It’s no surprise that hamburgers have a reputation as being one of America’s favorite foods. You can find them on a fast-food menu as well as in upscale restaurants, and there are enough variations of the hamburger to keep you taste-testing ones you haven’t tried yet for years to come.
You might be surprised to hear that the hamburger didn’t originate in the United States at all. In fact, the hamburger has a long and complicated history, an origin story full of holes and unanswered questions.
When were hamburgers invented? Who came up with the idea? What is the true history of hamburgers? Keep reading to find out all the juicy details.
A Meal for the Mongols
In the 12th century, Genghis Khan’s Mongol army would travel for days without stopping, moving fast with no intention of getting off their horses. They needed something they could eat while still riding, something they could easily hold in one hand.
To solve this problem, the army started keeping thin slabs of meat under their saddles. As they rode, the meat would tenderize due to the friction between the saddle and the horse’s back.
While the rumor is that the Mongols would eat the slices of meat right out from under their saddles, others say humans couldn’t have eaten the meat raw, so the jury is still out on whether the beginnings of hamburgers were eaten cooked or not.
Hamburg Steak, Anyone?
Fast forward several centuries as the Mongols make their way into what is now Russia, bringing their slabs of meat with them.
The Russians quickly adopted this cuisine into their food repertoire, naming the Steak Tartare after their name for the Mongols (who they called “Tartars”).
This is where things get a little unclear. While it’s not certain whether the new rendition of Steak Tartare started in Russia or Germany, people stopped keeping it as one thinly cut slab, and instead started mincing the meat and adding in new ingredients.
Egg, onion, garlic, rumored Hamburg cow meat, and several different spices were combined to form patties. These patties became known as the Hamburg steak.
Served on a plate without a bun, these hamburgers in the form of steaks were seen as a sophisticated, gourmet food option for their time. Unlike the fast-food options you might find today, this dish puts a dent in consumers’ wallets.
Arriving in America
Germany had some of the largest ports, so many of the people who ended up in America after a long journey across the ocean were German. When the sailors and migrants arrived in large cities like New York, they brought the Hamburg steak with them.
The meal started popping up in American restaurants all over the country in the late 1800s. The migrants started their own restaurants, featuring the Hamburg steak on their menus. News of this new, intriguing dish spread, and soon it skyrocketed in popularity.
It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that the Hamburg steak turned into a Hamburg sandwich.
People that worked in the factories ate Hamburg steaks from food carts, but it wasn’t a dish that was easy to eat on the go. To fix this, a cook decided to put the steak in between two slices of bread to make it easier to eat while standing.
With the industrial revolution came bigger and better inventions, including the universal meat chopper.
This invention, which we call a meat grinder today, made it so that flattening and mincing the meat by hand wasn’t necessary anymore. This sped up the process and made it much easier to make the burgers.
What’s the True History of Hamburgers?
Many people have been possibly credited with being the creator of the first hamburger, but it’s difficult to decide which stories in hamburger history might be true and which are fake.
15-year-old Charlie Nagreen is one possible answer to who the true inventor is. Nagreen, who was from Wisconsin, sold meatballs at a county fair. After realizing that they’d be easier to eat if they were pressed between two slices of bread, he created his own version of the hamburger.
Other possible inventors include the Menches brothers from Ohio, who also came up with their hamburger while selling food at a fair. When they ran out of pork to sell, they decided to use beef patties instead. They slapped the patty between two slices of bread and voila, the hamburger.
There are others, like Louis Lassen from Connecticut who served two slices of bread stuffed with steak trimmings, or Fletcher Davis from Texas who offered a similar hamburger sandwich at, you guessed it, a fair.
The list of possible inventors is long, but the one thing we can all agree on is that the true hamburger inventor is still a mystery.
Where’s the Bun?
At this point, the hamburger is missing an important element. The bun.
Legend has it that a man named Oscar Weber Bilby from Oklahoma was the first person to think to serve ground beef on a bun. While there isn’t solid evidence to support this story, it’s said that Bilby’s wife, Fanny, baked homemade yeast buns, which he then used to create the infamous hamburger and bun combo.
Bilby’s burgers became popular, and eventually he opened his own restaurant where he sold them with his son. Bilby’s restaurant is still open today, claiming to be the hamburger’s true birthplace.
With the traditional hamburger fully formed, fast-food chains started appearing in the 20th century. They offered a burger topped with things like onion, pickles, and cheese, sandwiched between a fresh bun.
Choose Burgers Handmade by the Best
Hamburgers are a classic for a reason. They’re juicy, delicious, and customizable, making it easy to find one that everyone will love. Why mess with perfection?
At 11/11 Burgers & Fries, we take the history of hamburgers seriously. By mixing the freshest ingredients with European influences, we’ve created a burger that’ll have your mouth watering as soon as you walk in the door.
All of our food is prepared from scratch, including our buns which are baked in our own ovens using fresh dough each day. Plus our special 11/11 sauce makes our burgers unlike any others.
Ready to taste the perfection yourself? Try an 11/11 burger today and see what you’ve been missing.