Open wide — no, wider.

Since Bob's Big Boy rolled out the first double-patty burger in the 1930s, the American hamburger has continued to build out to jaw-dropping levels. In restaurants and homes, the overall trend has been to make burgers ever wider and higher with more meat, more fixings and bigger buns.

Re-enter the "slider," a sort of David-versus-Goliath in the burger kingdom.

The mini-burger is not new, but it is gaining newfound respect. Sliders, and variations of them, are showing up in greater numbers on menus as "tapas" (small plate) fare or appetizers.

Small is big business, say restaurateurs.

Sliders are the No. 2-selling item at Chai's Lounge and Tapas in downtown Charleston. Chai's has offered sliders since its opening three years ago, and was likely the first local restaurant to do so. Today, they serve about 450 sliders a week.

"The little size intrigues people. ... You can eat a little bit or as much as you want," says general manager Palmer Quimby.

The original slider was popularized by the White Castle fast-food chain, founded in 1921 in the Midwest. It consists of a steam-fried square beef patty, a sprinkling of cooked onions and a pickle slice, enclosed in a small, soft bun. The Krystal chain brought sliders to the South in the 1930s.

Officially spelled "Slyder" by White Castle, the name is said to have come from their ability to "slide" down the throat in one or two bites.

Chai's version is fairly faithful

to the concept, albeit with a bit of dressing up. The beef is Angus; the onions are caramelized into a paste and folded into the meat. The pickles are sweet-and-spicy "fire and ice" style. American cheese and a dab each of mustard and ketchup seal the deal.

Bison "bites" or sliders do a brisk business at Summerville's P-Boys restaurant, which specializes in gourmet hot dogs as well as game meats. For the sliders, "We probably sell 20 to 25 pounds of buffalo meat over four or five days," says owner Perry Cuda.

Like Quimby, Cuda says the appeal is the slider's ease of eating and small size. "You get a big burger somewhere, a woman might eat half of it," he adds. Adults under 35 and teenagers are his best slider customers.

Barbecue sliders are another twist on the mini-burger. Virginia's on King downtown serves pulled pork sliders; the Fat Hen on Johns Island offers barbecued beef brisket.

As often is the case with dining novelties, sliders are being replicated by home cooks. They are being touted as crowd-pleasers for casual entertaining — think Labor Day cook-out party or watching football on the weekends.

"What's really good at home is portioning sizes, especially with the obesity thing," Cuda says. "And it would be fun for the kids to help make them."

The basics

Sliders can be made square or round; the bun may determine the shape. For a customized square shape, some chefs told us they slice the sides off a regular, round hamburger bun, saving the cut-off pieces for another use, such as croutons. But why bother? It's easier to purchase small potato rolls or dinner rolls.

Burger sliders may be dressed to suit, but simple works better with their size: mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, sauteed or grilled onions, pickles or relish, and cheese are the fundamentals. Add lettuce and tomato if desired. Extra-special touches might include a piece of bacon, jalapenos or a slice of avocado.

This recipe is adapted from Alton Brown, host of Food Network's "Good Eats." It gets rave reviews from visitors to www.foodnetwork.com.

Mini Man Burgers

Makes 8 sliders

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound ground chuck

8 (3-inch) buns or rolls, split in half

Condiments, to taste

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Preheat a griddle to 350 degrees.

Combine the onion powder, garlic powder, pepper and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Line a jelly roll or sheet pan with parchment paper and place the ground chuck in the middle of the pan. Cover the meat with a large sheet of plastic wrap. Roll meat with a rolling pin until it covers the surface of the pan; it should be very thin. Remove the plastic wrap, and sprinkle the meat with the seasoning mixture. Fold the meat in half, from side to side, using the parchment paper. Use a pizza wheel to cut the meat into 8 even squares.

Wrap the buns in foil and place in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the burgers on the griddle and cook for 2-3 minutes per side.

Remove the buns from the oven. Spread each bun with ketchup and/or mayo, if desired, and top the burger with any other condiments you like. Serve immediately.

Beyond the basics

The Fat Hen's recipe for barbecue brisket sandwiches with blue cheese coleslaw appears in the September issue of Bon Appetit magazine. The restaurant uses the same beef-and-slaw combo in its sliders.

This is certainly more involved than your basic burger slider but all parts can be made ahead. Also, this recipe calls for serving on rye bread slices; if you want sliders, change to a small bun and figure on at least twice the number of servings. Six pounds of brisket will yield 24 (4-ounce) portions of meat, for example, a very generous amount for a slider.

Slow-Cooked Brisket Sandwiches With Blue Cheese Coleslaw

12 sandwich servings

For spice rub:

1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground ancho chile

2 tablespoons ground chipotle chile

1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

For barbecue sauce:

2 large dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, coarsely torn, soaked in 1 cup hot water 30 minutes (do not drain)

2 cups pomegranate juice

1 1/2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice

1/2 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses

2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste

For brisket:

2 (3-pound) flat-cut beef briskets, trimmed

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 cups (packed) dark brown sugar

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup beef broth

2 large celery ribs, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh Italian parsley

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt

24 rye bread slices, lightly toasted

Blue Cheese Coleslaw (recipe follows)

For spice rub: Mix brown sugar, ground ancho chile, ground chipotle chile, Old Bay seasoning, paprika, coarse kosher salt, allspice, coriander and cumin in medium bowl to blend. Note: Spice rub can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

For barbecue sauce: Combine ancho chiles and soaking liquid, pomegranate juice, brown sugar, pineapple juice, molasses and tomato paste in large saucepan; whisk to blend. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until sauce thickens slightly and is reduced to generous 5 cups, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Stir in 4 tablespoons spice rub and simmer 10 minutes longer, stirring often. Season with salt, pepper and more spice rub if desired. Note: Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover; chill.

For brisket: Sprinkle briskets with salt, then rub 2 tablespoons spice rub over each side of each brisket. Place briskets on large baking sheet and let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 brisket to skillet; cook until browned, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to roasting pan large enough to hold both briskets in single layer. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and remaining brisket.

Combine brown sugar and next 7 ingredients in large bowl; stir until sugar dissolves. Pour mixture over briskets, coating all sides. Cover pan with heavy-duty foil and seal tightly. Roast in oven 2 hours. Turn briskets over, cover, and continue to roast until meat is very tender and pulls apart easily, about 2 hours longer. Cool uncovered in braising liquid 1 hour. Note: Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover with foil and keep chilled. Before continuing, rewarm briskets, cover with foil, in a 350-degree oven, about 30 minutes.

Remove briskets from braising liquid; reserve liquid. Shred brisket meat into bite-size pieces. Transfer to heavy large pot. Transfer braising liquid to processor; add 2 1/2 cups barbecue sauce and puree until smooth. Add puree to shredded meat; bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide meat mixture among 12 bread slices (or rolls, if making sliders). Top with barbecue sauce, then Blue Cheese Coleslaw. Cover with remaining bread slices. Serve with barbecue sauce.

Blue Cheese Coleslaw

12 sandwich servings; more for sliders

8 bacon slices, chopped

3/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

16 ounces purchased coleslaw mix

1 cup crumbled blue cheese

Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels. Whisk mayonnaise, vinegar and honey in large bowl. Stir in coleslaw mix, cheese and bacon. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Note: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

With spices and special sauces, sliders can travel the world. This recipe is adapted from the March 2007 issue of Bon Appetit:

Bombay Sliders With Garlic Curry Sauce

Makes 4 servings

For sauce:

1 cup mayonnaise, divided

6 1/4 teaspoons curry powder, divided

1 1/2 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 1/2 tablespoons ketchup

1 garlic clove, minced

For sliders:

2 pounds ground turkey

6 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup minced green onions

2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger

2 teaspoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon hot chili powder or Hungarian hot paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

12 small dinner rolls, cut horizontally in half, lightly toasted

Mix 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 2 1/4 teaspoons curry powder, and next 3 ingredients in small bowl for sauce. Let stand at room temperature while preparing sliders.

Place turkey, next 6 ingredients, remaining 1/4 cup mayonnaise, and 4 teaspoons curry powder in large bowl. Mix with fork or hands just until blended (do not overmix). Divide mixture into 12 equal portions. Using wet hands, form each portion into patty about 1/2-inch thick.

Preheat broiler or heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. If broiling patties, brush rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon oil and arrange patties on sheet. Broil (or cover patties in skillet and cook in batches) until cooked through, pressing patties down lightly with spatula before turning over, about 3 minutes per side (or 4 minutes per side if cooking in skillet).

Place patties on bottom halves of rolls. Top each patty with sauce. Cover with roll tops. Place 3 sliders on each of 4 plates and serve.