You may not suspect this from my current status as Meatboy Extraordinaire, but I was one of those picky-eater kids until I was about 20 years old. I wouldn’t even eat spaghetti, which seems like being a real pill coming from an 8-year-old. But there was one food among all others that would turn me into a ravenous beefmonster: a giant tray of my mom’s faux-White-Castle sliders.
You know how most kids got ice cream after a cavity-free dentist visit? I got all a Bacchanalian all-I-could-eat frenzy at White Castle on our trips into Chicago. Real last-days-of-Rome stuff. Since we were sadly bereft of White Castle locations anywhere near our suburban home, my mom made these sliders on special occasions to get me to eat something, anything! And it worked! At Matt Van Landuyt’s tenth birthday party, I consumed enough that I briefly glimpsed the secret of creation.
It’s been years since I’ve had one of my mom’s sliders, so I reached out to her for the recipe. Look at this great mom handwriting!
The recipe is truly Midwestern in its straightforward, no-bull approach. Never one to dirty the stove unnecessarily, Mom squished one large beef patty into her trusty jelly roll pan, baked it, and cut into squares to place into mini dinner rolls with cheese and pickles (and mustard, if it we were approximating a Krystal-type slider). If spreading one pound of meat over an 11-by-17-inch jelly roll pan seems unachievable to you, then Mom thinks you’re a quitter. “Keep pressing!” she texted me after I expressed the same doubt.
There was one, and really only one, sticking point to faithful recreation: I cannot find those Pepperidge Farm 32-to-a-pack miniature rolls for the life of me. The King’s Hawaiian empire has apparently swallowed all dinner-roll competitors. So I upped the beef quantity and switched the pan to adapt to the slightly larger size of the King’s rolls.
It’s always nerve-wracking to revisit an old favorite. On a visit home a few years ago, I learned that my favorite childhood hot dog stand, in fact, sucks. But the first bite of these sliders assured me that you can indeed go home again, if only for a little bit, eating over the sink with half a High Life.
And what did Mom think of my version of her classic? No idea—she’s been a vegan since the mid-2000s. What a twist! But for me, a guy who probably averages one slider session a week at the White Castle near where I work, these are remarkably close in flavor and general ethos. (The secret: soup mix!) And since this seems like as good a place as any: Love you, Mom! Thanks for putting up with a surly teen who at one point owned and wore four different Slipknot T-shirts.
No go out there and eat an unconscionable amount of sliders. Do it for Ma.
- 1 medium white onion, halved and sliced very thin (on a mandoline if you have one)
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 1/4 lbs. ground beef
- 1 packet Lipton onion soup mix
- 1/3 cup Italian (not panko) bread crumbs
- 1 egg, beaten
- American cheese, to top
- Dill pickle slices, to top
- 12-pack Hawaiian dinner rolls, split
Get the sliced onions caramelizing while you prepare everything else. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet, add the onions, stir to coat, and enact the long, slow dance of adding water and scraping every time the onions start to sizzle.
Meanwhile, add the beef, soup mix, bread crumbs, and egg to a bowl. Fold together until the mixture is just firming up. You’re going to mix this a lot more than a typical burger, but do it as little as you can to keep it from going full racquetball on you. (Miss me with your “Hey wait yer makin’ a meatloaf!” takes.)
Evenly spread the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch rimmed sheet pan, refrigerate, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When the oven comes to temperature, remove the beef from the fridge and top it with the caramelized onions. Bake for 12-15 minutes. If you’ve sculpted correctly (yes, this is art), the entirety of the pan should come to temperature at the same time.
Drain the liquid (one of those drawbacks of heartland sheet-based cooking) and, if you’re serving immediately, top with cheese and pop under the broiler to melt. Remove from oven, slice into 12 even portions, and make some sliders.
If you’re feeling fancy, pop the cardboard tray of split rolls out of the bag, cover with a dish towel or parchment paper, and steam them for a minute or two before assembling the burgers.
These taste great served immediately, but Mom’s secret trick was always to make extras, reassemble the rolls in neat order in the tray, and put that back into the bag so we’d have a second day (usually never a third) of slider leftovers. Just pop a few out, microwave, and enjoy. Thirty seconds wrapped in a damp paper towel and the leftovers are nearly good as new.