It's National Hamburger Month. Can you smell it?
It’s waiting for you, fresh off the grill with the juices still boiling inside the slightly charred outer shell. Top it with a piece of cheese or two, and some pickles with a touch of ketchup. That’s my favorite way of eating a hamburger from my grill at home.
I prefer more of the basics when I make my own, but when I’m out and about enjoying this culinary delight, I like just a bit more. It’s National Hamburger Month again, and it’s that time when we celebrate one of America’s best inventions. Oh yeah, who did invent the hamburger? We’ll never actually know, but there are a few standouts amongst the pack of those claiming to have invented it.
According to the Library of Congress, it is clear that Louis Lassen and his lunch wagon in New Haven, Connecticut, were the first to sell a hamburger in the year 1895. The belief is that a customer ordered something hot and fast, but Louis was out of his usual steaks for steak sandwiches, so he ground up some beef trimmings and made a patty of them, grilled it, slapped two buns on each side, and the hamburger was born.
Only it didn’t have a name, according to New York Magazine, until a few sailors from Hamburg, Germany, decided that it needed to be named after their home port. Now back in those days, Hamburg was one of the largest transatlantic ports in Europe, and its most popular destination was New York City. If you are familiar with the New York City area you will realize that New Haven is nestled on the south shore of Connecticut along the Long Island Sound, and just minutes to New York City by water. Could this story be true? Heck if I know.
As I said earlier, there are a few other contenders in the mix. How about Charlie Nagreen, who sold meatballs between two slices of bread at the Seymour Fair in 1885? “Hamburger Charlie,” as he became to be known, was only 15 at the time he realized that people wanted to eat while walking around the fairgrounds. There are two theories on how he came up with the hamburger name: The first is that he originally sold Hamburg steaks, so it was a natural progression to the term “hamburger” and the second theory is that he named them after the Hamburg Steak, with which German immigrants were very familiar.
The famous and longest-standing burger joint in the world, White Castle, has its own opinion on the subject. Keep in mind that White Castle started selling hamburger sliders in 1921, so this puts them pretty close to the origin of the hamburger.
White Castle attributes the invention to Otto Kuase in 1891, a German cook in Hamburg, Germany, who made a beef patty fried in butter with an egg on top between two toasted buns. The name of this tasty sandwich was “Deutsches Beefsteak.” As the sailors traveled on ships between Hamburg and New York City they requested the “Hamburg-style” sandwich. The egg was dropped and the Hamburger was born. Maybe?
Of course, there are others in this saga who claim to have invented the hamburger. There’s Grandpa Oscar Weber Bilby of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who invented the hamburger in 1891 on his own farm on the Fourth of July. Brothers Frank and Charles Menches also claim to have invented the hamburger in 1885 at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York. Don’t forget about Fletcher Davis in Athens, Texas who brought his hamburger to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and has the endorsement of both McDonald’s and Dairy Queen.
Fast-forward about a score or two (20-40 years for those of my intellect) and we come into the age of fast-food hamburger joints. The first largescale operation, White Castle, began selling hamburgers in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas.
The only problem was that this was during World War I and there were a lot of anti-German feelings, so they decided to drop the hamburger name and call them “Salisbury Steaks” instead.
After the war, hamburgers just weren’t very popular anymore until White Castle developed its famous sliders. These are the very same sliders sold today, so next time you stop in Hinckley you might want to pick up a Crave Case and reminisce about the origins of the hamburger.
White Castle wasn’t the only large scale hamburger operation: McDonald’s began operations in 1948 in San Bernardino, California, but it wasn’t until 1948 when it introduced its “Speedee Service System,” thus paving the way to the fast-food restaurant concept. Now McDonald’s operates 33,000 restaurants serving 68 million people per day in 119 countries.
We can easily say that the hamburger has come a long way in just a short time. It has evolved from a patty and two slices of bread to some of the most interesting concoctions. Nowadays, we put just about anything on top of that burger and we hold contests to see how big of a burger someone can eat. Who wouldn’t attempt a four-pound burger and three pounds of fries for a T-shirt and a picture on the establishment’s wall of fame? Please take a look at some of the best places to get a good burger. Some of these establishments have been around for years and are known for their burgers, and some are relatively new to the market with some great new flavors. Take a tour and sample them all. I bet you won’t be disappointed. Of course, don’t forget to vote on your favorite!