It is unofficially summer, huzzah! But if you’re me, you feel a twinge of anger and resentment because you are bereft of a barbecue grill and a backyard in which to deploy it. Like most Americans I come from a cookout culture. To this day my extremely gregarious extended family will throw one on even the flimsiest occasion. There’s always something: a dog’s birthday, a new car to show off, an engagement, a new baby, a graduation. We are like whales. See, there’s the stationary whale group pod, they are whichever family hosts the cookout. Then all the nomadic whales return to the pod for a joyous reunion. They can all do this with frequency because they all live within a comfortable drive of each other. Sometimes our whale-like sonar calls go out to even further flung familial pods, in which case a motel will be booked, and that’s usually when I go on a migration.
But you can have a facsimile of a cookout indoors if you make these oven-baked cheeseburger sliders. Just don’t forget to include at least two mayo-based salads, some pickles, a variety of potato chips, and at least two desserts. And wine, preferably boxed, and beer that you can serve not from a fridge (a painful reminder that you are indoors) but maybe from a beach cooler you might have or, in our case, a big stainless steel tub filled with ice.
This recipe is slightly adapted from a recipe supplied by Nick Iverson to Taste of Home. This makes 2 dozen sliders. It’s astonishing how many of these one person can consume, as Nick himself points out in his prefatory note. They are always a crowd-pleaser. Well, for those who eat beef and pork anyway.
2 17-oz. packages of Hawaiian sweet rolls, 12 to a pack, so 24
4 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, divided. You do not want to grate the cheese and I use the sharpest cheddar I can find. 1 lb. should give you 4 cups.
2 lbs. ground beef
1 cup chopped onion. This is one medium onion. Use a yellow onion. Use more if you want. They’re your sliders.
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) diced tomatoes with garlic and onion, drained. Editorial note: This is another one of those mystifying supermarket standard weights/volumes. 14.5 oz. is, for some reason, a standard size. Not 12 oz., not 16 oz., exactly 14.5.
2 or 3 tbsp. Dijon mustard. Nick says 1. No, not nearly enough.
2 or 3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce. Again, Nick says 1. Again, not nearly enough.
Nick says salt and pepper (3/4 tsp. each) but I say no, because I’m having the mustard and Worcestershire do the job for me.
24 strips of bacon, cooked, dried, and crumbled.
Then Nick has a multi-ingredient glaze but I just melt 1 or 2 sticks of butter and leave it at that.
What I like about this recipe is that most slider recipes (I have done my research, believe you me) have you make the meat mixture first, then deal with the bread, but this way you’re doing it all together and I find it to be more efficient.
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray 2 13X9” baking pans. Slice both packages of the rolls horizontally in half so you get half-sheets of 12 still-connected rolls. Don’t pull the rolls apart. Put the bottom half of each roll-sheet in one of the two pans. On top of each of the roll bottoms sprinkle 1 cup of the shredded cheddar (2 cups total, 1 for each pan). Put these in the oven for 3—5 minutes until the cheese melts and becomes a little gooey but does not brown.
In a large skillet over medium heat cook and crumble the beef and the onion for 6—8 minutes until the beef is browned. Drain the skillet. Add the can of tomatoes, the mustard, and the Worcestershire and cook and stir for 2 minutes. If you think your meat mixture is looking a little watery you can let it go a little longer to try to reduce.
Spoon the beef mixture over the cheesy roll sheets. Add the rest of the cheddar, 1 cup per pan. Sprinkled over the bacon, then top with the top roll sheets. Brush the tops liberally with melted butter. Put the pans in the oven and bake, uncovered, for 20—25 minutes until the tops become golden brown and it looks like everything has heated through.
If someone inebriatedly pulls out a frisbee, so swept up in the cookout-ishness of it all are they, wrestle it out of their hands before it goes sailing into a light fixture.