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Krystal vs. White Castle: Head-to-Head Burger Battle

By • Jul 25th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

Nashville. The capital of Tennessee, the center of the country music universe. Home of the Grand Ole Opry, with a downtown entertainment district full of enough neon-lit nightlife to earn it the nickname “Nashvegas.”  For sports nuts, there’s the NFL’s Titans, the NHL’s Predators, and Vanderbilt University of the SEC.  Fan of road food?  It’s worth a pilgrimage to Prince’s, where they serve up a diabolically-spicy local specialty called, simply, “hot chicken.”  But for cheeseburger connoisseurs, Nashville quietly holds another unique distinction.

White Castle, inventors of the slyder, was the very first hamburger chain, born in Wichita in 1921.  Krystal began in Chattanooga 11 years later.  Ever since, the two chains have drawn their own version of the Mason-Dixon Line, marking and sticking to their respective territories with very little overlap.  White Castle can be found in 11 Midwestern and Northern states; Krystal in 12 throughout the South.  The only two states where you can find both?  Kentucky and Tennessee. And in Nashville is the spot where the two are closer together than perhaps anywhere else on earth.

That White Castle is on the northeast corner of West Trinity Lane and Dickerson Pike.  Just behind the big sign, there’s a Krystal on the southeast corner of the same intersection.  315 feet apart. If the White Castle is home plate of a typical baseball stadium, that Krystal is closer than the left field warning track.

On a recent road trip, I found myself zipping up I-65, with this gastronomic ground zero less than half a mile off Exit 87.  At lunchtime.  Obviously, the burger gods were demanding a slyder showdown.

Plenty of folks have tried both burger brands, with favoritism usually falling on the side of the chain you grew up with.  I, too, brought my own prejudice to this slyder street fight; I grew up in Indiana, where White Castles rule and Krystals are seen as inferior knock-offs.  But what would happen when I bought both fresh and staged a side-by-side square-off with an open mind? My wife took the wheel and I set out to crown a mini-cheebie champ.

First, some compare-and-contrast.  Four Krystals with cheese cost me $3.64 before tax, 91 cents apiece.  Four White Castles rang up at $3.20, or 80 cents each.  A slight cost advantage: White Castle. Both slyders are topped with cheese, pickles, and the all-important onions… but Krystal adds mustard.  (Maybe that’s what the 11 extra pennies pay for.Toppings: minor advantage Krystal.

I didn’t get out a tape measure, but the dimensions seemed to be identical.  Size: even Steven. My wife complained that the Krystals stunk up the minivan, but since I bought those first, I can’t say for sure that the White Castles wouldn’t have done the sameAroma winner: undetermined.

Then it was time to dig in.  The White Castles tasted exactly as I remembered.  There’s a sweetness in there somewhere that I didn’t detect in the Krystals.  Maybe it’s something they do at the Castle, maybe Krystal’s mustard mutes the sensation and creates a tangier taste.  The beef seemed remarkably similar, the cheese was practically interchangeable, and the onions were hardly different at all.  (I picked off the pickles on both slyders.But, oh baby, the buns!

White Castle’s bun is very light and airy.  But it feels like it might just disintegrate if you look at it wrong.  The impression I got was that it’s more air than bread.  Krystal’s bun, however, had a noticeably dense squishiness to it.  Again, very soft, but with substance.  Krystal’s bun brought its own taste and texture to the party, a vast improvement over its Northern counterpart.

In the end, and in a surprise I didn’t expect, I have to give the nod to Krystal.  It felt traitorous to make such an admission, one that may get me shunned for life back home.  But given a choice between the two, based strictly on “better burger,” I’d have to go with Krystal. But then I remembered… there’s only a small handful of people who are ever faced with a strict either-or, one-or-the-other choice when it comes to the two famed chains.  Visiting the Midwest, I can enjoy a White Castle and reminisce about late-night slyder runs.  Back in the South, I can chow down on its Southern (and in my mind) tastier cousin… and they never have to know about the other one ever again.  Maybe it’s better that the two are so rarely found in the same place.

And on a related note, if you do ever find yourself at the corner of West Trinity Lane and Dickerson Pike in Nashville… at lunchtime… with a growl in your tummy and a few bucks in your pocket… a word of advice.  Eating 4 White Castle slyders and 4 Krystals in one sitting is NOT recommended. It was North-versus-South all over again in my colon for the rest of the day.  Now I know why Southerners delicately refer to the Civil War as “The Great Unpleasantness.”

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26 Responses to “Krystal vs. White Castle: Head-to-Head Burger Battle”

  1. 1
    james42519 Says:

    i have bother where i live in kentucky. i don’t see the big deal. they are just small hamburgers that never fill you up. can’t say what one i like because don’t really matter. they are the same thing as far as i am concerned and never even heard about this war of the burgers or whatever it was you were saying.

  2. 2
    Tim Says:

    You based the Krystal win on the BUN??? The HUGE krystal buns are exactly what makes White Castle king. They are far bigger than they need to be. All bread, no burger makes Krystal inferior. You tried too hard to be unbiased.

  3. 3
    Koaparlor Says:

    Krystal is okay. I think the synergy of a white castle slyder is far more superior.

  4. 4
    sam Says:

    they are the same thing as far as i am concerned and never even heard about this war of the burgers or whatever it was you were saying. white castles have a moist bun and are steamed krystal on the other hand are just regular sliders

  5. 5
    J.T. Says:

    Honestly, the Southern one should be better, as food in the South is better, save ltalian food in New York (although New Orleans has some delicious Italian food, as well, especially because of the freshness and huge variety of the seafood). I’m just mad that we don’t have either in my area.

  6. 6
    Dereck Says:

    I grew up in the South. Krystal’s is the ruling mini burger distributor their. When I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky, I discovered a White Castle not even a mile away from a Krystal’s. The challenge need not even be mentioned. I ordered 5 of each. Standard servings. Krystal’s has it. Every time. There is something about the White Castle burger that feels off, missing it’s soul even. I shall revisit this challenge when I return from Afghanistan. A 2 burger challenge, with a 2 specialty item challenge. May the best joint win.

    As for the people that have not had the opportunity to compare the two, please stop commenting and go to Clarksville, Tn or Nashville, Tn. When you have the experience to back your comments, please feel free to do so. If not, continue to think McDonald’s serves a good burger. Yeah, I assume you are that kind of person.

  7. 7
    Dereck Says:

    I grew up in the South. Krystal’s is the ruling mini burger distributor there. Their burgers have always soothe my heart, and made my belly full. —–Missed the other half of the sentence, making for a dumb typo.

  8. 8
    Gail Says:

    Just drove through Kentucky and Tenn where I stopped and bought White Castle for the first time. I agree with the above poster, the White Castle is just blander than the Krystal. It’s good and I can see how they stayed in business all these years, but I can also see why they won’t compete in a martket where there are Krystals.

  9. 9
    grody brodie Says:

    They’ll both gag a maggott. Slide in your mouth down your throat & out your ass !

  10. 10
    kilroy Says:

    Does anyone know when they were refered to as sliders and why. What I remember is they would slide through your digestive system really fast.

  11. 11
    Rob Says:

    Grew up in NY, live in the south now. The distinguishing feature here is the mustard, which seems to be a southern preference. I always order them sans Mustard wherever I go. Mustard on a hamburger, especially the yellow stuff, is an abomination.

  12. 12
    alex Says:

    grew up in indiana, living in florida, age 22.

    just finished a few krystal burgers, and the man makes a good point about those buns. krystal’s bun is almost like a hawaiian roll in texture and consistency, whereas white castle is more like white bread. for people that haven’t had both burgers you really dont understand how very little there is to differentiate them that he had to go down to the bun and additional condiment.

    but no one’s ever ran out at midnight to get a crave case of krystal burgers. because they don’t exist as far as i’m aware. when i’m cravin sliders nothing gets me going more than seeing a giant cardboard suitcase of 30 hot and ready sliders, 15 cheese, 15 regular.

    the “sackfull” just isn’t the same.

    burger v burger i have to side with whitecastle, i can still buy them in the freezer aisle at winn dixie, and amazingly they taste exactly the same as fresh from the castle itself. the simpler bun really does it for me, and i know how to work a bottle of mustard.

  13. 13
    Roger Says:

    Back in the sixties WC did make its forays into K territory. They did not last. Being in Georgia the Krystal is the king of the mini-burger. And even though I would always stop for WC’s while in Louisville, usually after a night at StevieRays, if you are going to participate in late nite gastronomic gaffoldry, and, you have a choice……well its Krystal’s……..please pass the rolaids.

  14. 14
    stennis Says:

    well actually there is another difference, white castle burger have holes in the beef. i drove trucks so the next time i went to white castle I checked it out. and they do! maybe that is why there bread is more mushy to me and there is more flavor in the white castle burger to me. i prefer white castle if i had the choice.

  15. 15
    greg Says:

    White Castle is King!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. 16
    Patrick Says:

    Great write-up! I always lived in the South, so never had a chance to experience the WC, though northern transplants always claimed they were better. But Alex, late night Krystal runs were the norm when I was growing up, esp after a night partying. But when you get the craving, I’m sure either will suffice. I like my Krystals with ketchup added anyway ;)

  17. 17
    Robert Allen Says:

    I am from Georgia and when I am in WC territory I always try WC. You know they always seem better if it’s something you can’t get back home. The difference is if the Krystals are right off the grill or have been sitting around for a while, then the winner is always WC as they don,t make them till you order them. If both are fresh then it is just personel opinion.

  18. 18
    mark Says:

    Southern cooking, even if in a fast food chain, tends to be more flavorful! Us midwesterners and northerners dont like to admit that, but its true. Now other than the novelty of eating a tiny burger both WC and krystal are anything but a “good” burger 1/8 inch of meat on a dinner roll with some onion , chances are the mustard is used in the south to disquise the flavor of the meat. So my opinion i would eat either one but neither is better than the other.

  19. 19
    DLP Says:

    I can’t imagine either of these gems without mustard. I grew up on Castles but have been south for 25 years. Had three Krystals today and got to thinking which came first and that’s how I got to this web site. W. Castle came first by eleven years. I eat Castles when I’m up north and Krystals while in the south. Enjoy both a lot and have never done a side by side comparison. Don’t feel the need for that since both are equally satisfying.
    As for the food being better in the south: that’s a generalization I can’t buy into. Southerners are always looking go one-up on the North and they grasp at anything and make it a North-South issue. That wreaks of insecurity to me, epsecially when 90% of fthem have never visited up North let alone ever lived there. There is always going to be a bias in both directions and that’s fine. Just respect the other side and don’t think you have a corner on anything, especially food. Trust me, when people tell me in the South what they ate as kids they think Northerners never heard of it or had it before. When I reply that my mom made that all the time they think I must have lived on a different planet. So funny to see the looks on their faces. There is outstanding food in both directions. Anyone can fry chicken and not everyone likes grits or okra. Not even in the South. I talked ot a friend of mine the other day from the South who doesn’t like ribs. I said, “WHAT”?

  20. 20
    dminmem Says:

    I grew up in Louisville and on White Castles. Ours always came with Düsseldorf Mustard and ketchup along with the steamed onions and pickle. I’ve lived in Memphis for 26 years and have eaten Krystal burgers a handful of times but not in the last 20 years. To me, there’s no comparison, which may prove the writer’s point — I prefer the burger that I grew up with.

    I’ve conducted a similar taste test and find Krystal to be dry and the mustard choice pedestrian. Steaming is one of the qualities that make White Castle so special, and so much better, to me. And, Düsseldorf mustard puts them over the top.

  21. 21
    Christopher Says:

    I finally had the opportunity to try Krystal just recently and compare it to White Castle. The Krystal bun by itself is better but the combo goes to White Castle… sorry my southern friends, the North has it on this one but it was a good challenge!

  22. 22
    Scott Says:

    Hate to tell you, but I used to work for a plant that made baking equipment. One of our customers baked the buns for Krystal AND White Castle. Same recipe, same ingredients. They were even baked at the exact same time in the same equipment. Just sent to two different places. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they both buy their meat from the same distributor!

  23. 23
    Dick Devilbiss Says:

    Neither is a REAL burger. Neither are any good!

  24. 24
    britney Says:

    White castle is better period! It is the bread so yummy. I live in ga but travel to ky often and unfortunatly I have to put up with krystals but the whole time I’m wishing it is white castles. Sigh. They are both good but whitee castles is just special to me. Even the frozen kind taste good.

  25. 25
    Gplracer Says:

    For me there is no comparison, White Castle is the winner! The lower bun is too thick on the Krystal. Also, Krystal is very inconsistent on what you get. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not good. It is sometimes like the burgers have been sitting around for a while.

  26. 26
    Edge SDMF Says:

    White Castle doesn’t force their mustard on you. For those that do like mustard, they have Düsseldorf mustard that blows Krystal’s mustard out of the water.

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