Whether you’re at a baseball game, BBQing with family, tailgating with friends, or simply grabbing a bite to eat for lunch, the hamburger is an all-time American favorite. The mouth-watering hamburger has evolved over the years, with restaurants and pubs now crafting custom artisan burgers prepared with a variety of tasty additions – like mac & cheese or Mexican-inspired guacamole. Since gaining its popularity, it seems like there are an incredible amount of recipes surrounding the burger, with new delicious variations still coming up daily from kitchens across the country.
From a mushroom burger to a veggie burger, this American staple has been delighting taste buds for years, yet the origins of this satisfyingly greasy food are quite unclear. While we know the mighty burger will continue to gratify hungry bellies, let’s take a look at some of the stories around how the hamburger was born into popularity.
Possible German Roots
One story dates the hamburger’s ancestry back to Hamburg, Germany, where butchers, using the guidance of Russian teachings, diced up beef and prepared the cheaper cuts of meat in compressed chunks. At the end of the 18th century, German immigrants introduced what they referred to as the ‘Hamburg Steak’ to American eateries. The dish began gaining momentum in the regions of the country where large German settlements were found. The buns were supposedly brought into the picture around 1847 when the Hamburg American Line, a transatlantic shipping company, began distributing the meat between two slices of bread.
Another possible theory states that the hamburger was allegedly introduced in 1758 as a featured recipe in Hannah Glasse’s popular cookbook titled The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. The recipe, named the “Hamburg Sausage,” called for the meat to be served on a bed of toasted bread. There are many of stories that back up the Glasse origins, including one involving Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas. As the legend goes, David opened a small café in the late 1880’s where he served a dish comprised of fried ground beef, mustard, and onions between two slices of bread. He later introduced the meal at the 1904 World’s Fair, the story of which is corroborated by a New York Tribune article describing a sandwich prepared by an unknown vendor called the hamburger.
But let’s not discount other possible accounts of the burgers’ claim to fame. Take Charlie Nagreen, for instance, who reportedly sold what was described as a meatball between bread at the Seymour, Wisconsin fair in 1885. So which of these narratives hold the true birthplace of the burger? While it’s possible that multiple people discovered the appetizing combination of beef and bread, a majority of Americans agree that the famous hamburger became a widespread sensation after the New York Tribune article was published describing the tasty treats appearance at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Whether it was truly Fletcher Davis who fed the patties to hungry attendees or another unknown genius, it is clear that the hamburger began popping up at food establishments across the nation after its glorious appearance at the World’s Fair.
Several years later, in 1916, the slices of bread were replaced by the hamburger bun we know and love today, thanks to a cook named J. Walter Anderson. In 1921, Anderson and his partner, Billy Ingram opened the first White Castle in Kansas, advertised as a quality hamburger joint with fresh meat. From there, the hamburger’s fame exploded, with a variety of iconic restaurant chains, like In-N-Out Burger, McDonald’s, and Burger King opening to the public. While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact source of the burger’s origin, there’s one thing we can’t argue with – the hamburger is an essential part of American culture.
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