Being a California native, we pride ourselves in being the home of the greatest burger chain of all time – In N Out. Though in the shadow of our amazing California burger empire, many other regional chains have held their popularity among their respected territories; Whattaburger in Texas, Krystal in the southeast, Culver’s in the northern midwest, and White Castle in the midwest and northern Atlantic regions (needless to say, there’s countless more, and I’ll most certainly have some comments from people chiming in about their favorite regional burger chain).
And while I’ve yet to have much familiarity with many of these chains, I was introduced to White Castle in a way probably many others of my generation who live outside the reach of the home of the original slider…
Needless to say, the modern crossing of a buddy road trip and stoner comedy left me curious about White Castle. Unfortunately, I’ve not traveled much to the midwest, nor the northern Atlantic, so White Castle has not been on the menu… That is until I discovered White Castle Frozen Hamburgers in my local grocery store.
Since 1995, White Castle has sold their infamous steam grilled, square hamburgers and cheeseburgers in the frozen food sections of grocery and convenience stores, as well as vending machines. And while the burger chain has always had a well respected following, the 2004 release of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle they had reached a national level of cult status.
The box I purchased contained 6 of the original sliders. They come wrapped in pairs in a microwaveable plastic wrapper. Known for their steam grilling process, the microwaveable wrapper works to trap the steam from the frozen burger and buns to cook the hamburger in a way to match the texture and feel of a fresh cooked White Castle burger, while also reconstituting the dehydrated onions cooked into the patty.
The instruction on the back of the box indicates that the burgers can be microwaved or cooked on the stove top. The front of the box however promotes it’s microwaveableness, and assuming that this will be the primary cooking method people will use to cook the burgers, I’ve chosen to also microwave.
The instructions had me open one side, separate the burgers which may be stuck together due to the freezing process, and microwave for 60 seconds. Out of the microwave, you could see the heavy condensation inside the wrapper due to the steaming process. The combination of the beef and onion smelled strongly like a badly fermented french onion soup.
Once on the plate, the burgers made me think they were the fast food representation of depression. The thinly pressed burger meat drooped sadly over the steam moistened bottom bun. The tops of the buns wrinkled like an old prune. Bits of reconstituted onion poked their way out from underneath the bun as if to say “I know you can smell me, but don’t forget I’m here!”
Deconstructing the burger, bits of onion had melded with the bun and the meat – as if they had become one – making it a difficult task to cleanly pull it apart. The meat was so thinly pressed that attempting to pull it off the bottom bun resulted in it ripping like a fragile piece of tissue paper. With the bits of onion and bread stuck to it, the surface of the it looked like a patch of land on some distant planet, full of craters and mysterious non-organic matter.
The taste itself was much like the smell. It’s as if they let these sit out in the sun for a couple weeks before they actually froze them. In an attempt to at least make the most of the sliders, I raided my refrigerator to see what I could find to offset the old beef and onion flavor. I settled on slicing a dill pickle and liberally pouring on some Sriracha. But even the bitterness of the pickle and the spiciness of the Sriracha were no match for the old beef an onion flavor. But at least it made it look a little bit more pretty!
As we learned in the Fast Bites Cheese burger review, a microwavable hamburger is just not the same as something fresh off the grill. I don’t think it’s something that will come ever come close.
While I’m not able to compare against the fresh made White Castle burger (maybe one day I will, and will update this post!), I’d say that the permeation of the dehydrated onion really destroys the opportunity for redemption on this burger. And I’m a fan of both fresh and grilled onion (and ANIMAL STYLE for you In N Out fans), but these really had the scent and flavor of onions that had spent a fair amount of time caramelizing for the purpose of a french onion soup. It just didn’t work for me.