

Mozzarella. Fresh as you can find it. Slice into thick slabs. Set the fried eggplant on a sheet tray. Layer the mozz on top. Now, turn to your…

Marinara. If you have homemade stashed away in the freezer—you’re doing amazing, sweetie. And if not, jarred is fine. Dollop that on top of the cheese. Slip the tray into a hot oven—wait until everyone is melty—then slide into a bun.

Do you think a slider can be anything it wants? Are you a beef, onion, pickle purist? Discuss in the comments below!

Tags: Sandwich, Super Bowl, Game Day, Food History