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The History of the Hamburger
It’s Early Beginnings

The Hamburger got it's name because sailors and dock workers and those traveling ate these meat cakes at the bustling ports of Hamburg, Germany because they could eat them standing up without a knife and fork. It was tender and not too messy. It was of course not called Hamburg steak, just as in Texas coffee shops they don't call it "Texas Chili".

Dock food was prevalent back in the mid 1850’s and you found it at the docks Hamburg and in New York as well . Oyster stands and other, food vendors with foods like sausages, soups and hamburg steak though wasn’t served on a bun, it was just consumed holding it.

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1908 - Delmonico's Cafe Martin, 212 Fifth Ave at 26th St, SW corner

In 1837 Delmonico’s restaurant had on it’s menu “Hamburg Steak” and was it was the most expensive thing on the menu, 10 cents. It was twice the price of Roast Beef or Pork Chops. They dressed it up with a nice gravy.

It is obvious that it was popular and that it was associated with Hamburg, Germany. Perhaps because the Hamburg-American Line was a famous and recognizableTransatlantic ship at the time.


How was the Hamburger Different in 1850

The cheap dock food was probably more what was called on menu’s salt beef, because fresh meat was a rarity at the time. The meat would have been salted and left to dry a bit and loose it's blood, as there was no modern refrigeration at the time. So it would be somewhere between the texture of ground beef and Jerky.

What was the Hamburger like in Hamburg?

The German recipes that I find are for something like this are called Frikadeller, Fleischpfanzel, Deutches Beefsteak,

Hackfleisch is the German word for ground beef, so this gives us an idea of how it was prepared before there were meat grinders. Hack = hack and Fleisch = meat. Vintage recipes talk about minced beef or even scraped beef.

Some old German mincing knives

The German recipes I found, always add either soaked rolls in milk or water, or potatoes as a filler and binder. The are seasoned and often cooked with onions. They usually use beef and pork half and half.
and even veal.
Beef of course in Germany is not like that in the states. It was often an oxen that couldn’t be used to plow, or old milk cow, or even veal was more popular because you didn’t always want to keep a baby beef around , as it can be expensive to feed and care for.

Pork on the other hand were cheap and independent, and this animal can be smoked and cured with greater success than a beef. The story of how beef became the meat of choice for hamburgers is a story all in itself, for later.

Grinding Meat with a Spoon?


The Meat grinder was also invented in Germany, by Karl Drais, in the mid 1800’s and before that, recipes call for the meat to be chopped with a meat mincer or scraped with an object like a spoon or a sharp knife. The popular dish Steak Tartar is a better texture when you scrape the meat with a sharp knife into small bits. A mincing knife was popular also that you could chop meat fast. Some folks wax fondly about their mom’s using a spoon to make small strips of beef that they would compact together and make a delicious dinner that is much better than modern ground beef.


The Hand Crank Meat Grinder hasn't changed too much since it was invented



Grinding your own hamburger




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Grinding Your Own Hamburger

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More Links and Recipes

Here is a food history book I recommend


This book tells about the roots of the hamburger not only from it's conception but also how this food became a national icon.


Hamburger, a Global History



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Microplane 40020 Grater/Zester  



Oxo Dough Scraper

One of the most versitale tools in the kitchen, for scraping flour off the counter after making bread, to lifting up lots of crumbs, and loosening up stuck on food.

Oxo 73281 OXO Good Grips Pastry Scraper  


Get it all in this book, plus curing salt and spices for making your own Corned Beef.


Food: A Culinary History (European Perspectives)  

The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia




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Last updated May 17, 2011