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The Oxford English Dictionary defines the backyard barbecue staple as “a flat, round cake of minced beef, fried or grilled and typically served in a bread roll garnished with various condiments.”
One thing that generally doesn’t make the ingredients list? Ham. This begs the question: Why is a hamburger called a hamburger if there isn’t any ham in it?
There’s no clear reason as to why a hamburger is called a hamburger, but our best guess is right in the name: The origins can be traced back to Hamburg, Germany.
As Europeans began to immigrate to the United States en masse in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought with them their favourite foods, including Hamburg steaks, or fried patties of minced beef and chopped onions that were bound together with eggs, bread crumbs, and mild spices.
Were the inventors actually brothers Frank and Charles Menches, who placed a beef patty between two slices of bread at a county fair in Hamburg, New York, in 1885? Or was it Oscar Weber Bilby, who first sandwiched a patty in a bun in 1891 in Tulsa, Oklahoma?
Perhaps the idea belongs to all of them. No matter who originally came up with the sandwiched patty, the national love affair with the hamburger thrives to this day, with burgers being about as American as it gets.
While we can’t say for sure why a hamburger is called a hamburger, beef burgers are still called hamburgers, even though there’s no ham in them. The term “Hamburg” influenced the modern food’s name, perhaps because Hamburg steak so closely resembles the beef patty, so every burger is considered a hamburger, including those with meatless patties.
In the 18th century, on the rainy isle known as England, the Earl of Sandwich ordered his cook to serve him meat placed within slices of bread so that he didn’t have to abandon his duties for a meal. And so the sandwich was born.
Why is a burger not a sandwich?
There are many subtle differences between the two (like the type of bread used and the way the bread is cut), not the least of which is the filling. A burger will always contain one or more grilled patties of ground food—meat or vegetables or faux meat—and will always be circular.
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