White Castle Vs Krystal: Everything You Need To Know

In a showdown between White Castle versus Krystal, which one has your vote? It can be difficult to choose since both of these hamburger slider restaurants have been tempting taste buds for generations. Since they're largely located in different regions, you may have only tried one and not the other. Or perhaps you're wondering if the competitor is worth a visit on your next road trip. Whatever is driving your curiosity about the differences between the two, we have you covered.

There are plenty of similarities, starting from the fact that both sell sliders and have lots of choices for every meal of the day. They also each have legions of dedicated fans. However, menu items, where you can find them, and fan mania, are among the aspects that differ. Of course, which one has the best burger is a matter of personal opinion. We took a look at White Castle and Krystal from a variety of angles to give you a bird's-eye view of how the two chains compare.

They started with wildly different budgets in neighboring decades

While White Castle and Krystal both started out selling hamburger sliders, one inspired the other over a decade later. White Castle was the original hamburger slider restaurant, starting business in 1921. Owner Billy Ingram only had $700 to get the restaurant off the ground — the equivalent of about $11,070 today. The chain sold its sliders for just 5 cents each, which is only 79 cents in today's currency. White Castle claims to be the world's first fast-food hamburger chain and to have invented carryout six years later. Selling burgers by the bagful made it even more profitable.

Krystal didn't exist until 11 years later in 1932. So, of course, it followed White Castle's model. Even though Krystal opened its doors as the Great Depression was underway, it started with a much larger budget of $5,000 — the same as $105,050 today and over nine times the amount White Castle first invested. Krystal also started by selling six sliders and a coffee for 35 cents, which would be $7.35 today. Things haven't changed all that much, considering the Original Krystal slider is currently only $1.19.

Krystal was more popular with Elvis Presley and Ronald Reagan

Only one chain inspired large orders from both Elvis Presley and Ronald Reagan. Since Krystal has a big presence in Memphis, Tennessee, Presley often made huge orders of sliders for everyone at Graceland to enjoy. However, his connection with Krystal goes back to 1954 before he was a star. On the day of his first live radio broadcast in Memphis, he ordered 100 sliders to hand out to his new fans. Even now, there's a Krystal located on Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis.

After President Ronald Reagan's visit to Chattanooga (home of the original Krystal) in 1987 to speak at a high school graduation, he made a famous Krystal order. Being from Tennessee, the president's chief of staff, Senator Howard Baker, was a big Krystal fan and suggested it provide catering for the president, who also liked the famous sliders. Krystal set up two grills next to Air Force One to prepare fresh hamburgers and used the airport kitchen to make french fries for the President and his staff to eat on their trip back to Washington, D.C. The order consisted of 120 sliders with cheese and 40 orders of fries. Plus, 35 of those aboard Air Force One got chocolate shakes.

Both started with strict rules about being clean

A clean image was necessary for both restaurants when they opened because of the way hamburgers were viewed in the early 1900s. Potential customers were not yet convinced that hamburgers were safe to eat due to their reputation for being processed in unsanitary conditions with waste meat.

White Castle aimed for a clean image from the start. Not only did the restaurant gleam with an interior full of shiny porcelain enamel and stainless steel, but to assure customers of the quality of the meat, the employees ground it in full view. Employees also had rules related to clean breath and teeth, no body odor, no gum, keeping their hair trimmed, and being clean-shaven. The company required them to wash their hands and their white uniform needed to be immaculate as well, with no patches, neatly cuffed shirt sleeves, a hat, a non-frayed tie, their shirt tucked in, and a neatly fastened apron. Even today, the chain posts its health scores online.

Krystal's name came from its drive to be extremely clean. One of the co-owner's wives, Mary Davenport, was impressed with the cleanliness of a crystal ball she saw and wanted that type of image for the restaurant. Unfortunately, the image didn't last, but in 2023 its marketing executive announced the company is making strides to restore its clean image to what it once was.

Both offer breakfast

No matter which restaurant you choose, you can count on a great breakfast variety. Both of these slider chains rank among the top 10 fast-food breakfast offerings.

Krystal's breakfast lineup includes a lot of options, such as biscuits with combinations of eggs, cheese, sausage, bacon, chicken, or spicy chicken. Scrambler Breakfast Bowls come with grits topped with scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon or sausage (minus grits for a low-carb option). The Sunriser is a breakfast slider with the signature bun, sausage, egg, and cheese. For a sweet treat, try the donut holes, aka Glaze Bombs. All the breakfast plates come with a biscuit and eggs, but you can choose between tots and grits and assorted breakfast meats. Combos are available with tots and small drinks.

Breakfast at White Castle looks very different and focuses on sandwiches. You can get Breakfast Sliders with signature buns, Belgian Waffles, or toast. All the egg-based sandwiches come with a choice of sausage or hickory smoked bacon and either jalapeño cheddar or smoked cheddar cheese. There's also a Chicken and Waffles Slider that comes with bacon. All the combos come with a sandwich, small coffee, and hash browns. You can also order Mini Belgian Waffles or Hash Brown Nibblers as a standalone snack.

Chicken, beef, and seafood lovers all have plenty of choices at both locations

When you think of White Castle and Krystal, burger sliders usually come to mind. After all, sliders gave both restaurants their starts. However, they have each diversified over the years, after realizing customers aren't just looking for hamburgers.

You'll find the usual beef suspects on the Krystal and White Castle menus. Both have original, double, cheese, and bacon cheese slider options. However, White Castle goes a step further by offering The 1921 Slider with regular hamburger fixings, like tomatoes, lettuce, and pickles, as well as cheddar cheese and caramelized onions. You can also order The Impossible Slider With Smoked Cheddar Cheese for a meat-free bite.

Seafood and chicken lovers also have lots of options. At Krystal, you can get a shrimp po'boy, a shrimp basket with fries, or a crab-based slider. White Castle has regular and spicy shrimp options, as well as two fish sliders (one with crispy panko breading). Other seafood options include fried clams or fish sticks. If you're looking for chicken at Krystal, there's a regular and spicy chicken slider. However, if you're at White Castle, there are a few more chicken options, including sliders that feature chicken, Chicken Rings, chicken and waffles, or bacon and cheddar. Plus, you can buy Chicken Rings separately. Oddly enough, the White Castle menu doesn't capitalize on the spicy chicken craze.

The side item game is better at White Castle

White Castle has a few more side dish options than Krystal, however, the two chains each offer items that are a little out of the ordinary. We like that Krystal calls them "snacks and sides" instead of just "sides," which fits into the snacky way many people like to eat. However, White Castle still wins the side game on variety and quantity.

Krystal's sides contain a mix of the ordinary and the unusual. You can get fries and tater tots as expected, however, you can also choose a bowl of chili or donut holes. White Castle has taken its side menu game to the next level by adding fried Chicken Rings, Shrimp (regular and spicy) and Fish Nibblers, and clam strips. The vegetarian options include classics like regular or loaded fries, onion rings or chips, tater tots, or cheesy mozzarella sticks. 

Only Krystal serves hot dogs

If you have a craving for hot dogs and a choice between White Castle and Krystal, you're going to have to choose the latter because it's the only one with hot dogs on the menu. As all-American as hot dogs might be, they're not as common on fast food menus as you'd think.

Just as you don't get a full-sized hamburger at Krystal, where sliders reign supreme, you can't get a full-sized hotdog. Instead of "hotdogs," the chain offers "Pups." There are Classic Pups and Corn Pups (like a corn dog) that come with mustard. You can also order a Chili Cheese Pup, which probably inspired the addition of chili to the Snacks & Sides menu. The chili cheese version is so popular that you can buy them by the dozen. On National Chili Dog Day (the last Thursday in July) you can sometimes get up to five Chili Cheese Pups for $1 each.

Krystal has a wider variety of dessert options

Both Krystal and White Castle have a dessert menu, however, Krystal's has a wider variety of options to feed different cravings. At White Castle, all the desserts come on a stick. You can get a strawberry cheesecake, brownie (dipped in fudge), or gooey butter cake (otherwise known as chess cake) — all served like a popsicle. While those are great options, they only manage to satisfy a craving for cakey desserts.

Meanwhile, Krystal offers a wider dessert assortment to fit different moods. You can get apple turnovers, donut holes, sundaes, or milkshakes. So, there's an opportunity to satisfy your sweet tooth with fried sweets or frozen dairy desserts. The sundaes come in the standard chocolate or strawberry flavors and there's also an Oreo option. The milkshakes come in the same flavors as the sundaes, along with a Reese's option and occasional special flavors. You can also order the turnovers and donut holes in larger quantities.

White Castle has a stronger presence in the US than Krystal

If you're traveling around the U.S., you're more likely to encounter a White Castle than a Krystal restaurant. White Castle has more locations in more states, territories, and cities across the country. Unfortunately, both have dwindled to fewer locations than previously as they struggle to stay afloat. 

White Castle keeps closing down more and more decades-old locations and is dealing with a multi-billion dollar lawsuit, which doesn't bode well for the future. As of early 2024, it only has 349 locations in 15 states and territories and 223 cities. Most of them are in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, as well as other Midwestern states like Michigan, Missouri, and Minnesota. There are a few in the Southeast in Kentucky, some in the Northeast in New York and New Jersey, and you can even find them in Nevada.

Krystal filed for bankruptcy in 2020 and dwindled by 21% fewer locations between 2018 and 2023 (per Restaurant Business). It's left with only 293 locations in 10 states and territories and 191 cities. You'll mainly find Krystals in the Southeastern part of the U.S., as there are more locations in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama than in other states. As well, you can pop into Krystal in Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The only non-Southeastern location with a Krystal is Puerto Rico, with one location. 

Only White Castle sells products at grocery stores

Even if you don't have a White Castle nearby, you still may be able to sample some of its products from the frozen food section of a grocery store near you. White Castle has been in the grocery business since the late '80s, so it's nothing new. Interestingly, Krystal has never tried selling its products in stores.

There are three categories of White Castle products that you can buy from a grocery store: sliders, rings, and bites. It offers frozen versions of its original and cheeseburger sliders, as well as the chicken and cheesy chicken sliders. You can also buy Chicken Rings by the bag. There are also some items available at the grocery store that aren't restaurant menu staples. You can now get Jalapeño Cheese Sliders and Spicy Chicken Rings, along with Hamburger Castle Bites and Cheeseburger Castle Bites. For the uninitiated, Burger Bites are White Castle's frozen answer to pizza rolls.

Both promote Valentine's Day dates

White Castle has been hosting special Valentine's Day dates since 1991, and Krystal is following in its footsteps with some special deals of its own. At White Castle, lovebirds have to act fast at the beginning of January to get a reservation to the "Love Castle." Even if you don't manage to get a reservation, you can order a Love Clutch Collection on the days surrounding V-Day. It contains 10 sliders, 20 Chicken Rings, and a bag of fries to share with those you love. Alternatively, you can get Love Kits with a dozen sliders you can make at home, pickles, cards, and a scented candle. The chain also offers merch like a Love Castle Robe, Love Castle Sunglasses, and two types of Love Castle t-shirts to purchase for yourself and your loved ones.

Krystal has recently started to copy its competitor's V-Day ideas but on a much smaller scale. While it doesn't (yet) offer a romantic reservations-only dining meal, it has a special Twin Flame Meal which features four Krystal hamburger sliders and two chicken or crab sliders to take home or eat at the restaurant. Both members of the couple get their own apple turnover and small drink, plus there's an order of chili cheese fries to share. While eating your Twin Flame Meal, you can play a special Kiss and Tell Krystal playlist from one of three streaming music services.

Only White Castle has inspired a movie

White Castle showed up on more people's radar in 2004 when it became central to the adventures of a cult classic movie called "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle." As you can imagine, the movie's shenanigans result from Harold and Kumar deciding to take a trip to White Castle.

Prompted by a White Castle commercial and a case of the munchies, roommates Harold and Kumar set out to get some sliders. Much chaos ensues, after which they both order a gargantuan feast when they finally arrive at the restaurant. The two stoned adventurers each chow down on an order of 30 sliders and five large fries. Harold washes his meal down with five Cherry Cokes, while Kumar opts for Diet Coke. All the food they put away has inspired many eating competitions.

Krystal has yet to have its own dedicated movie, but perhaps one day the right script will come along.

Only Krystal has hosted a hamburger-eating competition

Oddly enough, Krystal is the only one of the two restaurants that has hosted hamburger-eating competitions. You would assume White Castle would have capitalized on an eating competition after the munchie-fueled feast at the end of the Harold and Kumar movie, but no.

The first Krystal Square Off World Hamburger Eating Championship occurred in September 2004 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, just a couple of months after the White Castle movie was released. So, it's easy to imagine the slider-binge-eating episode in the movie inspiring the real-life eating competition at the other chain.

The winner of the first Krystal hamburger-eating competition, Takeru Kobayashi from Japan, managed to sling back 69 sliders in eight minutes, earning him a $10,000 prize. Plus, he brought home a burger-shaped trophy made from hand-blown glass and a fancy Krystal-branded belt. Since then, Joey Chestnut has beaten Kobayashi's record by scarfing down 103 sliders in eight minutes in 2007.

They both have a hall of fame for fans

Being a big slider fan has its perks at both restaurants. If you can prove your dedication, you can be inducted into the fan hall of fame. Krystal urges its fans to prove their love for a chance of making it into the Krystal Lovers Hall of Fame. Thousands of emails and online messages pour in from customers professing their love each year. These hall of famers end up with their pictures or stories featured on hamburger boxes. One hall of famer loves the chain so much that he worked there for 48 years, another traveled 300 miles to eat his favorite sliders, and another served 100 sliders at her wedding.

White Castle gets thousands of entries for induction into its White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame each year but only accepts a handful. There's even a Craver in Extremis category for celebrities like Alice Cooper and Stan Lee. Of course, the lead actors from the "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" movie, Kal Penn and John Cho, are in this special fan category. Hall-of-famer stories include a man who held up his wedding for 20 minutes so his groomsmen could chow down on sliders, one who served 200 sliders at his late father's funeral because both had been huge fans, and another who drove for an hour in a blizzard to get some sliders.