The White Castle Slider and Other Dark Moments in Burger History

The New York Post reported this week that 64-year-old Martin Kessman of Rockland County, New York, is suing White Castle for booths that are too small for his husky, 290-pound frame (and if anyone needs bigger booths, it’s probably folks who eat burgers by the sack).

The lawsuit mars, potentially, what should have been a joyous time for the owners of the slider chain. Ninety years ago this week, Billy Ingram—a guy with $700 and a dream of serving small, wet, gray burgers—helped open the first White Castle in Wichita, Kansas. With the title The Godfather of Indigestion still far off, Ingram sold burgers that were so bad they were good, blazing a trail for others who would later complete the desecration of America’s beloved lunch-counter staple.

Here are three notable stops along the way (including the White Castle sliders Mr. Kessman alleges he has to gulp down uncomfortably), the burger equivalent of CHOW’s Sandwich Hall of Shame, but with a historical twist.

McDONALD'S HULA BURGER
Description: A grilled pineapple slice and two slices of cheese on a bun, created in the early 1960s for Catholics forgoing meat on Fridays. The Hula was eventually replaced by the Filet-O-Fish, which—go figure—had more appeal for consumers.

Why It Was Bad: Um, a hunk of pineapple and processed cheese on a bun—Mr. McDonald’s himself, Ray Kroc, was reportedly shocked when no one seemed interested in such a thing. In a way, the Hula was ahead of its time, a harbinger of the age of mainstream vegetarianism. These days you can order a mushroom cap on two slices of bread and actually find it satisfying. Sort of.

BURGER KING PIZZA BURGER
Description: Sold briefly in limited markets in 2010, BK’s 10-inch pizza-flavored burger was composed of four quarter-pounders, pepperoni slices, mozzarella, and marinara and pesto sauces, sliced into six pieces and shoved in a pizza box. The company rolled it out in New York and planned to expand across the nation once it proved irresistible (it didn’t). Smart move, considering you’d never find decent pizza in Manhattan.

Why It Was Bad: There was just something creepy about a 2,500-calorie burger. And even if you were prepared to blow your entire daily calorie allowance on one item, who wouldn’t rather have done it via an actual pizza or a great burger, rather than one really crappy mash-up of the two?

WHITE CASTLE ORIGINAL SLIDER
Description: This one-third-sized burger with steamed meat and scant toppings, affectionately known as a “slider” (less affectionately as a “rat burger”), can be eaten in two bites, six if you’re a rat. Mulitples are sold by the sack or “Crave Case,” and they’re available in your grocer’s freezer, next to other foods you would never buy.

Why It's Bad: If you could somehow turn a burger into a cold cut, it would look something like White Castle’s beef patty. As for the chain’s unique method of cooking, known as “steam-grilling”: Maybe no one else has attempted it because steamed meat is gross? Still, you’ve got to hand it to them: White Castle has cornered the market on thin hamburgers with tiny holes.

Image source: White Castle Original Slider by Flickr member Marshall Astor under Creative Commons