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Slugburgers
September 18, 2009 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Slugburgers, hamburgers in which the meat has been supplemented with bread, meal, or crackers for filler, come from a triangular region that cuts across northern Alabama, northern Mississippi, and southern Tennessee and roughly corresponds with the Tennessee Valley. They're called slugburgers in Moulton, Alabama; Decatur, Alabama; and Corinth, Mississippi; doughburgers in Tupelo, Mississippi; and breadburgers in Cullman, Alabama. This regional take on the hamburger became popular during the Great Depression, when the price of meat made it necessary to use fillers to extend supply. Though the exact origin of the term is disputed, it is most commonly held that Slugburgers got their name from the coin used to pay for them: when each burger cost 5¢, you could pay for one with a nickel which was then also called a slug. Corinth, Mississippi, has held an annual Slugburger Festival since 1988. Take a photographic tour of the Slugburger Trail.

I was reminded of slugburgers by The AHT Guide to Hamburger and Cheeseburger Styles.

Decatur, Alabama, is my hometown, and I grew up going to school around the corner from C.F. Penn's, the local slugburger joint.
posted by ocherdraco (78 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for this, OD. I had no idea these things had a name other than "cheap-ass" burgers.
posted by rokusan at 1:39 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting that the C.F. Penn article just says that the ingredients are "secret".
posted by smackfu at 1:39 PM on September 18, 2009


Awesome post.

Damn unfortunate name.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:47 PM on September 18, 2009


"They were called slugs because they used to have a picture of a slug on them. 'Gimme 5 slugs for a quarter,' you'd say. Anyway, the important thing was I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time!"
posted by explosion at 1:52 PM on September 18, 2009 [26 favorites]


My dad's hamburger recipe (way up in Canada, so I guess it's not just a Southern U.S. thing) has always included a dash of seasoned breadcrumbs, and if that's filler, it's goddamn delicious filler.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:53 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nickels were called slugs? In my experience, and according to the dictionary, a slug is a counterfeit coin. It makes more sense that these would be called slugs because they're in some sense a counterfeit burger.
posted by mullingitover at 1:55 PM on September 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


"A dash of seasoned breadcrumbs" is rather different from a hamburger that's been made with a significant amount of filler and then fried in oil.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:56 PM on September 18, 2009


Hm. Right you are. Still, I'd try one of these things.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:00 PM on September 18, 2009


Here is a guide to all of the different hamburger and cheeseburger styles out there.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:08 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


The first link perhaps explains what has always been a mystery to me, the identification of a hamburger in certain contexts as a "beefburger." In my world beef is the default hamburger (and soft drinks are called "soda").
posted by nanojath at 2:08 PM on September 18, 2009


The Gardenburger is the product of the Great Depression??
posted by hermitosis at 2:09 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ack, okay, I'll read the FPP next time. It is a good link, though.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:09 PM on September 18, 2009


I always put about 20% oatmeal into my burgers. I think it tastes better, makes better texture and especially makes a nice surface to the burger. I get the "slugburger" is an economizing thing, but like The Card Cheat (fellow Canuck) I daresay lots of people think there is a non-economizing role for significant additions to their burgers.
posted by Rumple at 2:11 PM on September 18, 2009


Here is a guide to all of the different hamburger and cheeseburger styles out there.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:08 PM on September 18 [+] [!]


slug burgers...

...Hamburgers & Fries also notes instances of cracker burgers and tater burgers.


The taters connection. God damn, it is all starting to make sense now!
posted by nanojath at 2:14 PM on September 18, 2009


Came for the Abe Simpson reference; leaving satisfied.
posted by kcds at 2:14 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


My mom always made burgers with bread mixed in. She's from that great southern state of Vermont. She did go through the Great Depression, but not in Dixie.

Slugs are the metal discs removed from electrical junction boxes to make holes for wires to enter and leave the box. They used to be very close to the diameters of dimes, nickels, or quarters, and would work in old, unsophisticated vending machines. They were easy to find at construction sites. So yes, 'counterfeit coin' is probably the earlier meaning for slug.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:20 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess Long John Silver's is the reigning master of slugfish then. Do they even really serve food there, or is it ALL breading?
posted by jamstigator at 2:21 PM on September 18, 2009


Waitaminnit. Ground beef plus bread crumbs is meatloaf, right? So basically these are your own personal deep-fried meatloaf on a bun? Because I could really get behind that idea.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:23 PM on September 18, 2009


The beauty of meatloaf is that the fat has nowhere to go, so it's not quite the same in patty form.
posted by smackfu at 2:26 PM on September 18, 2009


"I don't know why they call this stuff Hamburger Helper, Clark, it does just fine by itself!"
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:35 PM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


The Gardenburger is the product of the Great Depression??

Actually, it sorta IS -- the product of that general era, anyway.

I collect old cookbooks. It's not so much true of Depression-era cookbooks, but in cookbooks from WWII, pretty much all of them have a section on meatless meals. After a couple years, it became more and more common for the meatless meals to be more like meat substitutes than just meals without meat. I have one cookbook from about 1942 that's entirely meat-free. And you know what one of the main ingredients in its meat-mimicking dishes was?


Wait for it...





Cottage cheese.



Weird, huh?

Wish I had the book with me now so that I could list some of the freaky recipes in it. Alas, it is at home and I am not.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:48 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


From Afroblanco's guide, holy crap! The Double(!) Bacon Hamburger Fatty Melt
posted by smackfu at 2:50 PM on September 18, 2009


nebula I immediately thought of meatloafs as well!
smackfuif the fat escapes during the frying, do they wind up less greasy than a (not made from superlean beef) meatloaf?
posted by Librarygeek at 2:51 PM on September 18, 2009


Take a photographic tour of the Slugburger Trail.

I hear it's slimy.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:54 PM on September 18, 2009


The biggest problem with slugburgers is the way they shrivel up when you put salt on them.
posted by hifiparasol at 2:57 PM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


From Afroblanco's guide, holy crap! The Double(!) Bacon Hamburger Fatty Melt

I violated the laws of kashrut by just looking at that thing.

*takes blowtorch, kashers computer screen*
posted by thomas j wise at 3:06 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I get the "slugburger" is an economizing thing, but like The Card Cheat (fellow Canuck) I daresay lots of people think there is a non-economizing role for significant additions to their burgers.

Another Canadian who eats and makes burgers this way.. I'm not sure if its a Scots-Irish thing (although that is about the only explanation that makes sense), but I've noticed more that a few parellels to "Southern US " food and a lot of the stuff I grew up eating. Thing is, none of my ancestors even visited the American South...
posted by Deep Dish at 3:12 PM on September 18, 2009


Here is a guide to all of the different hamburger and cheeseburger styles out there.

In the US. I think it's fair to expect that there are styles of something called a HAMBURGer outside the USA.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:13 PM on September 18, 2009


Here is a guide to all of the different hamburger and cheeseburger styles out there.

And it all started at Louis' Lunch in New Haven, CT.

Louis Lassen is credited with "inventing" the hamburger in 1900.

Today the burgers are made the same way they were since the beginning -- toasted bread instead of a hamburger bun and the only permitted garnishes are cheese, tomato, and onion.

[Library of Congress | New York Times | WCVB/Chronicle -- video | 01:39]. *
posted by ericb at 3:16 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Huh. I'm from central Alabama, and I've never in my life heard the word "slugburger" until I read the link. I did grow up in a household where bread crumbs were always mixed into ground beef when making hamburger patties, though. Along with Dale's Sauce, AKA liquid salt.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:19 PM on September 18, 2009


ericb: "And it all started at Louis' Lunch in New Haven, CT. "

Hot dogs only after 6?
posted by boo_radley at 3:22 PM on September 18, 2009


Darn you to heck rokusan, I was going to comment about how I didn't know these had any other "official" name - I always refer to them as; my cheap-ass dad burgers....
posted by jkaczor at 3:28 PM on September 18, 2009


BitterOldPunk, I think it's one of those things that is really niche, even where it's most popular. I knew of the existence of Penn's, Dub's, Nesmith's, Busy Bee, and Willie Burgers, but I didn't know they all made fried hamburgers (so far as I knew it was just Penn's that did), and I never knew that they had a specific name for the style until I started to pull together this post.

Barbecue is much more ubiquitous in the region. In Decatur, there are something like 15-20 barbecue restaurants (to serve a population of around 56,000), and only one slugburger place, which gives you an idea of the relative popularity of the slugburger.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:33 PM on September 18, 2009


SLUGBURG! *punches neighbor in the arm*
posted by dirigibleman at 3:35 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


From Afroblanco's guide, holy crap! The Double(!) Bacon Hamburger Fatty Melt

'The Double Bacon Hamburger Fatty Melt' previously on MeFi.

Also discovered and documented by cortex on his recent visit to Portland, ME when having dinner/drinks at The Great Lost Bear where it's called The Almighty Cheesus Burger.
posted by ericb at 3:39 PM on September 18, 2009


Hot dogs only after 6?

But, yes.
Hot Dog -- limited availabilty, after 6pm.

"During our late-night hours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we frequently serve hot dogs and steak sandwiches as well."
posted by ericb at 3:45 PM on September 18, 2009


Why do none of these contain slugs of any kind?
posted by asfuller at 3:48 PM on September 18, 2009


I could have sworn that McDonalds listed their hamburgers as being made with BeefTM patties, circa 1996. It's been a while, so maybe my memory has fudged the details.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:59 PM on September 18, 2009


I will now be referring to meatloaf by its more proper and fitting name: Slugloaf.
posted by Auden at 4:03 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Came for the National Lampoon Vacation reference, Clark. Left satisfied.
posted by hexatron at 4:19 PM on September 18, 2009


Funny. We did that in western Canada, but just because we were dirt poor.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:28 PM on September 18, 2009


Another Alabamian here who, until this post, had never heard the term slugburger. But here in Japan, augmenting your fried ground beef patties with bread crumbs and/or katakuri is an established tradition. Holds everything together on the grill or skillet much better. That's the way we roll here at Maison Flapjax (accent on the jax). Highly recommended.

Oh, and for those who came for the Abe Simpson reference and left satisfied, I've got another one for you:

Steamed hams.

Quick, who said it?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:44 PM on September 18, 2009


Now I'm hungry for Kouby, which is like a deep fried middle eastern exotically spiced lamb meatball.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:46 PM on September 18, 2009


I hate this shit and would happily start a religious war against any proponents of this madness. Mixing he meat up only makes the thing into a slimy, tasteless, chewy mess. This has led me into actually preferring the veggie option at unknown joints. The sort-of-falafel burger i s 10000 times more tasty than the snaily tasting piece of maggot meat you people call a slugburger

I'm sorry but making meat taste like stale potato upsets me
posted by uandt at 5:00 PM on September 18, 2009


Principal Skinner to Superintendent Chalmers.

Also, before the purists start freaking out, this is essentially meatloaf or meatballs served on a bun so that they can be enjoyed in sandwich form. You like sandwiches, meatloaf, and meatballs, right? And you may argue it's gross on bread as it has bread inside, but that's a dangerous line of reasoning. Think it through, and you'll realize you're ultimately making a case for the Double Down at KFC. Nobody wants to enable that monstrosity.

Personally, I'm a fan of mixing soaked bread mash and bacon grease with hamburger when doing family picnics, as they're near-indestructible to overcooking. Plus, my mom is paranoid about any meat that is even slightly red.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:08 PM on September 18, 2009


Sitting in my grandmother's kitchen, eating a home made hamburger with oatmeal in the mix. Home raised and butchered cow, home grown tomato, lettuce, tart mustard, home canned pickles, home made bread. Some sweet tea, a big fresh baked from scratch chocolate chip cookie. Out to watch the lightning storm. Sigh. Best ever.
posted by effluvia at 6:18 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I can't even tell you how much I've enjoyed reading this thread.
posted by Neofelis at 6:55 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


i call shenanigans: if they eat squirrels in the south you can
bet these burgers were made of actual slugs
posted by liza at 8:20 PM on September 18, 2009


I started out making hamburgers with at least a handful of Saltine crumbs to the pound, by family tradition; I was told that they helped bind the meat together. I left them out eventually because they made the burgers too salty for my taste.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2009


Eating one in a Volkswagon really makes my shoulders hurt.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:39 PM on September 18, 2009


SEYMORE! SEYMORE!
posted by zinfandel at 9:08 PM on September 18, 2009


Huh, I make hamburger patties from ground beef and add breadcrumbs in to improve the texture and I'm HK Canadian.

Unadultered 100% ground beef patties tend to fall apart on me and end up rather dry (I suspect that the breadcrumbs soak up some of the tallow/fat that would have otherwise dripped out), even with cheapassed too-fatty ground beef either on the grill, in a skillet, or in the oven.

But then again, I have a tin of "No Frills Brand" of escargots in my pantry.

(Haven't tried them... a lottle scared to)

posted by porpoise at 9:09 PM on September 18, 2009


Gotta love The Daily Corinthian, right? "Main Street officials also credited the good attendance Thursday night to a performance by Elvis impersonator Tommy Browder, a McNairy County native. Browder sang Elvis tunes for an hour, never taking a break in the heat."

That's culture.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:17 PM on September 18, 2009


First and most importantly, if a slugburger was actually made of slug, I would eat it in a heartbeat. In fact, I am very tempted to mince some escargots for tomorrow's dinner.

Secondly, we have been having an ongoing experiment in our household as to what makes the best burger (trying a bunch of additional ingredients including breadcrumbs, onion, chili, garlic and so on). The results were not what I expected, given that the test subjects were notoriously finicky children with a vegetarian mother. However they were unequivocal (and I personally had to agree with them). The best burgers are made from very lean ground beef with the addition of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and olive oil. That is all. They need to be quite big (6-9 oz) and be made with a dimple in the center. Cook 'em hot and fast. They do not fall apart and they are absolutely delicious. Accept no substitutes.
posted by unSane at 9:19 PM on September 18, 2009


Tell me more about the "dimple in the centre"
posted by Rumple at 9:22 PM on September 18, 2009


Having grown up in Selmer, Tennessee -- just north of Corinth, Miss, and the county seat of McNairy County, TN (apparently home to Elvis impersonator Tommy Browder), I have to cop to having eaten gobs of these things. Slugburgers were more of the Mississippi name for them, as far as I knew; we called them cereal burgers. The texture is gritty and greasy, and their flavor is absolutely related but fundamentally unlike meatballs, meatloaf, or any of the other "breadcrumbs or other filler mixed with ground meat" staples of American cuisine. the first time I read of the taste sense of umami I immediately associated it cereal burgers, because they seem to bypass the gratification one feels from a great hamburger and satisfy on a different level. Maybe flafel, hummus, refried beans would be better comparisons than those.

I love a good hamburger, probably prefer one to a couple of cereal/slugburgers (and you always buy at least two, they are just slightly smaller than the small hamburger at Burger King or McDonald's, and as far I have always known pair it with a bottle of NuGrape), but they are goddamned satisfying in some way that must be more than my own childhood nostaligia (strong, as my mom's office was located next to two burger shacks in the late 70s/early 80s, both of which are still there, the real estate office in which she worked long replaced), the graininess and very slight beef flavor delighting your palate and your stomach. And they can in no way be less greasy than a regular burger -- something all-beef may have more animal fat within, but these things soak up the greasefat they're fried in like sponges. No worry about mad cow of E. coli, though -- no such thing as rare/medium/well with them, either "done" or I suppose "charred."
posted by sherman at 9:49 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


For those who have trouble with dry burgers falling apart, I had the same problem until I got some schoolin'.

1. Mash the burgers together by hand. Don't wuss out by using the base of a glass or something. You have to really smush them together by hand. Knead it a little, like clay.

2. Flip the burger ONCE while cooking. Set the timer and leave the room if you have to. Don't keep poking and prodding and flipping and fussing with it. Just let it cook.

3. Do not mash it with a spatula while cooking. This squeezes all the juice out.

Basically: put it in the pan, cook one side, flip it, cook the other side, THAT'S ALL.
posted by ErikaB at 10:53 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


My family called them depression hamburgers, and even when enough meat was available they were a very delicious treat. Then again, we patted them extra thin and fried them crispy for lots of yum!
posted by Maztec at 11:19 PM on September 18, 2009


I'm I the only person who makes burgers with a raw egg thrown into the mix?
posted by bardic at 2:57 AM on September 19, 2009


Nuh-uh, bardic. We do that round these parts as well. Not always, but sometimes. Helps hold things together!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:29 AM on September 19, 2009


boo_radley - Louis Lunch only serves hotdogs and the like after 6 because they have people lined up and waiting on burgers during the day as it is. There's no need for them.

My grandparents all lived slightly east and north of this 'triangle' in Southern Middle Tennessee, but there was at least a couple joints serving these burgers in my childhood in the 70's and 80's. There's more than just a handful of bread/meal/whatever in them. There's a large percentage of filler. It's odd, but yes- 20 years since I've had one, I could eat one right now.
posted by pupdog at 4:28 AM on September 19, 2009


For those who have trouble with dry burgers falling apart

One trick I learned is to freeze the patties. Probably doesn't help the flavor much, but sometimes I like the patties thin, and most unfrozen ground beef tends to shrink somewhat into a hockey puck shape unless they're formed really flat and then frozen. If flat ones are put on the pan without freezing, they do fall apart.
posted by crapmatic at 4:54 AM on September 19, 2009


bardic - I use raw egg, breadcrumbs and chopped onions; but only when they're going on the grill.
Indoors in a pan, I use just plain meat, or meat and a bit of onions.
posted by bashos_frog at 5:25 AM on September 19, 2009


Slugfish didn't become a popular meal in the US until they changed the name to 'tilapia.'
posted by box at 6:01 AM on September 19, 2009


I grew up in Moulton. Papaw would take my sister and me to "the Greasy Neesy" (NeSmith's), right next to the drugstore where he would have coffee. We called them breadburgers since it was more like a greasy, meat-flavored piece of fried bread between a bun.
posted by beanytacos at 6:38 AM on September 19, 2009


The best burgers are made from very lean ground beef with the addition of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and olive oil.

With you except for the "lean" part. 70% for burgers.

Rumple, the dimple is because the burgers tend to swell in the middle when cooked. So if they start out a little thinner in the middle, they'll end up flat.
posted by palliser at 6:45 AM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I live at the junction of the Tennessee and the Little Tennessee Rivers and I have never heard of slugburgers. Huh. This means I'll hear references to them four times in the next week, right?
posted by workerant at 7:22 AM on September 19, 2009


I have to say, my favorite thing about this thread is probably the way it's brought all the folks from the Tennessee Valley and surrounding areas out of the woodwork. Hi, y'all!
posted by ocherdraco at 8:35 AM on September 19, 2009


My family is from and resides in New Albany, about half an hour from Tupelo. I can say without hesitation that no reasonable food has ever been prepared in Lee County (or the adjacent, remarkably named Union County). There are at least two butter filled casseroles for every one grandma. I'm amazed I didn't have a coronary before the age of seven.

But I've never partaken of slugburger. Time for a trip back home. Thanks, ocherdraco!

As an added bonus, you can buy beer there on Sundays now.
posted by gordie at 9:31 AM on September 19, 2009


This is neat - I never knew this was regional or that this type of burger had a name.

My maternal grandmother, who lived in the Missouri Ozarks her entire life, made hamburgers with bread in them. My mom and I always thought it was something that she and others did during the Great Depression to make an already small meal stretch a little farther. She kept making hamburgers this way until the day she died. The burgers were supposed to be really delicious. She had Alzheimer's by the time I was old enough to know her, so I never got to try one.

She and my grandfather did all sorts of thrifty things until the day she died: saved twisty ties, bread sacks, tinfoil, wrapping paper, canned their own food, etc. When they died, their house was loaded with hundreds of commercial can goods, homemade canned goods, toilet paper. That's what happens when you almost starve to death during the Great Depression.

Thanks for bringing up memories of Granny.
posted by Coyote at the Dog Show at 10:09 AM on September 19, 2009


my grandma calls them German hamburgers.
posted by Del Far at 1:18 PM on September 19, 2009


ugh, those "no frills brand" "escagots" are absolutely terrifyingly gigantically horrible. They did not look like, nor tasted like, nor mouth-feeled liked escargots but rather like oversized slugs. But then, still, again, I didn't smother them in butter and give 'em heat.
posted by porpoise at 12:02 AM on September 20, 2009


I didn't smother them in butter and give 'em heat.

Pourquoi pas, porpoise?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:37 AM on September 20, 2009


Figures. I mean, this is the part of the world that gave us white barbecue. Southern food is always... interesting, and I do love it so. Great links.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:26 AM on September 21, 2009


Here's Big Bob Gibson's recipe for white sauce. Big Bob's is the best known of the barbecue restaurants in my home town, but it's arguable whether or not it's the best. Their white sauce, however, is unparalleled.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:37 AM on September 21, 2009


Penn's is one of my home town spots too. Upon entering the door, it is custom to order to the cook by yelling out your order- "Double cheese- all the way" which of course is a double cheeseburger with mustard, ketchup, pickles and onions. You have to eat it there because the grease- even with the burger wrapped up- will eat through a paper bag before you could get anywhere else.

ocherdraco- great post. I'm pleasantly surprised to see a lot of the N. AL secrets (and metfites) come into the light of day. Big Bob's is good for BBQ stuffed potatoes- but for my money- a family pack from Whitt's is the shit!
posted by puddsharp at 10:24 AM on September 21, 2009


Whitt's is my favorite for pulled pork, too. (Strangely enough, the Whitt's site you linked to isn't the one in Decatur—apparently there's a franchise in Nashville. Here's the Decatur site.)
posted by ocherdraco at 10:59 AM on September 21, 2009


Not only is there a franchise in Nashville, it's what I grew up with and, to this day, what every pulled-pork sandwich must compare to. Whenever someone here in the Northeast tries to give me a sandwich and says 'you'll think you're down south' I know I'm probably in for disappointment.

Crap I'm hungry now.
posted by pupdog at 3:56 AM on September 23, 2009


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