Why Is It Called A Hamburger When It’s Beef? A Simple Guide

Have you ever wondered why a beef patty sandwiched between two buns is called a hamburger?

After all, there’s no ham in it!

The answer lies in the history of this beloved American food.

It turns out that the name “hamburger” has its roots in Germany, where a dish called Hamburg steak was popular in the 19th century.

Over time, this dish evolved into what we now know as hamburgers.

But how did this happen?

Join us as we explore the fascinating history behind the name of this classic American food.

Why Is It Called A Hamburger When It’s Beef?

As mentioned earlier, the name “hamburger” comes from Hamburg, Germany. In the 19th century, sailors would visit the port town of Hamburg and bring with them the idea of shredded beef. This shredded beef was mixed with local spices and either fried or broiled, creating a dish known as Hamburg steak.

German immigrants brought this dish with them to the United States in the late 1800s. It was served in restaurants and food carts in New York City, where it gained popularity.

But how did Hamburg steak become hamburgers? The history is not entirely clear, but there are a few theories.

One theory is that brothers Frank and Charles Menches created the first hamburger in Hamburg, New York, in 1885. They were selling sausages at a county fair when they ran out of pork. They substituted beef instead and served it between two slices of bread, creating the first hamburger.

Another theory is that a teenager named Charlie Nagreen invented the hamburger in Seymour, Wisconsin, also in 1885. He was selling pork sandwiches at a county fair when he decided to flatten a meatball and serve it between two slices of bread so customers could eat while walking.

Regardless of who invented it, the hamburger quickly became popular in the United States. Drive-in restaurants and fast-food chains like McDonald’s helped to spread its popularity even further.

The Origins Of Hamburg Steak In Germany

The origins of Hamburg steak can be traced back to central Asia, where the Tatars, who were horse riding tribes, would eat minced raw meat. This dish became known as “steak tartare” and eventually spread to Europe, particularly Belgium, France, and Germany. In Hamburg, Germany, minced meat was molded into the shape of a steak and then grilled and served with gravy. This dish became known as Hamburg steak and was popularized by German immigrants who brought it with them to other countries, including the United States.

Hamburg steak was made with a mixture of ground meat and onions and was a simple dish. It was not until the early 20th century that vendors began selling Hamburg steak as a sandwich between two slices of bread, which eventually led to the creation of the hamburger. The exact origins of the hamburger are debated, but it is clear that Hamburg steak played a crucial role in its development.

Hamburg Steak Comes To America

Hamburg steak, the precursor to the hamburger, was brought to America by German immigrants in the late 1800s. This dish was made by mixing minced beef with breadcrumbs and spices, forming it into a patty shape and then grilling or frying it.

Hamburg steak quickly gained popularity in New York City, where it was served in restaurants and food carts. The dish was especially popular among factory workers who needed a quick and filling meal during their short work breaks.

As the popularity of Hamburg steak grew, someone had the idea to serve it between two slices of bread, making it easier to eat while standing or on-the-go. This simple addition transformed Hamburg steak into the iconic hamburger that we know today.

While the exact origin of the hamburger sandwich is still debated, it is clear that Hamburg steak played a pivotal role in its creation. Without Hamburg steak, there would be no hamburger, and this delicious dish may have never become the American classic that it is today.

The Birth Of The Hamburger

While the origins of the hamburger may be disputed, one thing is certain: it was first created in the United States. The credit for the first hamburger often goes to Louis Lassen, a New Haven resident who is said to have created it in 1900. According to legend, a customer came to Lassen’s lunch wagon and asked for something “quick and delicious.” Lassen took some steak trimmings from his regular sandwiches, broiled them, and put them between two pieces of toast. This simple creation became known as the hamburger.

The popularity of the hamburger quickly spread beyond New Haven, and it wasn’t long before other restaurants were claiming to have invented their own versions. One of these was Kaelin’s restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, which claimed to have invented the cheeseburger in 1934 by adding a slice of cheese to a regular hamburger. Another claim comes from the Rite Spot in Pasadena, California, where Lionel Sternberger reportedly added a slice of American cheese to a cooking hamburger in 1924.

Despite these claims, Louis’ Lunch remains the only eatery officially recognized by the Library of Congress as the birthplace of the hamburger. The restaurant still operates today using the same methods that Louis Lassen used over a century ago. Interestingly, they cook their burgers on vertical stove towers that date back to 1898.

The Name Hamburger Takes Hold

As Hamburg steak became more popular in the United States, it eventually evolved into what we now know as hamburgers. The name “hamburger” was first used on a menu in 1873 at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City, where they advertised a “hamburger steak.” The name stuck and eventually became the shortened version of “Hamburgs,” which was the name of the German dish.

As the popularity of hamburgers grew, the name became even more ingrained in American culture. Today, hamburgers are a staple of American cuisine and can be found in almost every restaurant and fast-food chain across the country. Despite its German origins, the hamburger has become a truly American food.

Hamburger Popularity And Evolution

The hamburger’s popularity and evolution can be traced back to the early 20th century. According to burger legend, a homeless man made the suggestion to a chef in passing, and voila—the cheeseburger was born. However, considerable evidence suggests that either the United States or Germany (the city of Hamburg) was the first country where two slices of bread and a ground beef patty were combined into a “hamburger sandwich” and sold.

After its creation, the hamburger quickly included all of its currently typical characteristic trimmings, including onions, lettuce, and sliced pickles. The burger became a culinary icon in the United States, along with fried chicken and apple pie. The hamburger’s international popularity demonstrates the larger globalization of food that also includes the rise in global popularity of other national dishes.

The hamburger has spread from continent to continent, perhaps because it matches familiar elements in different culinary cultures. This global culinary culture has been produced, in part, by the concept of selling processed food, first launched in the 1920s by the White Castle restaurant chain and its founder Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram and then refined by McDonald’s in the 1940s. This global expansion provides economic points of comparison like the Big Mac Index, by which one can compare the purchasing power of different countries where the Big Mac hamburger is sold.

The hamburger’s evolution can also be seen in its original form as Hamburg steak. In its native city of Hamburg, Germany, it was a major port that hosted many German immigrants on their way to the States. Consisting of chopped beef that was turned into a patty and then pan-fried, the dish was rounded out with onions, potatoes, and gravy, making it a cheap and easy meal for would-be Americans stuck in immigration limbo, sometimes for months. The immigrants who brought the Hamburg steak across the Atlantic set up carts in lower Manhattan that catered to new arrivals in search of comfort food. The vendors preserved the steak plate in its original form—an actual plate of food served with a fork. Authentic but not very portable at all.

The Hamburger Today: Variations And Controversies

Today, the hamburger has become a staple of American fast food cuisine, with various chains offering their own unique twists on the classic sandwich. In-N-Out, for example, has a secret menu that allows customers to order burgers with as many extra beef patties and cheese slices as they like, while McDonald’s offers the iconic Big Mac with its special sauce.

However, the hamburger has also faced its fair share of controversies. In the late 1990s, there was a nutritional controversy surrounding fast food in general, with some critics arguing that hamburgers were contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States. This led to calls for healthier options on fast food menus.

More recently, there has been debate over the use of hidden menus on restaurant websites. While some experts recommend avoiding hidden menus altogether, others have found that using a hamburger menu can actually increase revenue for eCommerce businesses.

Another controversy surrounding hamburgers is the use of “pink slime,” a term used to describe a beef-based product that was once commonly used as a filler in ground beef. Beef Products Inc., the company behind pink slime, has argued that their product is safe and wholesome, and not unlike everyday burger meat.

Despite these controversies, the hamburger remains a beloved and iconic food in the United States and around the world. Its popularity has even led to economic comparisons through the Big Mac Index, which compares purchasing power across different countries where the Big Mac is sold.