Why is it Called a Hamburger? (The History of the Hamburger)

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Hamburgers are one of the most popular American foods, but they don’t contain any ham, so why is it called a hamburger? I wondered the same so I did the research to find out!

In this TheGrillingDad.com article, we’ll cover:

  • Why it’s called a hamburger
  • The history of burgers
  • And much more!
a hamburger on a spatula over a flaming grill

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Why is it Called a Hamburger?

Although it is one of the most popular American foods, many believe that the hamburger has international origins…and its name proves it. But, like the history of most famous foods, there’s been quite some twists and turns along the way to get it to where it is today! 

According to most historians, the hamburger got its name from Hamburg, Germany, where it originated.

When Germans began coming to the United States in droves, they brought with them a ground meat which they mixed with onions, eggs, and breadcrumbs to form patties. These patties were known as “hamburger steaks” as it was the people from Hamburg who made them. 

At some point, the name of these patties was shortened to “hamburgs” until people began to eat this patty between slices of bread at which time the name became “hamburger.”

The term “Hamburger” first appeared on a menu in Delmonico’s in New York City in 1873. But it was listed as a “hamburger steak”. The first “hamburgers” (without “steak” attached to the name), were first served in 1895 by Louis Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut. 

As other popular restaurants began to adopt the dish, these sandwiches eventually earned the name “burgers.”

While this tells you the reason hamburgers are called hamburgers (even though they don’t contain ham), this isn’t the full story of the popular dish. Read on to learn more about why we call smashed beef patties hamburgers.

The History of Hamburgers

While it is fairly easy to trace the history of hamburgers back to the meat patties of Hamburg, Germany, it is much more difficult to know who invented them in the first place. Smashing meat into patties with other mix-ins has long been a German tradition bred out of necessity during long and harsh winters along the northern German border, and it is likely we will never know for sure who started this German trend.

Many believe that German sailors trading with Russia were the first to come into contact with hamburger meat, as a raw ground meat typically consumed in the Baltic region. At some point, Germans decided to cook this meat into patties with other mix-ins. There is no clear name as to who decided this or when, but it was a widespread practice in Germany by the late 19th century. 

The history of the hamburger doesn’t get any clearer as the Germans came to America, and many states argue over who has the claim to the original Hamburger patty as we know it today. Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Connecticut, and New York all argue that they were the first to make a hamburger. 

The truth is, all of these states began to have hamburgers show up on the menu between 1885-1900 and while they all claim to be the unofficial first, putting a hamburger on a bun/bread was likely a trend that had started in Hamburg and continued as the immigrants made their way all over the United States.

So while the states argue over who had the idea first, it is likely to remain unclear who officially made the first hamburger. I’ll just give credit to who it is due and assume the original immigrants from Hamburg, Germany, invented the hamburger. 

juicy hamburgers with french fries and a beer in the background

Burger Variations Around the World

United Kingdom

Americans aren’t the only lover of hamburgers, and the United Kingdom is another location where burgers are sold by the dozen at many restaurants. Sometimes in the UK, people will refer to burgers as “patties” or a “patty,” but this is becoming less common as American culture becomes more prominent. 

Australia and New Zealand

In Australia and New Zealand, hamburgers are also a common fare, but the word burger is often applied to other meats. For example, what would be known as a “fried chicken sandwich” in the United States is called a “chicken burger” across most of Australia. 

Canada

Canada is also a country that consumes a lot of burgers, second most behind the United States. While the burgers here are very similar to those found in the US, they are often served with poutine instead of french fries. 

Europe

Europe has also become a popular place for burgers, with France consuming the most. In fact, 75% of French restaurants will have some sort of burger on their menu. While the toppings differ greatly from those found in America, if you ever travel to France, you can know your favorite comfort food is never far away! 

Denmark also enjoys their hamburgers (which isn’t surprising since they are located just north of Hamburg, Germany!) But what is surprising, perhaps, is that it is one of the few places where they don’t call what we know as a hamburger a hamburger. Instead, this variation of ground meat on a bun is called a bøfsandwich. Be aware, however, that many bøfsandwiches contain a patty made of ground beef and horse meat mixed together–as eating horse is common in this region. 

Mexico

If you want to order a hamburger in Mexico, you’ll need to be prepared. Most Mexican hamburgers are the burger patty you have come to know and love with a slice of ham and cheese on top. If you want bacon, this can be added too, but the slice of ham seems to be the preference. So in Mexico, you really do get a ham-burger when you order one! 

Pay attention, though, since the ham is the main attraction in a Mexican hamburger, you may find that the traditional ground meat patty is replaced with al pastor meat, barbacoa, or even chicken in some places! 

Is a Burger a Sandwich?

Besides the debate about the history of the hamburger, many people also like to argue that a burger is a sandwich. According to some professionals, a hamburger is not a sandwich.

This is because a hamburger is a very specific type of meat, formed in a circular shape and served (typically) on a circular bun rather than bread. A sandwich, on the other hand, is something that was created out of convenience when the Earl of Sandwich (no joke) wanted an easier way to make lunch. 

While in the modern day, driving through a drive-thru may be convenient for a burger, it does still require infinitely more work than a typical sandwich. Therefore, sandwich connoisseurs continue to claim that a burger is not a sandwich, it is a burger. 

But if you’ve ever had a patty melt (a burger on 2 slices of bread with cheese and onions), you know that this line can often be blurred, so the debate continues.

As for me, I think a burger is a type of sandwich. But I would also argue a hotdog (with a bun, of course) is also a type of sandwich purely based on the definition!

What do you think? Is a burger a sandwich? Feel free to email me to tell me your thoughts: [email protected]

Shawn Hill

Shawn Hill

Hey, I'm Shawn and I run this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family. I'm here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you're in great hands! I've tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

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