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Jella, Meet Krystal and Your Great Grandmother (recipe: Copycat Krystal Burgers)

August 18, 2011
by Jackie Garvin
krystal burgers 015

Pleasant food experiences that lead to good food memories happen at places other than the kitchen table.  They can happen at a hamburger joint that has  curbside service, trays that attach to your door and square hamburgers.  Krystal burgers were a favorite of my mother’s and we would go there for dinner frequently when my father was out-of-town.  Mama loved those little hamburgers.  She also loved the fact that we didn’t have to get out of our car to get service.  After a hard day at work, she like to get in some comfortable clothes, load us in the car and head off to Krystal.  I can’t remember if the curbside ordering stand had music that you could select or if we listened to the car radio but we  heard a whole lot of Petula Clark singing “Downtown”.   Every time I hear that song today, which is rare, I instantly crave a Krystal burger.   Curbside service was considered a big convenience.  These were the days prior to drive-thru service.  The Golden Arches kept track of how many hamburgers they sold and displayed it on their signage in front of the restaurants.  We are in the mid 1960s.

Krystal was started in Chattanooga, TN during the depression.  The owners believed, despite economic hard times, folks would appreciate a restaurant that offered good inexpensive food, friendly service and a spotlessly clean restaurant.  The first customer, Mr. French Jenkins, purchased 6 Krystal burgers and a cup of coffee for $0.35.  One of our Syrup and Biscuits Facebook friends relates the story of her brother-in-law who was a grocery store delivery boy in Chattanooga and he would deliver groceries to the Krystal family.  The lady-of-the-house would frequently invite him to come in and have breakfast.  Southern hospitality is a way of life for us regardless of our economic standing.   Many Southerners have memories of this iconic restaurant that served the square hamburgers.

As we munched on the simple  little square hamburgers that had  a beef patty, cooked onions, dill pickle, mustard and a steamed bun, we would talk about our day at school.  Mama always seemed relaxed.  I don’t know if it was due to  the fact that dinner was easy, the Krystal burgers were satisfying,  the comfort of dining in the car in comfortable clothes, or a combination of all three, but it definitely agreed with Mama.  Since Mama was happy……I don’t even need to finish that sentence.  You know how it goes.

The story of Mama and Krystal burgers is a story that I will tell my grandchildren, Jackson and Ella.  Mama never got to meet them.  Amy was pregnant with them (they’re twins) when Mama died.  We were all hoping that Mama could hang on and see them.  It didn’t work out that way.  I have a picture of her in their room at my house.  I feel like she’s looking over the babies each time they’re here.

A few years back, I heard a friend talking about  making copycat Krystal burgers.  She said she had found the recipe on the Internet.  I never gave that another thought until a few weeks ago as I planned some upcoming blog posts.  Jella (that’s Jackson and Ella’s celebrity name  – we thought they needed one) is too young to understand the story of Mama and Krystal.  Soon, I’ll be able to tell them.   In the meantime, I wanted to get a recipe down pat that would be reminiscent of the hamburger.   I found several recipes that I just didn’t think would be suitable.  One had baby food beef.  Wrong.  One had the meat scrambled like Sloppy Joes without the sloppy.  Wrong.  One had dried onion soup mixed in the meat instead of having onions on the outside of the meat.  Wrong.  The one I thought was closest to the genuine thing was at Big Red Kitchen.

We had the hamburgers for dinner this week with Amy, David and Jella.  They were the perfect size for toddler-sized hands.  We all enjoyed them so much and they are earning a place of distinction among the menu rotation.  I would have loved to share these burgers with Mama.  She would have been beside her self with excitement.  The burgers have such a special meaning to me that I’m renaming them Jella burgers at the suggestion of Sam.  Mama would love that.

Y’all come see us!

*********

Jella Burgers (Krystal burger copycats) 

Adapted from Big Red Kitchen

This recipe is so easy you are not going to believe it.  The original Krystal burger had cooked onions, a meat patty, mustard, dill pickle and a steamed bun.  That was it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I tossed around the idea of using fresh onions but decided on dehydrated onions since they were going on the bottom of the ground beef and the grease juice from the ground beef could rehydrate the onions thus retaining all the flavor from the juice.  Actually, the meat was lean enough that it didn’t give off very much “juice” at all.  I used ground round that was an 85/15 ratio.  This is one time that you don’t want ground sirloin.

1/2 cup dehydrated onion

2 lbs ground round (85/15 ratio)

Morton’s Season-All or your favorite seasoned salt

6 American cheese slices

24  dinner rolls (We used potato rolls)

French’s yellow mustard

dill pickles slices

Sprinkle the dehydrated onions on the bottom of a 9X13 pan

Pat the uncooked ground beef on top of the onions.

Sprinkle seasoned salt on top of the ground beef.  Place in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  The beef patty will shrink so don’t be alarmed.  Blot up the excess juice from the top so the cheese will adhere to the meat.   Sam’s getting into the action and being a hand-model for me.

Add 6 pieces of sliced American cheese.  It’s important to use 6 slices because it will give you landmarks to help divide the patty into 24 pieces.   Return to the oven for about 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese is melted.   Remove from the oven and lest rest for 5 minutes.  Slice into 24 slices.

Lift out each burger patty and place on the bottom of the roll.  Make sure you get some of the onions on the bottom, too!.  Top with a dill pickle slice.   Add some yellow mustard to the inside of the top of the roll.

Copycat Krystal burgers. Homemade hamburgers that taste just like Krystal burgers.

All we’re missing is Petula Clark singing “Downtown”.

Copycat Krystal Burgers

Copycat Krystal Burgers

Ingredients

  • Copycat Krystal Burgers
  • Adapted from Big Red Kitchen
  • This recipe is so easy you are not going to believe it. The original Krystal burger had cooked onions, a meat patty, mustard, dill pickle and a steamed bun. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. I tossed around the idea of using fresh onions but decided on dehydrated onions since they were going on the bottom of the ground beef and the grease juice from the ground beef could rehydrate the onions thus retaining all the flavor from the juice. Actually, the meat was lean enough that it didn't give off very much "juice" at all. I used ground round that was an 85/15 ratio. This is one time that you don't want ground sirloin.
  • 1/2 cup dehydrated onion
  • 2 lbs ground round (85/15 ratio)
  • Morton's Season-All or your favorite seasoned salt
  • 6 American cheese slices
  • 24 dinner rolls (We used potato rolls)
  • French's yellow mustard
  • dill pickles slices

Instructions

Sprinkle the dehydrated onions on the bottom of a 9X13 pan

Pat the uncooked ground beef on top of the onions.

Sprinkle seasoned salt on top of the ground beef. Place in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven. The beef patty will shrink so don't be alarmed. Blot up the excess juice from the top so the cheese will adhere to the meat.

Add 6 pieces of sliced American cheese. It's important to use 6 slices because it will give you landmarks to help divide the patty into 24 pieces. Return to the oven for about 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and lest rest for 5 minutes. Slice into 24 slices.

Lift out each burger patty and place on the bottom of the roll. Make sure you get some of the onions on the bottom, too!. Top with a dill pickle slice. Add some yellow mustard to the inside of the top of the roll.

All we're missing is Petula Clark singing "Downtown".

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57 Comments leave one →
  1. Jean permalink
    August 18, 2011 8:20 am

    When my parents would go to Nashville we would eat at the Krystal. I remember shiny stainless steel….and the smell of those delish burgers. We in the south have Krystal…others have White Castle. Brings back lots of memories.

    • August 18, 2011 8:26 am

      Jean,

      You are right about Krystal vs White Castle! Thanks for being such a loyal reader, Jean. I am blessed by you everyday.

  2. ~kim permalink
    August 18, 2011 8:21 am

    Thank you for a sweet and touching memory of *Mama* and one in the making with Jella! and a great recipe too~

    • August 18, 2011 8:24 am

      Kim,

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I hope you give the recipe a try. If you do, let me know what you think about it. <3

  3. August 18, 2011 9:01 am

    That’s it??? That’s all there is to it??? Who knew! Definitely going to make these! It was a sad day when the Krystal’s here shut down. Only one thing to do now, go buy some dehydrated onion and some dinner rolls :)

    • August 18, 2011 9:05 am

      Chris,
      Doesn’t it just blow your mind how easy it is? Someone suggested using hot dog buns for the rolls and cutting off the round ends. I didn’t think that necessary. The only small dinner rolls that my husband could find (he did the grocery shopping for me and has a starring role in this post ) were potato rolls. They worked out great and tasted authentic. Let me know how they turn out for you!

  4. August 18, 2011 9:05 am

    Love you rememberance of your mom. Jella will have wonderful memories of their grandma, too.

    We have White Castle here in Indiana. I get a craving for these about twice a year, but my hubby doesn’t care for the little burgers. Maybe I’ll give this recipe a try and see if I can change his mind! Thanks much.

    I really enjoy your blog!

    XoXoXo
    Joy @ tomorrow’s memories

    • August 18, 2011 9:08 am

      Joy,

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Maybe your husband can “doctor up” his burger to his liking. This really is just a basic burger. It you like hamburgers at all (how could you not????), I don’t see how you couldn’t like these.

  5. Ann permalink
    August 18, 2011 10:46 am

    I never had a Krystal nearby when growing up – I do remember eating them after a night out on the town after I was grown – when it and the Waffle House were the only things open!!! LOL They do taste great – can’t remember the last time I had one – but my husband loves them so I will give this a try! I do have to add ketchup to mine but these will suit him perfectly! thanks – I love your celebrity name for Jackson and Ella – and the new name for the burgers!! You are just too clever!!

    • August 18, 2011 11:06 am

      Ann,

      I think most Southerners have a Krystal story or two they can tell! Enjoy the Jella Burgers!

  6. Mary permalink
    August 18, 2011 11:57 am

    As usual, love your story – I can see y’all in my mind!!!! Ha! Ha! Love Krystal burgers ( the only one I will eat with mustard), and love the chili pups!! Thanks for another great post!! 6 Krystals and a cup of coffee 35 cents – gotta love it.

    • August 18, 2011 1:22 pm

      Thanks, Mary! The prices have changed a bit since the 1930’s, no doubt. I appreciate you reading and commenting.

  7. August 19, 2011 4:13 am

    i never knew that krystal burgers originated in tennessee–awesome! i remember seeing these on robin sue’s blog and deeming it brilliant. nice work!

  8. Mary Raymundo permalink
    August 19, 2011 4:34 am

    Like Joy, I get a craving for White Castles about twice a year. They make them better than I ever could. Would you like me to send you a copy of “Downtown?”

    • August 19, 2011 8:54 am

      Mary,
      Don’t you just love those old Petula Clark songs? Is she still living? I haven’t heard anything about her in years.

  9. Mary Raymundo permalink
    August 19, 2011 7:14 pm

    Yes, PC is alive and kickin’ and still making music.

    • August 19, 2011 7:31 pm

      Mary,

      She’s a trouper! I can’t even imagine her age because I have no idea she was during the “Downtown” days.

  10. August 21, 2011 8:25 am

    Lovely recipe. I must make these for my husband who is from Kansas. He has talked for many years about the White Castle little hamburgers in his part of the country. I think he will enjoy these.

    Linda, Arkansas

  11. August 21, 2011 2:45 pm

    These are delicious! We fixed them for lunch today. Thanks for sharing!

    • August 21, 2011 2:54 pm

      Ashley,
      I’m so happy you and your family enjoyed Jella Burgers. It’s amazing how quick and easy they are. Thanks writing to me!

  12. tipper permalink
    August 23, 2011 5:28 pm

    My mother-n-law likes krystal burgers-I never thought about making them-neat!

    • August 23, 2011 6:03 pm

      Tipper,

      They really taste like the original. I hope you and your mother-in-law enjoy them! Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Terri permalink
    August 26, 2011 2:02 pm

    Jackie, Thanks for the memories. Do you only use 6 slices of cheese? Are those 6 slices cut into four pieces to get the 24? Sorry, I got confused.

    Terri

    • August 26, 2011 2:11 pm

      Terri,

      I only use 6 slices because that gives nice landmarks. Start by cutting across the width of the casserole. Divide each section of cheese in half. That will give you 12. Then, cut down the center of the dish lengthwise. There’s your 24 uniform squares!

  14. Mary permalink
    December 30, 2011 12:06 pm

    Laws a mercy, girl. I am obliged to give this Krystal recipe a try. You know, when you gotta have a Krystal, you GOTTA have a Krystal. I just discovered your blog and am thoroughly enjoying it all. It is so refreshing to read an unpretentious and most southern food blog. Thanks!

    • December 30, 2011 12:27 pm

      Mary,

      Thank you so kindly for your sweet comment! I’m so glad you found us tucked away in our little part of the world. Please let me know what you think about these little hamburgers. We love them. I’ve made them several times for different groups of people and all just rave about them.

      Welcome home, Mary! :)

  15. Judy permalink
    January 8, 2012 12:02 pm

    My husband went to school with Mr. Davenport’s (Man who started Krystal) son. I grew up in the suburbs of Chattanooga and my grandmother would bring home a sack full of Krystals when she rode the bus to town and I would eat them when I got home from school. I get Krystal cravings often and we do have Krystals here in Georgia but I like the idea of making them at home too.
    Thanks

    • January 8, 2012 6:54 pm

      Judy,

      I hope you enjoy these little hamburgers. We think they taste just like Krystal. What wonderful memories you have of Krystal burgers. Enjoy our Jella burgers! :)

  16. Cathy permalink
    February 4, 2012 8:21 am

    Jackie I just found your blog and am loving it. I also was born and raised in Alabama, Opelika actually and absolutely love Krystal Burgers. When I come home to visit I eat the wonderful little square burgers quite often since we don’t have Krystal’s in Virginia where I know live. I am so bad about Krystal’s that I know the first exit off of I85 (exit 96 in South Carolina) on the way to Bama that has a Krystal’s and stop on my way each time. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe I will be trying it out.

    • February 4, 2012 9:37 am

      Cathy,

      We are sort of the same way about Cracker Barrel when we are traveling long stretches of interstate highway!

      I hope you enjoy the little square hamburgers! Thanks for stopping by!

      Welcome home, Cathy! :)

  17. Carol Wright permalink
    February 26, 2012 2:34 pm

    My momma loved Krystal burgers too! I’m talking around the mid 60’s. We lived in Birmingham, Al. and she worked at Aland’s Dept. store. My sister and I would meet her for lunch and go to the Krystal for 10 cent burgers! Good memories!

  18. Stacy Sanders permalink
    March 29, 2012 10:24 pm

    I’m originally from Tennessee, and remember going to “the Krystal” with my grandfather in Nashville when I was little. Seems like every time we went for a visit, we made at least one trip. I love those little burgers, and we don’t have many Krystal’s in Texas, so I’m definitely going to give your recipe a try! Thanks!

    • March 30, 2012 9:27 pm

      Stacy,

      I hope these burgers are as good as you remember. Please let me know what you think.

      Thanks for stopping by. Welcome home! :)

  19. Lynn Rivers permalink
    April 8, 2012 6:39 am

    I have recently stumbled upon your website and it’s SUCH a delight! I too am a transplant, having grown up in Montgomery and now I’m living in Idaho. I haven’t thought about Krystal in years but I loved going and eating Krystal burger when I was growing up. I don’t even know if they ever served anything else except the burgers. Lol!
    Thank you for the memories and the recipes that remind me of home. I can’t wait to try out these little delights and see what my family thinks.

    • April 8, 2012 7:59 am

      Lynn,

      I hope these hamburgers taste just the way you remember! Please let me know what you think.

      Welcome home! :)

  20. deb langman permalink
    July 28, 2012 2:34 pm

    I am preparing sliders for a late nite wedding for 100 people and was wondering if this can be made ahead and frozen? plus best way to reheat

    • deb langman permalink
      July 28, 2012 2:42 pm

      ps thank you

    • July 28, 2012 3:08 pm

      Deb,

      They can be made ahead and frozen although I never done it with this particular recipe before. My best advice is to make up a batch in advance and test it out. You’d probably want to have your microwave setting on defrost for a few minutes then a higher setting for a short period of time. You don’t want to overheat because the bread will get tough. If you can find a box of White Castle hamburgers in your grocery store freezer section, check the reheating instructions on them. They are about the same size.

      Good luck with the wedding! :)

  21. August 26, 2012 11:59 am

    Krystal’s were one of my Papaw’s ‘go to’ meals in the rare event he was tapped to get supper for the grand babies. I sure do miss those days… Thanks you for this! I look forward to making them very soon!

  22. bettybabb permalink
    January 7, 2013 5:42 pm

    Being from Georgia, we have long enjoyed Krystal burgers…their chili is great too! Our grandchildren have now moved to Florida …. but over the years as they came to visit…the best thing along the way to “grandpa’s and MeMe’s house in GA” would be crossing the state line into GA….and stopping at the Krystal! Unfortunately, Dad doesn’t get by with just a few dollars….this meal for three hungry girls usually runs him well over $20.00…not including drinks!

    • January 7, 2013 9:19 pm

      Betty,

      I haven’t been to a Krystal in ions but I can imagine their prices have skyrocketed along with everything else. Your granddaughters would be thrilled to get to Grandpa and MeMe’s house and find these Krystal kopykats on their kitchen table.

      Thanks for sharing your story! :)

  23. Jo McGee permalink
    February 3, 2013 5:21 pm

    How do you get 24 cheeseburgers from only 6 slices of cheese? I must be missing something. I did enjoy your story and I love Krystals.

    • February 4, 2013 2:12 pm

      Jo,

      Six slices of cheese covers the entire dish. You then cut the cooked hamburger meat into 24 small pieces. Krystals, as you know, are smaller than standard size hamburgers. :)

  24. debbie harding permalink
    February 26, 2013 12:10 pm

    Here in Texas (Houston) we used to have 1 crystal that recently closed. Growing up in Fla. By the beach we practically grew up on the tiny little burgers, I was in heaven when I found one in Texas. Now I can have them whenever I want. Thankyou, thankyou
    Deb

  25. PattiK permalink
    May 30, 2013 8:05 pm

    Here is Missouri we hav White Castels and 30 years ago were the best of the best Pipping hot fresh and cheap! we have one a couple blocks and hadn’t had any for while and got the craave. They like all others have gone way up a double cheese was $1.89 but worse is that over the lsat 10 years they have been consistantly cold and gone down hill. The bread is not steamed but just out of the pkg. So sad! I made them once from a recipe I found from the Phil Donahue show, Long time ago it did have some veal baby food butwas really pretty good. I think your will be easier and now I look for easier. We have some of the wonderful memories taking my motherlaw for 15-25 cents and they were so hot! Love the stories and reminders we hardly can have any good stuff anymore. can’t wait to give it a try

  26. September 19, 2013 2:37 pm

    Making these tonight! My husband and all four step-kids LOVE Krystal’s. So this is gonna be so awesome to be able to make this for them.

    • September 19, 2013 3:03 pm

      Please let me know how they turn out. Everyone I’ve ever served them to just loves them. Enjoy your dinner!

  27. Rhonda permalink
    October 20, 2013 1:03 pm

    I passed along your recipe to my mother, who made these the other day for my White Castle turned Krystal lovin’ dad. Not only were they a hit with him, but with the whole family…kids included…I ate four of ‘em myself! Spot on recipe & perfectly done exactly as written…and what an easy treat! Thanks for posting this simple, fun recipe!!
    Now seeking a recipe for their chili sauce. The chili pups are my fave.

    • October 21, 2013 9:33 am

      Rhonda,

      I’m so happy you and your family enjoyed this recipe! It’s one of our favorites, too. :)

  28. Karen Dawson permalink
    February 21, 2014 11:45 am

    Although your recipe makes nice hamburgers, they weren’t enough like Krystal Burgers for my Alabama husband. The onion wasn’t “present” enough and the burgers were too thick. However, we now have a great new way to make sliders for a party because your method was fabulously easy.

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