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History Of Hamburgers

Sure, everyone knows that the hamburger comes from Hamburg and the frankfurter comes from Frankfurt (both are cities in Germany). What could be plainer? But it may interest you to know that while the meats themselves are German in origin, the idea of placing a hamburger or a frankfurter (better known as a hotdog) in a bun was American.

Burger Origins

The hamburger is a newer invention than the hotdog. During the middle ages, traveling merchants from Hamburg learned from the Tartars of the Baltic lands how to scrape raw meat and season it with salt, pepper and onion juice for what became known as "Tartar Steak." Many restaurants still serve a similar dish known as "steak tartare."

No one knows the name of the first cook to shape scraped or chopped beef into a patty and broil it, but we do know that the very first hamburgers were browned on the outside and almost raw inside. When the hamburger arrived in the U.S., it was eaten quite raw, the way the French, for instance, still prefer their meat.

The English and Irish were the first to cook their beef patties well done throughout. The English called the burger Salisbury Steak after Dr. James H. Salisbury, who in the 1880s recommended to his patients that they eat well-done beef patties three times daily, with hot water before and after, to relieve colitis, anemia and other illnesses.

You’ll still find Salisbury Steak on many dinner menus beside the hamburger. The difference? Well, many people buy chopped meat frozen in large plastic bags. To prepare hamburger patties, you need a tool like an ice-cream scoop to get the thawed meat from the bag and drop it on pieces of wax paper. The chef then forms the patties by flattening the lumps of chopped meat with a heavy object and making sure they are round in shape. For Salisbury Steak, an oval-shaped object is used to shape the meat patties.

American Patties

Burgers were first popularized in the U.S. by German immigrants settling around Cincinnati. But the first hamburger wasn't eaten between the halves of a bun until the early 1900s. The sandwich, meat of any kind placed between two slices of bread, has been with us since the 18th century – apparently, the sandwich was invented by a gambler named John Montagu, the fourth earl of Sandwich, who stuffed his meat between bread slices so that he could eat right at the gambling table. Officially, the first “hamburger” sandwich appeared at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri (which also happens to be the birthplace of the ice-cream cone).

As for the modern hamburger we eat today, it’s taken on many new forms to suit different people’s tastes. Vegetarians, for example, can enjoy hamburgers even though they don’t eat meat by getting patties that are made of soy protein or vegetables. A Welsh zoologist has even been working on a high-protein burger made from rat meat. And other scientists with tainted tastebuds have proposed a hamburger made from cotton!

If the popularity of the hotdog has gone down recently, the hamburger is still a big hit. Chopped meat now accounts for about 30% of meat sales. And even though in the late 1920s many American dictionaries still didn’t include a definition for the word hamburger, it’d be really hard to find a restaurant, diner, coffee shop or roadside stand that didn’t have hamburgers on the menu today. Burger joints have been popping up all over Europe, too, led by a British chain called Wimpy's. And you'll have no trouble in Paris finding a McDonald's for "le cheeseburger.”

One Hundred Billion Burgers

McDonald's is a story in itself. A chain known as White Castle was the first to serve cheap, mass-produced hamburgers. Since then, hamburger joints have multiplied. Today, McDonald's is definitely the leader of the pack. Beginning with a stand in Des Plaines, Illinois, which raised its now-famous golden arches on April 15, 1955, McDonald's has grown into a huge corporation with well over several billion dollars in annual sales.

McDonald's sales average a billion hamburgers every year. To date, McDonald's has sold over 100 billion burgers. Stack them up, and you'd have 100 piles the height of the tallest buildings in the world. The McDonald's Corporation is run from a complex near Chicago called "Hamburger Central." Since 1968, new franchisers have been taught the ABCs of hamburgerology at a school in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, known at Hamburger University.

The McDonald's burger has not only spread from coast to coast in the U.S., it’s also multiplied globally. As of 2007, there were more than 31,000 McDonald's restaurants throughout the world. And yes, there's a McDonald's in Hamburg.

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