How’s your hamburger history? You’ve no doubt eaten hundreds, if not thousands of hamburgers in your life. Even non-meat eaters enjoy some kind of hamburger alternative now and then.
That said, we don’t often think about where these juicy delicacies came from. When did the first person slap some ground beef onto a grill, grab a couple of buns, press them into one, and create the first hamburger?
We’re going to uncover the history of the hamburger today, giving you a glimpse into its origins. While it might be hard to answer the question “who invented the hamburger,” we can get a decent idea of where burgers came from, how they evolved, and why they’re so common.
Let’s get started.
The Secret History Of The Hamburger
Surprisingly, our journey starts way back in twelfth century Mongolia. Genghis Kahn, one of the most prolific conquerors of all time, used considerable resources to exert his imperial force.
Taking over sizeable portions of the earth requires that you disperse soldiers all over. Naturally, those soldiers all carry a kernel of their original culture and spread that cultural knowledge wherever they go. Through peace or by force, culture always has a way of trickling out wherever it goes.
Feeding an army of that size required some clever methods of tenderizing and keeping meat. The Mongols used to place packages of meat under their horse saddles, tenderizing as they rode.
They typically enjoyed mutton, lamb, and other meat sources all ground or mashed into one chunk. Those chunks flattened to the contours of their horses’ backs as they rode. This, dear friends, is the origin of the patty.
Imperial Expansion Into Russia
Just under one hundred years after Genghis Kahn was born, his grandson took the reigns and continued conquering. Khubilai Kahn invaded to the northeast, moving into Moscow and greater Russia.
Soldiers still had the practice of keeping meat under their saddles and the Russians took note. They adopted a similar practice, calling the product “steak Tartare.”
“Tartars” was the name that Russians used to refer to Mongolians in the 13th century. Over the centuries, steak Tartare was refined and improved upon. In all of Kubiliai’s historically significant life, who knew that he’d have such a strong culinary influence?
European Tastebuds Pave The Way
In the fifteenth century, minced beef started to spread like wildfire in Europe. Minced beef is simply ground beef. Grounded beef is beef that’s been cut very finely or run through grinders, meat processors, or mincers.
It’s doubtful that the quality of 1400s beef was good as what we have now, but we had to start somewhere. Their primary application for beef during this time was to put it into sausage.
The silk roads and spice routes had been in full swing for centuries by the time 1600 AD rolled around. Globalization hadn’t invaded every inch of our territories and lives yet, though. There were still cuisines unknown, delicacies to uncover, and the great genius who invented the burger hadn’t had their time in the sun quite yet.
Sometime in the seventeenth century, the German city of Hamburg started importing goods from Russian ships. One of those cultural imports was the steak Tartare.
Minced beef’s horse-flattened cousin had entered the palettes of Hamburg. Your tastebuds should be tingling now.
The “Hamburg Steak”
Steak Tartare soon turned into the Hamburg steak when minced beef replaced the lamb and mutton used in the former. Raw egg, onion, and spices of the day were all infused into this, the hamburger’s recent ancestor.
The largest trade routes of Europe were in Germany or dealt with German sailors in the late 1700s. As the new United States started to grow in numbers, trade from Europe was absolutely essential to fuel the new citizens and produce infrastructure.
Port communities along the coast of the United States thrived off the patronage of sailors and merchants that were coming through. As a result, it was important to market to Germans, as many of the sailors game from Germany.
Restaurants advertised Hamburg steaks, often referring to them as “steaks cooked “Hamburg-style.” It’s important to note that Hamburg steak consisted of mostly low-grade beef with different spices, and that combination of ingredients was very affordable.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people were not flush with money. Affordable meals were all most people could access. So, the blooming population of the United States gravitated toward Hamburg steaks because it was a reliable, affordable, and nutritious way to eat.
Hamburgers As We Know Them
It’s difficult to pinpoint where modern hamburgers started. There are different iterations of the burger that filter through early American history, and finding the accurate origin point of the hamburger might be impossible at this point.
We notice Hamburg steaks starting to pop up on restaurant menus in the late 1800s, coming in at around ten cents a pop. There’s also a story of a Wisconsin man named Charlie Nagreen who flattened meatballs, added onions and pickles and stuck those ingredients between two pieces of bread.
He’d sell them at state and county fairs, singing a jingle to entice hungry attendees to try his new food. Seymour, Wisconsin claims to be the home of the hamburger, and that’s backed up by the Wisconsin State Legislature.
There are fourteen or fifteen other well-known claims that tell a similar tale. All of these claims that tell us who invented the hamburger might be true in some ways. It’s possible that hamburger origins popped up simultaneously.
Putting ground patties between slices of bread and adding onions seems like the natural thing to do, especially when you didn’t have many other ingredients to work with. The reality is that we will probably never know the true creator of the very first hamburger.
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Want To Learn More About Hamburger Origins?
So, where was the first hamburger? Was it Russia, Mongolia, Germany, or the United States? All of those places had iterations of the burger in its various stages but we may never know when the first patty got slapped between buns.
If you want to learn more about the history of the hamburger and other similar tales, we’re here to help. Explore our site for more interesting facts, lifestyle tips, product ideas, and a whole lot more.