What is a slider? A slider is a particular thing. It's particularly American. It's a small subset of our great culinary tradition, the hamburger. But as I explained last week, it's not just a mini-hamburger. To be a slider, it cannot be perverted with expensive ingredients like foie gras or tuna tartar, a cutesy version of a burger for a chef to play with. A slider consists of a thin layer of beef, American cheese, a soft bun, and way more onions than seem necessary or right. At some point in the cooking process, the meat should steam above the onions, turning the patty richly aromatic and strangely beefy considering its small stature.
That's the secret about the slider, and why I am infatuated with them. It's that strange dichotomy of being petite yet robust, flavorful, and meaty despite its littleness. I can't think of many other dainty foods that have such a seedy reputation.
And, yes, sliders are rather seedy. The slider joint has a stigma, booths haunted with the funk of cooking onions, a smell that seems to follow you out the door and all the way home. To get right to it, cooking these at home will make your place smell like White Castle. Perhaps this is why there aren't many recipes online for how to do it correctly. "Leave it to the take-out place," seems to be the message, or use just a little onion (or even onion salt). But these recipes are not authentic, nor as delicious.
But as I found out, making sliders at home is easy, cheap, and produces one of the best hamburgers I've ever eaten. By the end, it seems like a noble trade off. To be perfectly honest, I kind of like the aroma.
I could easily show you how sliders are made at a White Castle, where most people have probably encountered them. But you could also find out for yourself, since the whole griddle is showcased behind glass. They just place ultra-thin frozen patties atop a bed of chopped onions. But I wanted to make the burgers from fresh meat. I wanted to do it how White Castle probably used to make burgers, before they switched to frozen patties.
The question became: how do you get the patty so thin? Luckily, there are some places in New Jersey that still keep the slider flame alive and make them the real way. I need to point out the excellent coverage Nick Solares has done over on A Hamburger Today about this subject. One of his favorite places is White Manna, and that's where this video came from of the griddle man in action. This was my ticket. To my surprise the technique showcased in the shaky YouTube video was backed up by a comment that I got from George Motz, who wrote Hamburger America. I figured he'd eaten a few sliders in his day.
Don’t pre-cook the onion. Use Vidalia (the way they do in Oklahoma), slice paper-thin on a mandoline so they cook faster, and never use a grind higher than 80/20. Smash the onion into the patty first – don’t wait to flip before you add the onion.
And that's pretty much exactly how to do it. For the burger aficionados out there, it's like a modified Smash Burger. A small ball of meat is placed on the cooking surface, topped with thinly sliced onions, and then flattened with a spatula to the desired thickness. When the bottom is done, it's then flipped onto the onions to finish cooking. The second part, where the burgers steam on top of the onions, is the genius of sliders and why I love them so much.