Sliders vs. Mini Burgers [RANT]
I like to argue. Well, maybe we should tweak that sentence slightly; I liked to argue…past tense.
Like most of us, back in my early to mid-twenties I knew everything and could passionately lay out all of the reasons I was right, and more importantly, why you were wrong. I don’t argue that much anymore, and while I’d like to think it’s because I’m more mature and humble, the truth is I just don’t have as much fire in my belly as I used to. It just takes a lot of effort to make someone understand why they are dumb for liking “Terminator 2” more than the original. Or throw a tantrum after being served a mini burger when the menu clearly claims to serve Sliders. I mean, after all, aren’t Sliders and mini burgers the same thing?
The answer to the clearly rhetorical question above is a resounding “No.” No, they are not the same.
In fact, maybe this isn’t such a dumb and insipid argument after all. Maybe it’s not just some excuse for me to grandstand and call attention to myself. “Hey, look at Matt get fired up over mini burgers, what a weirdo.” Maybe, just maybe, I have a legitimate beef 1 with establishments who mislead their patrons by filling their menu with lies – or greedy restaurateurs who take our rich and flavorful history and grind it up into a dry, tasteless, overpriced wad of meat. OK, that felt pretty good. Maybe I still have some of fire left after all!
So what is the difference between a Slider and a mini burger? Let’s start by looking at what isn’t a Slider. First and foremost, anything constructed from something other than ground up meat is not a Slider.2 A cheesesteak cannot be a Slider; it’s simply a mini cheesesteak. The same holds true for crab cakes, BBQ sandwiches and anything else you want to shrink down and overcharge for. If you think back to the award-winning Wayne Szalinski biopic “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” when Amy, Nick, Russ and Ron were hit with the shrink ray, they didn’t transmogrify into alpacas– they just shrank.3 Cutting a buffalo chicken sandwich into four quadrants doesn’t magically transform its spawn into Sliders. All you’ve done is created a miniature version of the original item.
For those who paid attention during high school English, it breaks down like this:
I ate a hamburger4 | Subject | Verb | Noun
I ate a mini burger | Subject | Verb | Adjective | Noun
I ate a Slider | Subject | Verb | Descriptive Noun
In the way all squares are comprised of four 90-degree angles and therefore classified as a rectangle (or rhombus), the Slider is indeed a type of mini burger. The converse however, does not hold true. Just as a square is a very special type of rectangle comprised of four sides of equal length, the Slider is a very special type of mini burger! The word “Slider” is not simply a synonym for “small sandwich,” but rather a proper noun embodying specific ingredients, cooking technique, history and tradition.
Let’s start with the basics. As mentioned above, the Slider is made with a thin patty of ground meat. Really I should be limiting this to beef, but as I said in my footnote5, I’m getting old and soft. We then add white onions, a light bun (not dense brioche) and as much as I hate to say, pickles (I’m still not a pickle fan). The burger is cooked in a “smash” style; ground meat rolled into a tiny ball, then smashed flat with a spatula on the griddle. Onions are initially grilled separately but then layered on top of the burger, which is then covered by the bun…both sides of the bun, in fact. There are two reasons for this. The first is simply a matter of available real estate. Sliders are designed for volume, and thus every square inch of the cooking surface needs to be occupied with burger – there’s no room to spare for opulent endeavors like toasting buns! The second reason for piling the buns on top of each other is that it creates a flavor and consistency one can’t achieve by simply toasting bread. As heat rises up through the meat and onions it picks up moisture and flavor through a process known as ionic trans-burger osmosis6. When this flavor steam hits the bun, it does more than simply warm it up; it deposits all of that burgery, oniony goodness deep inside the soft, moist bun7 ! Throw on a pickle and some American cheese as you remove the entire package from the griddle, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide Slider!
Simple enough, right? Well, that’s kind of the point. Sliders were designed to be cooked quickly and en masse to satisfy the large numbers of blue-collar workers who frequented the tiny burger joints or lunch counters. Maybe you’d only have a few minutes to grab a quick bite on your lunch break before the foreman would jump all over your ass. “Gimmie a dozen burgers there, Joey,” you’d say as you adjust your hard hat8 . Then it’s back to the factory with a full belly to finish off your shift.
Times change and factories close. The America today is very different from the America of yesterday and the small greasy diners that once peppered the landscape are by in large gone; replaced by fast food chains or upscale eateries. Dull and homogenized meals for a bland and vapid society9 . Growing up I spent the majority of my summers visiting my grandparents in Michigan. I can still recall quite vividly the memories of my grandfather taking us out for Sliders. I was thankful to learn one of the best (read: greasiest) places we went is still slinging their beef today. Places like Bates Burgers are so very hard to find these days, and unless you live in the Midwest or parts of New Jersey, most of us are stuck satisfying our slider cravings with the microwavable White Castle Sliders found in the frozen food section (nothing good has ever come out of a microwave). I believe this is why I get so enraged and offended when I see “Sliders” misrepresented on menus…we are cheapening not only the eating experience, but our history as well.
Food does more than merely sustain us; it records our past by preserving our traditions. Throwing a half dozen overcooked meatballs on a plate and calling it a “Slider Platter” strips away the all of the rich historical context and leaves you feeling gastronomically and emotionally unfulfilled.
A lot of my friends mistakenly think that my rage is over the mini burgers themselves. I’ve eaten mini burgers before, and I suppose there will come a time I’ll eat one again10 . I’ll often hear someone mockingly say “Uh oh Matt, this place has mini burgers on the menu…are you going to flip out?” No, I’m not going to flip out.11 In fact, I applaud any establishment who correctly labels their appetizers as such, because I’ll know what I’ll be getting. The issue comes when I see “Slider” on the menu because, while age has turned me into a skeptic, my hearts wants so badly to believe “maybe this place is different…maybe this place knows how to cook a slider…maybe this time they’ll get it right.” Just like poor ol’ Charlie Brown, I keep charging towards that football, only to have that bitch Lucy pull it away from me time and time again.
So there you have it; my rage for mini-burgers and plea for Slider preservation. Hopefully if you look at it from this angle, the whole argument won’t seem so trivial and…well…insane.
- Yes, that pun was intended [↩]
- I’m being far more generous and permissive in my old age. There was a time when I would have insisted a Slider is made with beef, but if you wanted to grind up some veal or turkey or duck I think we’re ok. The significance is less about what kind of meat is used, but with the technique used. [↩]
- …and went on a heartwarming adventure bringing them closer together as neighbors and family [↩]
- While we’re in the mood for revisiting high school language classes, in French this translates as “J’ai mangé un hamburger.” Or spelled phonetically; “J’ai mon’jay uhn ‘ahm-borg-ah,” which is really a lot of fun to say and makes you sound totes classy. Try it for yourself; “J’ai mon’jay uhn ‘ahm-borg-ah.” [↩]
- At what point does something go from paying homage to blatantly ripping off? I believe one must possess both talent and, more importantly, credibility to categorize something as homage. Since I am short on both, let’s just all agree I’m blatantly ripping off David Foster Wallace with the constant use of footnotes. [↩]
- Boom…Science [↩]
- Are you done giggling? Can we move along? [↩]
- I’ve spent my entire working life siting in an office building staring at a computer screen. I have absolutely no concept of the real world outside of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” [↩]
- Apparently I’ve moved on from channeling David Foster Wallace to Anthony Bourdain. Maybe someday I’ll come up with an original style. [↩]
- Jody and I recently had a big discussion about mini-burgers; specifically, would we ever order a platter of them over an actual burger, and the answer is hell to the no. Mini burgers are just too difficult to cook at a proper rare / med-rare temperature. No matter how good of a burger the restaurant might serve, mini-burgers are just too inconsistent. Yes, mini burgers can be used to partially satisfy a burger craving, but the only time we could see ordering up the mini version was if we were going to have a non-burger item as an entrée. For example, “I’ll have the large pepperoni pizza, and we’d like to split an order of the mini burgers for the table.” In this example we get our burger fix, without jeopardizing our ability to eat an entire pizza…because we’re gluttons. [↩]
- Perhaps most alarming is that my closest friends see me as cantankerous, unstable mess on the verge of flipping out over an Applebee’s menu item. Sigh. [↩]