Grilling season is just starting up with all the warm weather and the extended weekends. Burgers are one of the things that get thrown on the barbeque and is a tasty treat most of us enjoy through late spring up until fall! But how much about the hamburger (as well as the other burgers) do we really know?
What is a hamburger? It’s essentially a sandwich made usually of cooked ground meat, such as beef, buffalo/bison, turkey, chicken, pork or a combination. At times it’s made with out meat to make a veggie burger. These sandwiches are then usually served with a variety of vegetables like lettuce, onion, tomato or pickles with a condiment or two like mustard or ketchup.
The name for the hamburger comes from the German city of Hamburg. This however is not where the meat patty was invented. During the time of Genghis Khan (1167-1227) the cavalry-based army of Mongols didn’t have time to stop and but a fire for meals. Instead the villagers that would follow the army would make flat meat patties out of lamb and mutton for the horsemen, who would then place the raw patties under their saddles. This would tenderize the meat for when it was time to eat.
In 1238 Khubilai Khan (Genghis Khan’s grandson) invaded Moscow. The Russians adopted the ground meat patty, calling it “Steak Tartare” (Tartar was what they called the Mongols) and eventually adding chopped onions and raw eggs to the meat. Around the 1600s, Germany acquired the Russian meat patty and brought it back to Hamburg and called it “tartare steak”. The Hamburg Steak was then brought to New York city in the late 1700s, and was made of cheap cuts of ground beef and seasonings, making it the hamburger patty we are more familiar with today!
Cheese is often added on top of the burger, transforming the hamburger into a cheeseburger, which was made popular in the 1920’s – 1930’s. Who invented the cheeseburger is uncertain. Lionel Sternberger, of Pasadena, California, is thought to have invented it at the age of 16 by dropping a piece of cheese on a hot burger as an experiment. Kaelin’s Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky say they invented it in 1934, but the trademark was given to Louis Ballast of Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver, Colorado in 1935.
As for the bun that we are so fond of adding to the hamburger patty, we can thank Oscar Weber Bilby for serving the hamburger as a sandwich. There are of course many people who say they came up with the idea, but no one is certain who was actually first.
If you’re looking for a healthier version of a hamburger, there are leaner meats that can be used such as ground turkey or chicken breast or even fish. But if you are looking for something minus the meat, there is the veggie burger. These are made with a vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, beans, grains or soy. The veggie burger is popular in countries such as India where a good portion of the population is vegetarian and most don’t eat beef.
Today there are many different types of hamburgers and have evolved from the basic meat patty to a variety of different flavors and different spices. The cheeses used have changed from your basic American cheese to the use of blue cheese, swiss cheese, feta cheese, along with many other varieties. You can also find hamburgers spiced up with the addition of jalapenos or made sweeter with grilled bell peppers. The condiments don’t need to be your average ketchup and mustard but made with aioli sauce, barbeque sauce, spicy sauces and the like.
Now that you know more about one of the world’s favorite foods remember these quotes the next time you enjoy a burger:
“I’m not telling you, ‘Never eat a hamburger.’ Just eat the good ones with real beef, you know, like the ones from that mom-and-pop diner down the street…” - Homer Simpson
“Tucking into a hamburger and fries is perfectly fine as a treat, as part of a balanced, active lifestyle.”
- Sharron Davies
Photo by jimbrickett