See Also: White Castle Turkey Stuffing - Hamburgers
In 1921, Walter A. Anderson (a short-order cook) and E.W. Ingram (an insurance executive) founded White Castle in Wichita, Kansas. It is the oldest hamburger chain. They served steam-fried hamburgers, 18 per pound of fresh ground beef, cooked on a bed of chopped (or sliced) onions, for a nickel.
White Castle began using frozen hamburgers in 1931 and all White Castle outlets were using them by 1933. The 5 holes were added in the late 1940s.
Sources differ on whether chopped or sliced onions were first used, and if sliced, when the switch was made to chopped.
I don't have dates on the switch from fresh to dehydrated onions.
White Castle sells about 500 million hamburgers a year.
Email comment 2/1/2006
Dear Mr. Ehler:
May I thank you for your incredible website. It really is great.
As an almost daily customer of White Castles since they first arrived in New York City, I may be able to shed some light on several questions which have arisen over their original makeup and cooking procedure.
The original White Castle hamburgers consisted of fresh ground beef which was formed into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. These balls were made by a machine in each restaurant, as I was informed by several of their operators, whom I befriended since I was such a steady customer.
These balls were stacked in layers separated by wax paper in their refrigeraters until needed. Then they were placed on the grill, using slight pressure so they would not roll.
Then a handfull of thinly sliced (not chopped) fresh onion was placed atop the ball. After they had cooked slightly, they were flipped over so that the onion was on the bottom and then squashed flat so that the ball of beef turned into a patty. The sliced bun was then placed on top of the patty, the bottom of the bun first, so that the juices from the cooking beef and onion would permeate the bun.
When the burgers were done, the operator would insert the hamburger flipper under the patty and flip it onto a plate, putting the bun top on top and inserting a slice of dill pickle. The addition of catsup or mustard was always left to the customer.
The operators I knew told me that this procedure was strictly enforced by the management and that no deviation was tolerated.
The original burgers were grilled, not steamed (although some steam was generated by the moisture in the onions). Later when they switched to using Swifts frozen patties and to using dehydrated onions instead of fresh, was when they placed their patties on a bed of re-hydrated onions.
I believe they made the switch to dehydrated onion at the same time as when they made the switch to frozen patties, because I never saw frozen patties cooked with fresh onions.
I wonder if the company intended to rewrite history because in the book "Buy "Em By The Sack" no mention is made about White Castle's use of fresh beef and fresh onions.
After the big switch, I tried the new burgers with frozen beef and dehydrated onions, but the magic had gone and soon so was I. That's when I stopped being a regular customer of White Castle.
You youngsters who've never tasted the originals don't know what you're missing.