The Delicious History of the American Burger

Being born and raised in the United States, I’m guilty as charged when the world says that Americans really love burgers. The standard for burgers in any country is based on how Americans like their burger – big buns, thick juicy steak, creamy cheese and crispy veggies stacked as tall as possible.

Meat sandwiched between two breads seems to be a universal thing when it comes to food, but burger will always be associated with Americans. As always, I get curious regarding the connection of history, culture and food. The past defines how a group of people managed to collectively like a certain food.

It all starts with the meat.

The idea of burger patty already existed back in the 12th century, specifically with the Mongols. Minced horse meat was a daily source of consumption for the Mongols because of availability and convenience. Since Mongols felt no need to stop whenever they travel, they put meat under saddles to crumble and be cooked due to friction and heat.

During the Mongol invasion in Moscow, minced horsemeat was eventually introduced to the locals. It was gradually turned into steak tartare based on the Russian version. Whether directly or indirectly, the Mongols’ beloved minced meat became sausages, meatloaves and other similar dishes throughout Europe.

Thank God for ships!

In the 17th century, steak tartare recipes became a source of income for Russia. The country made their ships bring the recipes to the port of Hamburg in Germany where there a lot of Russian residents.

The New York City port was a popular destination for ships from Hamburg. Restaurants near the port started to offer the Hamburg steak to attract sailors who missed their country’s food. Hamburg steak was created similar to how we make burger patties nowadays: minced beef formed by hand to serve as a fillet, salted, smoked, and served with breadcrumbs and onions.

Regarding the person who thought of making a sandwich out of a Hamburg steak, it is not clear in history who exactly did it. One reason is the growing popularity of sandwich, which occurred in the same timeline as the Hamburg steak phenomenon.

Hamburg steak became hamburger steak. In the 1930s, it was finally called hamburger. In the modern years, hamburger is not a common term anymore because most people think that it is a burger made of ham. As always, burgers can be made with any meat – even fish patties.

Why America?

Now, why did the U.S. become the hub for burgers? History and numbers dictate that the U.S. massively produced beef and bread more than most countries caused by the growing economy, vast farmlands, and industrialization. Minced beef became even more popular when meat grinding machines from Europe reached the U.S.

Final Thoughts

I felt silly when I realized that hamburger does not mean that it was originally a burger made of ham. I hope I’m not the only one! Lastly, it is amazing how a country can accept a foreign food with open arms and make it their own for the whole world to see. Food can really transcend boundaries.

If you’re planning right now to make your own burger at home (I’m also craving for burgers while writing this), I have tips on how to broil meat patties for that soft texture. A burger with crunchy vegetables and soft meat topped with lots of cheese? Heaven!