The History of the Slugburger

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It never gets old.

“That scrunched-up face first-time visitors get when you suggest a slugburger for lunch is priceless,” said Nita Parson, who works with the Corinth Area Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Crossroads Museum. “It’s like an inside joke Corinth folks play on unsuspecting guests.”

The joke, of course, is that slugburgers don’t contain slugs. The fried patties are served hot on a white hamburger bun, typically with mustard and onions. Made from a mixture of beef, pork and extenders such as soy or potato flour, they originated in World War I patriotism and blossomed in Depression-era frugality. Despite the absence of slugs, though, local slugburger aficionados possibly enjoy the uninitiated’s squirming a bit too much.

“If you don’t like them, that’s OK,” said longtime resident Anne Thompson, laughing. “That means there’s more for me.”

With taste and texture compared to a veggie burger, a breaded and fried pork patty, a chicken-fried steak or the good ol’school-lunch burger, the slugburger polarizes its tasters: You either can’t get enough or one bite is plenty (although everyone agrees cold beer or sweet tea is an essential go-with.)

You can find slugburgers – called “doughburgers” in other spots – in other northeast Mississippi communities plus south central Tennessee and northwest Alabama. Stories differ on who invented slugburgers and when and where they first appeared on menus. Slugburger fans clash over their favorite ingredients, cooking techniques and proper condiments and even debate the name, although most agree it probably relates to the 20th-century slang word for a nickel.

But there’s no doubt Corinth claims the sandwich for its own.

“The slugburger is unique to Corinth, so we tell museum visitors that to truly experience Corinth they have to try a slug before leaving town,” said Crossroads Museum executive director and area native Brandy Steen. “I love slugburgers and love telling about their history.”

Thompson, a CAVB staffer until her recent retirement, grew up eating slugburgers at Corinth diners. In her work with the tourism office, she made a point to take visitors to local restaurants that serve the sandwich.

“I’d order one slugburger and then cut it into pieces for them to sample,” Thompson said. “Of course, some people think we have ‘bubba-ized’ a delicacy like escargot, but most are relieved that it is not the case. In fact, some folks liked it so much that after they tasted it, they’d order one or two just for themselves.”

Debbie Mitchell, who owns Borroum’s Drug Store in downtown Corinth with her husband, Lex, agreed. Along with the White Trolley Café, Borroum’s is one of Corinth’s must-go slugburger destinations that continue the culinary tradition.

“Corinth is crazy about slugburgers,” Mitchell said as she and her husband – his family opened Borroum’s in 1865 – took a break from a busy afternoon at the drugstore lunch counter. “People from out of town come here specifically to taste one, and then people who’ve never heard of slugburgers end up trying one and love them.”

The spirit of slugburgers extends even to Corinth restaurants that don’t offer them. Pizza Grocery owner Joshua Bryant appreciates Corinth’s signature sandwich and has incorporated the slugburger idea of local specialties into his restaurant’s philosophy.

“Corinthians are proud of the slugburger and of being part of its history,” he said. “We don’t serve slugburgers at Pizza Grocery, but we do serve food you can’t get anywhere else. With an item such as the slugburger being so valuable to our community, we knew people would appreciate and support a restaurant that offers dishes unique to the area, like our Slugburger Pizza, while maintaining a Southern flair.”

Bryant, a vital factor in downtown Corinth’s ongoing revitalization, embraces what slugburgers represent: Making something good out of what you’ve got in – literally – your own backyard.

“Slugburgers support the ‘shop and dine locally’ idea because they’re almost impossible to find anywhere but Corinth,” he added. “Pizza Grocery utilizes local farmers and butchers, and we have our own garden behind the restaurant. Our inviting atmosphere welcomes everyone from couples on dates to large family outings because food is best when it’s shared. In Corinth, we’ve been sharing slugburgers and stories about them for a long time.”

Those stories even have caught the attention of the Southern Foodways Alliance, a non-profit at the University of Mississippi that studies and celebrates Southern food. Amy Evans, SFA oral historian, has launched an oral-history project documenting slugburgers throughout the South. Executive director John T. Edge included a slugburger chapter in his 2005 book “Hamburgers and Fries: An American Story.”

And there’s Corinth’s annual Slugburger Festival – a weekend of music, carnival rides and, naturally, slugburgers.

Sponsored by Main Street Corinth, this year’s festival is Thursday, July 11 through Saturday, July 13, in downtown Corinth. If you still haven’t tried one – and now you know it’s a totally slug-free experience – the festival is perfect for discovering this world-famous Corinth specialty.

For more information:

Story by Cathy Wood // Photos by Kristie Denton

 

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