Brunch History: The Shocking Hamburger Origin Story You Never Heard

As the weather gets warmer, you may have noticed an itch to be outside, enjoy the sunshine, and grill with friends and family. We can only assume that this spring BBQ fever is what led someone to create National Hamburger Month AND National Hamburger Day (May 28th). As if we all really needed an excuse to eat more hamburgers during the upcoming summer months.

Hamburger history

Beginning in the 1200’s, the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, were in the midst of their world-conquering expedition. Because their cavalry was traveling so much, they would often eat while riding their horses towards their next battle.

The Mongol soldiers would soften scraps of meat by placing it under their saddles while they rode. By the time the Mongols had time for a meal, the meat would be “tenderized” and consumed raw. *We do NOT recommend using this technique while making burgers. It is very unsanitary.* By no means did the Mongols have the luxury of eating the kind of burgers we have today, but it was the first recorded time that meat was flattened into a patty-like shape.

In the year 1238, Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan invaded Moscow and brought the traditional tenderized meat along. The Russians enjoyed the unique dish and adopted it, calling it “steak tartare” after the Tartars (another name for Mongols). This small transaction is crucial to the hamburger history we are about to explore.

Even though the Mongols introduced the Russians to the steak tartare, it took almost 400 years for the trend to catch on. It wasn’t until the 15th century when minced beef became a European delicacy and countries were busy importing and exporting goods through ship trade. It was during these increased port exchanges that the Russian steak tartare was brought to Germany where they appropriately called it “tartare steak”.

Flash forward another 300 years to the 18th century. Germany has fully embraced the tartare steak and made it into a popular, comforting dish. Visiting sailors began coining the term “hamburg steak” to share and describe the delicious dish they ate while at ports in Hamburg. At the time, the meal was typically made with shredded beef, local spices, and served cooked or raw depending on preference.

Cultures collide

Although there is a debate of when the first real hamburger was created (“real hamburger” meaning the patty is served between buns), there is no doubt that the first versions were brought to the US by emigrants on the German Hamburg-America line boat during the 1850’s. The Hamburg meat was salted and smoked to last the entirety of the trip and was served between two pieces of bread. This marks the first time meat patties were placed between bread, when the traditional meal began transforming into the modern day hamburger we know and love today. Once emigrants arrived to New York, they continued the tradition of cooking this comforting sandwich for their loved ones and new neighbors. Thus spreading hamburger love and knowledge all across the country!

But who created the all-American burger?

There is quite a dispute over who invented the classic American diner and fast food chain hamburgers that we see everywhere today. Similar to the Eggs Benedict debate, many clashing theories have surfaced over the years. During the tail end of the 1800s, this argument grew so large, it spread across five different states: Wisconsin, Ohio, Oklahoma, Connecticut, and Iowa. Don’t even get us started on the real origins of the classic cheeseburger, which also became a heated debate in several states.

Fun fact: The first burger to appear on a menu came in 1871 at Clipper Restaurant in San Fernando, California. It was listed as a “Hamburg Beefsteak” and cost a whopping grand total of 10 cents!

Burgers today are overflowing with delicious ingredients and condiments, like mushrooms, olives, eggs, bacon, pickles, kimchi, mayonnaise, hot sauce, and of course CHEESE! Thanks to the internet, we discovered that some of the strangest burger toppings in the US include fried ice cream, ramen, sushi, fried banana and peanut butter, and caviar.

Did you know that the world’s largest burger was made right here in Michigan!? AND our wonderful partner, Michigan Bread, custom made and donated the 250 pound bun that topped the whole thing off! The 1,794 pound, record breaking burger was made in Detroit and consisted of 2,000 pounds of raw meat, 300 pounds of cheese, tomatoes, onions, pickles, and lettuce. The whole thing measured three feet tall and five feet wide. #madeinmichigan

Where’s the beef?!

Today, you don’t have to eat meat to enjoy a delicious burger. Impossible Foods is a company who has studied, experimented, and created a juicy burger with absolutely no meat. According to their website, “Compared to cows, the Impossible Burger uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and creates 87% less greenhouse gas emissions.”

So if their burger isn’t made from cows, what is it made of? The Impossible burger is made from “simple, all-natural” ingredients, such as wheat, coconut oil, and potatoes. The secret to making that distinctive, juicy flavor is a little something called heme which is a type of iron that is found in animal meat. Although it is found in animal muscle, it is also prevalent in grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Trust us, you don’t have to eat a vegan diet to enjoy and fall in love with this burger.

Tell us!

What is the best burger you’ve ever had? Do you and your family have traditions with making your own hamburgers?



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