White Castle: Far Worse Than I'd Imagined

If you believe that you crave this crap, seek help

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By David Hammond

White Castle has a significant place in the history of American popular food, and its influence has spread up the food chain to influence many fancier places that now feel obliged to offer "sliders" of Kobe and foie gras.

Recently, I was talking to my oldest daughter, Abigail, and I mentioned that I couldn't see how anyone could actually "crave" White Castle products.

"When's the last time you had one," she asked, with challenge in her voice.

I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a White Castle hamburger.

So walking along Cermak in Chicago a few days later, I stopped in at a WC (an acronym that now seems presciently accurate).

During the 1980s, I did a lot of consulting work with McDonald's, and although I rarely eat at McDonald's, I do admire the Henry Ford-like efficiency of their assembly-line food delivery system (with many innovations thanks to Oak Parker Ray Kroc, who revolutionized the industry, allowing for truly "fast" food).

At WC, I had ordered two sliders and a small fries – I didn't time it, but I'd estimate it took more than five minutes to get my order together; there were people at the drive-through, but only one other person in line; at various points in my short visit, two different WC employees people came to get my order and take my money; there seemed no obvious organization to what they were doing.

What I received was two double cheeseburgers and a medium onion rings, but I'd already opened the package, so I just accepted my fate. I didn't want to wait another five minutes. Unfortunately, I was hungry so I ate one of the double cheeseburgers, though I could only eat one and one-half onion rings.

To say it was bad would not begin to describe this eating experience, and I realize this is not exactly a bulletin to the world, but I had no idea that the sliders were so thoroughly abhorrent.

The meat was grey, and the texture was such that it wasn't clear if the meat was actually cooked or just tinted: it was very, very soft. So soft and thin, in fact, you could actually bend the patty over without breaking it.

The onion rings were astoundingly free of flavor. I don't even know how you could drain an onion of taste to the degree that these onion rings were tasteless. They came with "zinger sauce," which I believe was a type of cheese food product.

People say WC sliders are greasy, but I would have appreciated a little actual animal grease in this food; it might have added some flavor.

I do not believe I'm an abstemious eater, but eating at  WC made me feel unclean.

According to the WC website, "White Castle is more than a company. It's an experience that transcends time, space and sometimes, rational thought." To that list of things transcended, I'd add "taste."

I try not to be judgmental (really, I do), but there is something very wrong if you crave food like this.

Now, while I was there, a woman came in with a small child and bought a slider for each of them. I found that kind of touching, as it was clear this lady probably didn't have money for much more. More's the pity, and I understand, appreciate and weep for people who are left with so few choices about dinner.

But if you have options, and you eat at White Castle, and you're not falling down drunk or so chemically altered as to be irresponsible for your actions, and if you believe that you crave this crap, seek help.

As for me, well, I'm glad I tried it. I consider eating stuff like this part of a continuing education about food. And as Bruce Willis said in the rather odd movie version of Fast Food Nation, "We all have to eat a little shit from time to time."

Reader Comments

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Posted: August 20th, 2014 6:44 AM

Pretentious POS.

doc walsh from wooddale  

Posted: June 1st, 2012 8:05 PM

most of my 90 year old friends are still eatihg at white castle


Posted: June 1st, 2012 4:26 PM

McDonald's food isn't as fresh as implied. If that were the case, you would wait just as long for your order as your do at WC. Maybe they aren't sitting around like they used to, but they are being nuked, no way that your burger is made to order with the rate of speed that it's served. Same with the fries, they are either cold or you can tell that they just re-dipped them in the fryer so they seem fresh. Very rarely have I ever gotten REALLY fresh fries from McD's.


Posted: June 1st, 2012 4:21 PM

I wouldn't assume that the woman could only afford one burger for each of her kids. Maybe she was giving them a treat. There are still some people left who don't eat fast food on a regular basis so something like WC is a treat and maybe that is what she was doing.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 1st, 2012 2:00 PM

David Hammond, as you assumed the woman was not able to buy her two kids more than one hamburger a piece, you can also notice that the workers at a White Castle appear to be in the same income level. The slowness of the employees and the accuracy of your order demonstrates what you should expect each time from a White Castle. Your best choice that I have discovered is going to the one at Ogden and Harlem avenue.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 1st, 2012 1:56 PM

Patricia O'Shea, thank you for the customer number at McDonald's. I called corporate to let them know the terrible job the McDonald's location at Des Plaines and Madison in Forest Park was doing and no reply. I gave that place 3 different visits to get an ice tea order correct in the drive through. McDonald's stays profitable because of the ridiculous amount of advertising dollars the spend to make that happen.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 1st, 2012 1:53 PM

Patricia O'Shea, McDonald's is taste like food created in a lab to make it as cheap as possible for the consumers and very profitable for the corporation. The white chicken you mention is formed white meat from tired old Chickens. Compare a Coke from McDonald's and one from any other fast food place. McDonald's changes the formula to make it profitable for them and a lot for you.

Craver from Oak Park  

Posted: May 31st, 2012 4:19 PM

Yes, sliders are grey because they are steamed on top of bed of onions, not fried or grilled. McD's or BK burgers are just as grey on the inside. And steamed White Castles may actually be the healthier option since frying and grilling of beef is known to form carcinogenic compounds. Given a choice, I'd still chose a slider over McDonald's, BK, or Wendys.


Posted: May 29th, 2012 5:14 PM

I agree, chicken rings are the best! I have had that problem with McD's too, the cold food. I don't go there often but when I do, I always go to the one by corporate in Oakbrook. The food is perfect every time.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 2:28 PM

@glitter: It shouldn't be. If you have any problems with a specific restaurant, I suggest first talking to the manager. If you're not satisfied please call the national customer service number. We want to ensure that we correct any problems and leave you, our customer, satisfied. 1-800-244-6227.


Posted: May 29th, 2012 2:21 PM

@Dave, chicken rings taste better than McNuggets, IMO. @Patricia, if McD's food doesn't sit around, then why is the food sometimes cold?

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 1:05 PM

@Lynn, McDonald's food is made to order and you can order it however you want (no ketchup, extra cheese, hold the mayo... The "sitting around" model you reference was phased out in the late 90s. McDonald's has a wide variety of foods from burgers made as you like to great coffees and blended drinks to salads and oatmeal. Also, David, McDonald's Chicken is all white meat, wrapped up in a crisp tempura batter. Just want to make sure the right info is out there!

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 9:58 AM

Gray meat is not unusual at WC, as far as I can tell. The meat is "steamed," not griddle fried, so one would expect no caramelization or browning. I have not had the chicken rings (I'm guessing like McNuggest, right?), but I will try to screw up my courage and give them a shot.


Posted: May 28th, 2012 7:54 PM

Go back and get the chicken rings with honey mustard sauce.As far as the burgers, I have never had anything close to what you described...my order is always correct , very fresh and never any gray meat. As a matter of fact the only thing I don't care for are the fries. As far as your wait, WC makes their burgers to order, unlike McDonalds so you do have to wait. But I would rather wait than have a burger that has been sitting there for who knows how long.

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