Homemade Cheeseburger Sliders, Two Ways

Monday, August 31, 2015

Disclaimer: I received a product sample and compensation for this post. The opinions and text are all mine.

Summer really flew by this year! It's hard to believe my son is back in school today and Labor Day weekend is just around the corner. I've had an amazing season cooking up all kinds of summer recipes and enjoying the bountiful fresh produce. I've shared with you some new recipes for steak tacos, barbecue sauce, grilled chicken wings and pork chops so far this summer. It was only right to round out the list with burgers, specifically cheeseburger sliders! (Ok, mini double bacon cheeseburgers might stretch the limits of sliders just a tad, but can you blame me? Nobody is saying no to those babies.) Sliders will always be a crowd pleaser, so long as you make them tasty and memorable. I'm doing a little reminiscing writing this post as I enjoyed these burgers before I started my Whole 30 and gave up sugar and grains for awhile. When I can resume eating regular foods, I'm definitely looking forward to sliders being a fun cheat meal on occasion!

When it comes to making burgers, the grill reigns supreme in my opinion, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy sliders even after bbq season comes to an end. For that reason, I'm also sharing my tips for cooking perfect sliders in the oven. Even if you're a pro at making regular sized burgers, sliders present a few challenges. They're small and easy to overcook or fall through grill grates. You typically need to cook several at once to be ready to serve at the same time, which is fine on the grill but indoors requires more space than the typical skillet. And because a good slider is as much about quality beef as it is about the toppings and condiments, I've got a couple tricks up my sleeve in the form of Hatchery Tasting Box ingredients to share with you as well! Hatchery is my favorite subscription service for artisanal food ingredients. I'm big on plating and presentation and think it's fun to serve a tray of perfectly adorned little burgers for guests. I'll go the extra mile for sliders to make a unique burger that you aren't going to find at another cookout. That's where Hatchery comes in. Their collection of seasonings and sauces is extensive. Besides the monthly box of sample sizes you receive, their website features a huge marketplace where you can also order full size products and see all of the other goods they have to offer. I promise, this is the place to get hooked up for that special slider recipe you've been dreaming up. They've got everything from curry ketchup to hot peach chutney, so venture beyond the typical condiments and choose something fun for your creation! Hatchery's even got a burger search tag to make your shopping that much easier.

For today's post, I'm focusing on making the slider patties themselves and highlighting a couple ingredients from the June and July Hatchery boxes. The first is Charleston Gourmet Burger Co.'s original Burger Marinade. I'll admit I was a skeptic the first time I received my sample, as I'd always just stuck to pure ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper on the outside. But one night I accidentally grabbed a package of 90% lean beef - way more lean the usual 80% that I prefer for burgers. I knew I'd need something to add a little flavor and moisture if these burgers would be worth making. That's when I remembered I hadn't yet tried my Burger Marinade. The ingredients listed molasses, sugar, cloves, anchovies and other spices, putting it somewhere in the neighborhood of a good steak sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Perfect. I mixed a quarter cup into my meat, formed my patties, and the rest was history. Instead of being dry and bland as I feared with leaner beef, they were juicy and full of flavor. After that, it became a favorite secret weapon of mine with all my burgers, regardless of the kind of meat I have. I suspect it would also be awesome in meatballs and meatloaf!

The second ingredient was one I chose myself at Hatchery's marketplace and was pleasantly surprised to also see it as a sample in July's box. I'm a huge fan of smoked sea salts. They are one of my favorite finishing touches on everything from grilled vegetables to fried eggs. I was especially impressed with Laguna Salt Company's Summer Smoke sea salt. As soon as you open it, you're hit with a waft of pure barbecue heaven. Usually when you buy smoked sea salt you have to choose between hickory or applewood, but Laguna Salt Company uses a blend of pecan, red oak, alder, cherry, hickory, maple, and mesquite woods. It's one of the most assertive and interesting smoked salts I've found. In this recipe, I use it to breathe some life into oven broiled burgers for those days you can't get to a grill!

So you've got a flavorful, juicy beef patty and picked out a fun condiment or two to compliment it. Other important things to consider are slider buns and toppings. If you're lucky, you can find some decent slider rolls in your grocery's bakery section. If you're ambitious, you can make your own, like the light brioche buns I baked above. I was a little nervous about baking bread but they turned out to be an easy weekend project and really took my sliders to another level. The other homemade project I tackled for sliders this summer was learning how to make my own refrigerator pickles. Besides being cheaper than buying good pickles at the deli, they're ridiculously easy to do yourself and you get to tweak the flavor to your liking. I've been pickling all summer and really see how people get into this! If pickles aren't your thing, consider another flavor bomb for sliders: caramelized onions. I've turned to these sweet and savory onions more than a few times for past recipes and still believe they are hard to beat!! Caramelized onions do take a lot of time to make, but the good news is they are easy to do in large batches (in a crockpot, at that.) So whip up a batch when you have a free day and freeze for future uses - like a spontaneous decision to make sliders!

Homemade Cheeseburger Sliders, Two Ways

1 lb lean ground beef
1/4 c. Charleston Gourmet Burger Co. Burger Marinade
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
Laguna Salt Company Summer Smoke sea salt, optional finish
8 oz. cheese that melts easily
8 slider rolls
2 tbsp melted butter
Non-stick grilling spray or oil for the grates

Garnishes, condiments & toppings - Choose your own, or to recreate the burgers pictured:

Double Cheeseburger Slider:
American deli cheese
Applewood smoked bacon (baked until crisp)
Sauteed diced onion
Yellow mustard
Homemade ketchup (or try Kensington's Kensington's Classic Ketchup)
Homemade Bread & butter pickles

Bistro Slider:
Sharp cheddar cheese
Caramelized onions
Baby arugula

Servings: 8 sliders
Prep Time: 15 min*
Cook Time: 15 min*
Suggested Equipment: Charcoal or gas grill set up for direct heat, instant read meat thermometer, slider grill basket or two baking racks and heavy baking pan

*Total prep/cook time will vary based on other garnishes and condiments used.

Whether you plan to cook your sliders on the grill or broil them in the oven, you'll start your prep the same way.  In a large bowl, break up the ground beef. Add 1/4 cup of burger marinade and use your hands to gently incorporate it into the meat.

Sliders should be made in a uniform size. You can weigh them out or just use a measuring cup or slider sized burger press to help with portioning them. Around 1/4 cup was just the right size here, but you may want to adjust to fit your buns.

Gently press each portion of meat between your hands to form the slider patties. Try not to overwork the meat, just handle it enough so that it comes together. Patties should be slightly larger than the diameter of your buns to account for shrinkage after cooking. You can do this part in advance if necessary and refrigerate the formed patties (use a layer of parchment or wax paper if you need to stack them.) Just before cooking, season the outside of the patties with salt and pepper.

If you're grilling, the easiest way to handle sliders is with a slider basket. That allows you to flip them on the grill all at once instead of having to manage individually and risk sliders slipping through grill grates. A slider basket will either be a freeform press, or a contraption like the one below with spaces sized for each slider. I wasn't particularly fond of this one and will probably look for a freeform press in the future, which is more flexible for sizing your burger patties.

Once your grill is lit, clean and oil your grates. These will be cooked quickly over direct heat. I allowed for a moderate flame for a little bit of char, and flipped the burgers several times over the course of about 6 minutes to cook them all the way through. Unlike full size burgers that you may take the time to cook to order for your guests, it's easiest and safest to just make sure all sliders are medium well to well done. Aim for an internal temperature of 150°F to 160°F to adequately cook your sliders without drying them out.

Random side note - I actually stirred my sauteed onions into the burger mix for this batch. I know that's approaching "meatloaf" territory but it works!

If you're cooking indoors, preheat your broiler on high and arrange the top rack in the highest position. Now here's my trick to cooking all the sliders at once without them puffing up! Line a heavy baking pan with foil or parchment paper and lay your first baking rack down. Spray the rack with nonstick grilling spray and arrange your slider patties in rows. Then spray your second baking rack, and lay it down over the patties. Now you have a makeshift slider press to keep the burgers flat!

Slide the burgers into the oven. Depending on your broiler, it should only take about 5 minutes to cook through. I pull them out just shy of that to add my cheese. You can remove the top baking rack at this point. This is way easier than a skillet when you have a crowd to feed.

Add your cheese, whether shredded or sliced. Then pop the rack back into the oven.

Broil for just another minute until the cheese is melted, and sprinkle the cooked patties with smoked sea salt if using. I take advantage of having a hot oven to also toast my slider buns in the last few minutes, and brush the tops of the buns with melted butter after dressing the sliders. A cocktail skewer helps to keep loaded sliders in place for serving!

Hopefully these tips help you to successfully create your own restaurant worthy sliders right at home! Whether you're making them for a fun night in or for your next cookout, sliders are a fun project full of opportunities to get creative. Be sure to check out Hatchery's line of specialty ingredients to add those unique finishing touches to your sliders!

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