The '80s Burger King Sliders You Forgot Existed

Fast food restaurants all have their signature items. At Burger King, it's the Whopper. McDonald's has the Big Mac. But these chains don't rest on the laurels of their success with these hit hamburgers. All the major fast food establishments continually introduce new menu items to satisfy customer demand and hopefully boost sales. Even the Whopper wasn't on the original Burger King menu, in 1954 (via Reference for Business). BK's founders came up with the Whopper three years later, when they discovered that a small restaurant in the same neighborhood as a Burger King in Gainesville, Florida was doing better business with a bigger burger (via The Gainesville Sun).

In fact, the best innovations in fast food are often copies of someone else's ideas. (Consider all the chains entering the chicken sandwich wars by copying Chick-fil-A's version, per Business Insider.) Just like the Whopper, the Big Mac was inspired by the oversized sandwiches sold in local diners where that McDonald's burger was invented, in 1967 (via Love Food). By 1987, Burger King decided hamburgers were trending in the opposite direction. Instead of going big, like the Whopper, they went small, like White Castle or Krystal. That year, BK introduced a slider three-pack called Burger Bundles (via YouTube). The Burger Bundles were one of those notorious fast food "limited time offers," so they weren't available for long, but they came back in 1989 as a slightly revised two-pack called Burger Buddies (via In The 80s).

Were Burger King sliders an attempt to copy White Castle's success?

Why did Burger King all of a sudden introduce sliders in 1987? Maybe because White Castle was having a cultural moment in the mid-1980s. In 1986, according to the White Castle history webpage, both the rock group The Smithereens and hip-hoppers The Beastie Boys name-dropped White Castle on their new albums. The Beastie Boys clearly were White Castle regulars. According to Cheapism, the group mentions White Castle in five different songs from its 1986 album. Then, in 1987, White Castle sliders started showing up in the grocer's freezer aisle. This move proved to be a winner. By 2015, the White Castle slider was the No. 1-selling frozen hamburger in the U.S., according to Quality Assurance magazine.

But Burger King couldn't really imitate White Castle's success after all. What killed the Burger King slider — the Bundles and the Buddies both — was the very same flame-broiling process that BK always touts. White Castle steams its small slider patties on a flat-top grill, over a layer of diced onions, according to Cheapism. Those little round BK slider patties, on the other hand, slipped too often through the broiler's grill (via Nation's Restaurant News).