White Castle is one of those regional fast-food chains that somehow feels ubiquitous even though it’s not (a little like In-N-Out in that way). The chain is actually pretty small and focused — 370 shops in only 13 states — centering itself mostly in the Midwest and New York. But it has been around 100 years (this month, actually) and those 10 decades have left it awash in Americana energy. Then, of course, you have a clear pop culture reference point, thanks to Harold and Kumar’s famous quest to the slider counter.
That slider counter is actually where we’re focused today, too. We’re ranking all the sliders at White Castle, folks!
This endeavor was an interesting one. Before taking on this challenge, I hadn’t been to a White Castle in easily 20 years. I do not have any fond memories or nostalgia for the place (or its food). For the most part, this food is largely unknown to me besides the broad strokes of small burgers, steamed patties and buns, and (silly) castle-like architecture.
Basically, I was going in cold to this tasting and ranking. A rarity when I venture into the fast food universe.
To rank these sliders, I’m going on taste alone. That sounds obvious, but there are plenty of rankings where my own nostalgia plays a part. I ended up ranking all eight sliders that were available at the shop I went to (in Louisville, KY). They were out of the Impossible Slider and the Veggie Slider because there are various shortages, for obvious reasons. Still, I ordered all eight main menu sliders, took a bite out of each one, and decided which one(s) I’d actually like to finish.
Let’s get to it!
8. Chicken & Waffles Slider
This is a specialty slider that bridges the breakfast and main menus. There are two waffle “buns” that are already sweetened with syrup sandwiching a crispy fried chicken filet with a touch of country gravy and bacon crumbles.
The fillings of this slider are on point. The “waffles” are not. The waffles that make up the bun of this one are very rubbery and overly sweet. I know waffles with syrup are inherently sweet, but this is more like an artificial sweetener sweet that just doesn’t vibe with the big savory notes of the fried chicken fillet and bacon.
The waffles really killed this one for me. As you’ll see below, the steamed bun really goes a long way to making these sliders work and that just wasn’t here. It was hard, a little dry, and kind of plastic-y.
A very hard “do not eat this.”
7. The Original Slider
The Original Slider is a steamed patty over white onions, steamed bun, and slice of pickle. It’s super simple and pretty damn small. The beef patty, in this case, was about a half-a-step up from a thick smear of, say, Marmite on a steamed bun.
It was very thin.
This wasn’t bad but it wasn’t much of anything. The thinness of the patty was kind of bafflingly thin. The onions were there but only barely and provided more of a soft layer of onion-like flavor. The pickle was pretty much lost or flavorless.
I don’t get these. They aren’t offensive like those weird waffles above but there’s just not any there there with this slider. I felt nothing eating this and was kind of mad these are so revered.
6. Cheese Slider
Take the Original Slider and add a small slice of American cheese. Done.
It’s amazing what cheese can do. That thin layer of melted orange goo really helped add an extra dimension of flavor and texture to this slider.
Still not good, though. Far from it.
This slider was very soft and light and left me with very little flavor or burger-ness. It’s was a bit more like I was eating a five-year-old child’s idea of what a burger might be based on a poorly rendered Saturday morning cartoon.
5. Chicken Ring Slider
This slider is made with two deep-fried processed chicken rings with a single slice of American cheese.
The chicken rings in this slider are very reminiscent of a high school cafeteria’s lunch menu. The flavor is a step above that and fairly savory, with a touch of black pepper, but it’s more like you’re getting some frozen rings from the grocery store than anything unique or special.
At least there was a bit of heft to this. You felt like you were actually eating something and it was okay. Not great. Just okay.
Okay, a little less than okay.
4. Bacon Cheese Slider
The Original Slider with cheese and bacon? Now we’re talking!
The bacon does add a nice layer of smoke, sweetness, and umami to the mix. The bacon wasn’t overly rubbery like that place with the golden arches. It was slightly crisp but… still a little listless.
That layer of bacon really helped the Original Slider shine. I could actually see eating a set of these sliders and being somewhat satisfied. Not happy, mind you, but certainly mildly satiated.
3. Bacon & Cheese Chicken Slider
This is the Crispy Chicken Breast Slider (more on that later) with a slice of American cheese and a piece of bacon.
This is where things get interesting. The chicken breast is a nice morsel that was well seasoned and actually crispy with a nice moistness. The bacon and cheese were nice touches but almost seemed unnecessary, given how solid the base of this one was.
This is where we get into the “yeah, I get White Castle” territory. The slider was hefty enough to feel like a real meal while packing enough flavor to actually feel satisfied in eating it.
2. Panko Breaded Fish Slider
This slider is made by deep-frying a panko-crusted pollock filet, topping it with cheese, and putting it into a steamed bun. It’s simple and the biggest standout on the White Castle menu.
The filet had a nice fish note that was soft and not overly briny. The crust was nice and crisp and didn’t melt away (like so many fried fish sandwiches fall victim to) because the size was small enough to finish fast. The cheese was a welcome gooey addition and the steamed bun was a nice compliment.
I’m an avowed fried fish sandwich fan, and this is a pretty decent fast-food fish sandwich. It’s not life-changing, but it is good. It also really stood out on the menu as something very simple but very satisfying.
I can definitely see eating a couple of these for lunch and walking away happy.
1. Crispy Chicken Breast Slider
This is a simple fried chicken sandwich in slider form. The sandwich is a simply fried white chicken breast filet topped with American cheese and sandwiched between steamed buns.
The chicken breast is the star of the show. It’s well seasoned with deep umami and a touch of black pepper. There’s a nice crunch to the breading that lasts through the whole eating experience. The cheese adds the soft orange savoriness you’re looking for. The bun is still sort of airy and listless but fine in this application.
This was the slider that I went back to immediately. It is very simple but executed well. There’s a real heft, making it a filling prospect for a meal.
It’s also a piece of fried chicken with cheese in a soft bun. You really can’t go wrong.
I don’t know that I ever need to go to White Castle again. It’s not that it’s bad or unpalatable, it’s just that nothing wowed me in any way. It was all … just fine. Except for those waffles, those were straight garbage.
The thing is, why eat three or four sliders in a meal when you can get a perfectly good burger at Wendy’s or even McDonald’s — both of which are usually across the street from White Castle. It feels like a prank that people took seriously, got turned into a movie and shouted out in a few songs, and now, a hundred years later, we’re way too committed to the bit to give it up.
I guess if you’re really, really high it all probably make more sense. Maybe I need to go back while stoned and do all of this again? Or not. I think I’ll just go to Culver’s instead.