First things first: there's something to clear up about "sliders." They are not mini hamburgers. Along with Adam Kuban over at A Hamburger Today, I actually sort of hate mini hamburgers and the implied cuteness. Sliders are a different beast, and not cute. They are compact and small, yes, but they are also haunted by sauteed onion, which they are cooked on top of to create a sort of steamy bed. The resulting burger patty should be soft and fragrant, and the whole package is less an individual burger between two slices of bun than a collective unit of steamed ingredients. The bun and meat should meld into a single, shared texture. They should be easily downable.
Like a lot of people, I first think of White Castle when this style comes to mind. At White Castle, though, they honestly just place flattened frozen burgers atop a bed of sauteeing onions. I'm not here to trash White Castle, but this can't be the way they were always made. I emphatically don't want to use a frozen patty. I want to make the best slider I can.
This all started a couple weeks ago, when Blake and I decided to cook our way through Adam Kuban's entire list of "The AHT Guide to Hamburger and Cheeseburger Styles," which is long and exhaustive. And then we got lazy. The list stretched to over 23 different variations (give or take the nearly endless permutations of fancy-pants burgers, none of which I want to eat).
Plus we already have two methods of making burgers that we already love. They are called the Smash Burger and the Quick-Flip Burger, one skinny and the other thicker and juicy. We love them so much, we decided to show them off to fellow Serious Eats contributer Daniel Zemans, who purchased a few different kinds of beef blends to test out with these techniques. At the store we picked up some commercially produces white buns (our preferred burger vessel, the only way it seems to achieve the all-important "squishy and soft" quality), and while there we stumbled across some really tiny "slider buns", and thought, "what the hell?" How hard can sliders be to make?
If our slightly tough and dry burgers were any indication, a little harder than we thought.
Our method was to create a "smash burger" with our usual technique, which creates a mouthwatering crust on one side, then to flip them and finish over onions. But by the time the onions were truly soft and fragrant, the burgers were overdone. And that caramelized exterior on the patty actually didn't really suit the slider, since the slider is all about softness. When I think of sliders I think of something that's nearly insubstantial. You need to eat a whole mess of them to fill up.
But how else can keep a patty so thin? If you just compact the beef before it hits the grill, the meat tends to puff up in the middle. Alton Brown goes beyond the usual pat down, and takes a rolling pin to the meat. But I'm not convinced, plus he adds onion powder and garlic powder to the meat, forgoing any real onion. I want all beef burgers and real onions.
I've also been studying a few links from Serious Eats contributer, Nick Solares. He did a fascinating study of sliders in Northern New Jersey, and came away with some great cooking tips.
I've got a slew of ideas, but while I'm at it, I'm open to ideas from the slider-passionate readers out there. Anybody seen a true slider made before? Do they cook at a lower heat? Is there a perfect onion to beef ratio? What about buns?
I think it's time the slider got its due.