Burgers sell like hotcakes. McDonald’s has sold more than 377 billion hamburgers. Burger King, Wendy’s, and other chains have their own strong sales figures.
Yet it wasn’t always the case that Americans liked eating a burger. The history of the burger is long and complicated.
What were the earliest forms of the hamburger? What does Hamburg, Germany have to do with hamburgers? How did the hamburger become the American sandwich?
Answer these questions and you can gain a richer appreciation for your hamburger. Here is your quick guide.
Precursors of the Burger
Cattle were first domesticated roughly 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Human beings began killing cows and eating their meat as a cheap source of food.
Ground meat became popular because it was easy to cook, transport, and serve. During the reign of Genghis Khan, ground meat became popular amongst soldiers. They needed to eat something in one hand while they rode, so they made patties out of ground lamb.
Many people ate the meat raw. Russians began adding onion and raw eggs to ground meat patties, creating steak tartare.
The Hamburg Steak
Minced beef became a delicacy during the medieval era. Tending to cows required a lot of work, so having ground beef was a sign of financial success.
Hamburg, Germany was a port town close to Russia. Russian merchants brought steak tartare into the city, and it became popular amongst wealthy residents.
As time passed, steak tartare changed. Poorer residents took raw beef and added spices to it.
They also began to cook it for easier consumption. This created the Hamburg steak. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the name “hamburger” comes from Hamburg, but no one knows who came up with the term.
The Rise of the American Burger
German immigrants began to enter the United States in mass numbers during the mid-19th century. German butchers bought tools like meat grinders and began serving Hamburg steaks.
These steaks became popular fast. Americans began making modifications to their steaks, putting them between slices of bread and adding condiments.
In 1904, the World’s Fair took place in St. Louis. Several burger joints operated on the fairgrounds, introducing many people to the sandwich.
Yet not all Americans were burger lovers. Journalists produced articles about the meat industry, showing how ground beef was loaded with preservatives.
Edgar Ingram and Walter Anderson sought to change public perception. They opened the first White Castle restaurant in 1921, promoting a clean and friendly image.
Rival hamburger chains soon followed and grew in international importance. The culture around burgers developed, with customers coming up with how to order burgers.
A Brief History of the Burger
The history of the burger stretches back millennia. Human beings have always loved ground meat for its simplicity. Ground meat patties were easy to eat on top of horses.
Hamburg developed a love for steak tartare. The hamburger emerged over a few centuries, as chefs modified steak tartare to their liking.
German immigrants then brought the hamburger to America. Its success at the World’s Fair sparked a boom in restaurant chains.
Great burgers are closer to you than you think. Burger Republic serves the Nashville area. Find a location near you today.