For those of us old enough to remember it (and even for those who aren’t), 1991 was a pivotal year. The Soviet Union broke up. The internet became commercially available. Nirvana started the grunge movement with Smells Like Teen Spirit.
And then there was the matter of shoving White Castle sliders inside a Thanksgiving turkey.
As the story goes, a long-ago employee of White Castle was helping grandma make the turkey that year and, one way or another, a bag of sliders wound up inside the bird. Nobody’s sure if it was a way to save the poor old woman some time (browning the beef and toasting the bread crumbs is a pain, after all.) Or perhaps it was just an excuse to eat White Castle on a holiday that doesn’t embrace fast food. Whatever the case, the White Castle-enriched stuffing was a hit at the table and, soon after, the recipe for The Original Slider Stuffing found its way to company headquarters and, in time, to America.
Today, as homes across the country gear up with the traditional excitement and stress of preparing a meal in which stuffing is the traditional star, White Castle has given its slider stuffing recipe prominent play on its website. It calls for at least 10 of the square mini burgers (12 is preferred) along with more traditional add-ins such as chicken broth, celery and spices. White Castle even modified the ingredients last year and introduced a non-meat version of the recipe, which calls for the chain’s Impossible-brand sliders.
Brands publishing holiday recipes that save time—and call for healthy scoops of their own products—is one of the oldest marketing plays in the book. And this year, it also might be the timeliest: Over half of Americans in a recent OnePoll reported that they feel under the gun to make a perfect meal this year, and 53% said Thanksgiving 2020 will be twice as stressful because of the pandemic.
Little wonder, then, that Kraft-Heinz has a veritable encyclopedia of Thanksgiving recipes including a Garlic Herb-Brined Turkey made with an entire bottle of Kraft Italian dressing, and Conagra (which already owns the Butterball turkey brand) has a nifty recipe for Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Bacon that calls for Birds Eye sprouts and Wish-Bone Italian dressing—two other brands it happens to own.
Even so, when it comes to fast-food chains getting in on this act, White Castle is a pioneer. “With 99 years as a family-owned business … we are proud and humbled to say we were the first fast food restaurant with a signature item that inspired a holiday tradition,” White Castle vice president Jamie Richardson told nitronet. “Would there even be such fanfare for fall-flavored lattes if the original slider stuffing recipe hadn’t paved the way 11 years earlier? You’re welcome, bigger competitors!”
But behind the straightforward strategy of encouraging stressed-out meal preparers to save themselves a little grief and just swing by a local White Castle (which, yes, is open on Thanksgiving), there’s a less obvious bit of machinery operating here: the frozen section.
In addition to coming off its grill lines, White Castle sliders also have a significant presence in the freezer cases at Walmart, Target, any number of supermarket chains and delivery apps like Instacart. Restaurant chains figured out years ago that line extensions to grocery stores supplied not only an added revenue stream, but a no-fuss way to keep their brand names in front of consumer eyeballs. It’s why the aisles are full of products such as Starbucks pre-ground coffee beans and chunky salsa from Chi-Chi’s.