Internationally recognized as “America’s favorite food,” the story of the hamburger is peppered with myths and legends. Many people have laid claimed they were the first to place a juicy ground beef patty between two slices of toasted white bread. Unfortunately, we don’t actually know who the true burger “king” or “queen” is. We do, however, know a lot about how this classic sandwich gained a stronghold in Americans hearts.Internationally recognized as “America’s favorite food,” Click To Tweet
Let’s begin with the most common misconception: that Hamburg, Germany is home to the first hamburger. While the inspiration for the hamburger came from Hamburg, the concept of the hamburger sandwich was conceived much later. In the 19th century, Hamburg became famous for their beef, from bovine raised in the regional countryside. Hamburg beef was often chopped, seasoned and molded into round patties. Since refrigeration was not yet available, freshly chopped beef had to be cooked immediately. Hamburg beef came with a high price tag outside of its native region, and was often substituted with less expensive varieties of beef.
America experienced a large influx of German immigrants during the 19th century, many of which earned their livelihood by opening restaurants in key cities like Chicago and New York. It wasn’t long before many of their menus featured an Americanized version of the Hamburg steak– minced beef combined with garlic, onions, salt and pepper, then grilled or fried. In 1837, New York City’s famous Delmonico’s restaurant offered a Hamburg steak on its revolutionary first menu. At a hefty 10 cents it was the most expensive menu item, surpassing the cost of pork chops, veal cutlets and roast beef. Thousands of Americans were treated to Hamburg steaks at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition in 1876. Afterwards the dish was in such high demand it was soon available in non-German restaurants and in cookbooks:
Hamburgh Steak. – Pound a slice of round steak enough to break the fibre. Fry two or three onions, minced fine, in butter until slightly browned. Spread the onions over the meat, fold the ends of the meat together, and pound again, to keep the onions in the middle. Broil two or three minutes. Spread with butter, salt and pepper.
– Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book, published in 1884
This is where Hamburg, Germany’s link to America’s classic hamburger severs ties with the story. The difference between Hamburg steaks and hamburgers as we know them today is one simple ingredient: the bun. Two simple pieces of bread transformed the Hamburg steak into national popularity in the mid 1800’s, when factory jobs dominated the American economy. As steam powered factories began operating through the night hours, food stands would offer coffee and small food items outside for workers. Similar to the modern-day food carts found in large cities, hungry employees would order food through a window and eat quickly before heading back inside to finish their grueling shift. As the years progressed, food carts came equipped with gas grills and the popular Hamburg steaks started showing up on their menus. Although popular enough by the factory workers, the Hamburg steak proved difficult to eat while standing. The solution? Placing the beef patty between two slices of bread and the hamburger sandwich was born. So, who was the first to serve the Hamburg steak as a sandwich? That is a details with has been lost in history. Whoever is to credit, it was a stroke of culinary genius. By the turn of the century, the hamburger was already considered an American classic.So, who was the first to serve the Hamburg steak as a sandwich? Click To Tweet
It wasn’t until 1921 that the first fast food hamburger restaurant was opened by Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson: White Castle, in Wichita, Kansas. Their primary menu option was a small 5-cent hamburger, which they encouraged customers to purchase “by the sack.” Hamburgers were steadily becoming a popular menu item at roadside diners and soda shops, where they were often served with a side of french fries and ice cold milkshakes.
The following decades saw the popularity of the hamburger continue to grow and only suffered when the food shortage and meat rationing during World War II affected the economy. It wasn’t until the 1940’s, when the McDonald brothers opened their Burger Bar Drive-In in San Bernardino, California, that the hamburger truly skyrocketed into fame. By that late 1950s, McDonald’s had sold over 100 million hamburgers. Today, they sell over 75 hamburgers per second!
Modern day hamburgers can be found in nearly every corner of the globe. With an evolution that has become more than a convenience, meat patties are now decorated with an endless supply of tasty toppings. Even the patties themselves have been replaced with healthier options such as black bean, garbanzo bean, turkey and even salmon. Fast food restaurants have become more adventurous with their “hamburger” patties. At MOS burger in Japan you can order a rice burger, and McDonald’s in India developed a McAloo Tikki Burger made from fried potatoes and peas topped with tomatoes, onions and spicy condiments, to satisfy the dietary restrictions and taste preferences of their Hindu diners.
Hamburger continue to evolve over the years, a perfect example is the Aztec Burger from Nielsen Massey. Combining the flavors a chocolate extract with fresh salsa and ground beef will transport you from your dining room table to the far corners of an ancient world.What's your favorite way to eat a hamburger? @NielsenMassey Click To Tweet
Aztec Burger Recipe
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup catsup
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons spicy salsa
1 tablespoon Nielsen-Massey Pure Chocolate Extract
1 pound ground beef
Heat the oil in a pan, and saute the onions, until translucent. Add the catsup, water, salsa and Pure Chocolate Extract. Cook, stirring occasionally until thickened. Form four hamburger patties with the ground beef and grill or fry as desired. Serve on toasted sourdough bread or your favorite hamburger buns with the sauce spooned over the top.
For a fun twist, create your own salsa using fresh peaches, red onion, red, yellow, orange, jalapeño and/or habanero peppers, cilantro and a splash of aged bourbon.