Where Did The Word Hamburger Come From Long Before Ronald McDonald, Who Invented the Hamburger?

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Urban legend, perhaps spurred by the name, credits the Mongols with the creation of the raw beef delicacy called steak tartare. As the story goes, Tartar horsemen would wedge pieces of raw horsemeat underneath their saddles to dine on still raw but nicely tenderized at the end of a long day.

Written culinary history suggests a less intriguing but more likely explanation of the name’s origin, attributing it to the classic French accompaniment to a scoop of raw beef, tartar sauce. But clearly appreciation for finely chopped beef spans both cultures and centuries. Take the idea of tartare to the fire, and voila! Hamburgers.

History of Hamburg Meat

It was actually a bit more circuitous route from the grill to the bun. The term “hamburger” derives from the name of the city of Hamburg in Germany, known for exporting high-quality beef. It first showed up in print in 1834 in America on the menu at New York’s Delmonico Restaurant, where the chopped and formed “Hamburg steak” was a prominent item.

In the late 19th century, Dr. James Henry Salisbury used chopped beef patties to cure Civil War soldiers suffering from camp diarrhea. Dr. Salisbury advocated eating cooked beef three times a day for a healthy constitution. The term “Salisbury steak” appeared in print in 1897 and the seasoned and broiled patty is considered a forerunner of the modern hamburger.

Then Came the Bun

The story behind the introduction of a bun isn’t quite as clear. Brothers Charles and Frank Menches claimed credit for its creation when they ran out of pork sausages at the Erie County Fair in 1885 and substituted beef in their sandwiches. But food vendors in Texas, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Connecticut also proclaimed themselves the inventor of the beef patty on a bun. Enthusiasm for America’s favorite sandwich really took off at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

By 1912, the hamburger’s reputation as ground beef on a yeast roll had spread across the nation, and the term “burger” soon stretched to include other patties made from cooked meat and served as sandwiches. Cheese as a topper shows up in print at least as far back as 1938. The distinction of the first hamburger stand belongs to White Castle, which opened its first store in Wichita, Kansas in 1921. McDonald’s followed suit in 1948; fast forward through the ensuing fast-food phenomenon and Americans in the 21st century eat more than 40 billion hamburgers each year. Americans often use the terms “ground beef” and “hamburger meat” interchangeably when discussing bulk ground beef as opposed to already formed burgers. Outside of the United States, ground beef is referred to as “minced beef,” “beef mince,” “mincemeat” or simply “mince.”

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The History of Hamburgers | Food: Now and Then | NowThis

This is the hotly disputed history of the hamburger.
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People have some serious beef about who invented the hamburger.

The classic condiment-filled fixture we know and love today is only about 100 years old, and five American cities claim to be the home of the hamburger.

The dish arguably evolved out of steak tartar, which consists of raw meat, raw eggs and onions. The dish came to Hamburg, Germany, from Russia, and German immigrants brought it to the states. American restaurants then started selling “Hamburg-style” chopped raw steak.

Raw meat was used to aid digestion at the time, but New York doctor James Salisbury suggested that cooking the meat would be just as healthy, and the Salisbury steak was born.

In terms of the invention of the actual hamburger, there are several potential backstories. Some say the Menches Brothers from Akron, Ohio, came up with the beef burger after running out of pork sausages to sell. Some also say “Hamburger Charlie,” from Hortonville, Wisconsin, came up with the sandwich. However, the Library of Congress gives actual credit to Louis Lassen, who began serving beef patties between two pieces of toast.

Fast food restaurants then helped popularize them in the late 1900s, until they became the delicious, decadent mealtime staple they are today.  

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