Why This Depression-Era Burger Used Flour As An Ingredient

During financially lean times, it pays for people to resourcefully make the most of what they have while faced with difficult choices daily. Whether it's rationing food and essentials or finding creative ways to stretch out the usefulness of a product, necessity truly becomes the mother of invention.

One variation on the almighty hamburger that became popular amid the period of tremendous scarcity known as The Great Depression was the slugburger. Despite its unappetizing moniker, the slugburger started simply as a patty of beef or pork to which Depression-era cooks added potato flour as filler to extend the meat's utility. 

The history of slugburgers is believed to date back even further though, to 1917 in Corinth, Mississippi, according to the town's website. A man named John Weeks was selling burgers out of a mobile eatery that sounds like a precursor to the modern food truck, when he realized that his limited budget necessitated making his meat supplies last longer.

To address the problem, he asked his butchers to grind the burger with potato flakes and flour, thus inventing the slugburger. Weeks originally sold his slugburgers for 5 cents each, or about $1.16 in 2021 dollars when adjusted for inflation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Talk about a value menu!

Commemorating the slugburger

Slugburgers have survived to the present day, and in Corinth, Mississippi, the place where it all started, there's even an annual Slugburger Festival. TripAdvisor named it one of America's "wackiest summer events" (per Cision PR Newswire and the town's website). In addition to serving up plenty of slugburgers, the July festival, established in 1988, features live music, entertainment, and a Miss Slugburger pageant. Another highlight of the celebration is Slug Idol, Corinth's homage to "American Idol," in which contestants vie for singing supremacy.

While the tradition of eating slugburgers endures, even if in a niche market, the modern day recipe has changed from the original 20th Century version. According to What's Cooking America, the currently favored iteration features a beef mixture blended with soybean grits, which are then formed into patties and fried in canola oil. Slugburgers are traditionally topped with mustard, dill pickles, and onions, all stacked on a small bun.

Although different from the hamburgers you'll find at most fast food chains and sit-down restaurants, slugburgers have reserved a spot in culinary history because of their unique origin story and a town that insists on that story continuing to be told.