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Who invented the mythical hamburguer?

Everyone knows them and everyone has eaten one at least once in their life

By Míriam GuaschPublished 6 months ago 7 min read

I'm alking about the hamburger, perhaps the most famous sandwich and quintessential fast food. It has traveled the world, especially thanks to chains like McDonald's (in this regard, we recommend watching the film The Founder by John Lee Hancock), and today we find it in a thousand variants, from classic meat to vegan.

But, what is really hidden behind that kind of grilled meatball that is usually served with lettuce, tomato and onion, and is accompanied by a mountain of French fries? What if it wasn't exactly an American invention? Let's discover the intricate history of the hamburger, of which many claim to be its creators.

The hamburger has a German beginning

Let's begin our journey that will lead us to unravel the convulsive history of one of the most famous dishes in the world, for which it seems that there are at least a dozen people who dispute the primacy of having invented and distributed it. Where to start, then? Starting from the beginning, and for this we have to go back to 1891, in Germany , precisely in the city of Hamburg .

Do you notice any similarity? Well yes, in fact it seems that the hamburger was invented by one Otto Kuasw, a German cook who had tried to take a sausage out of its gut, flatten it and fry it in butter. But the great idea was to insert it between two slices of bread.

According to historical reconstructions (and some legends), this sandwich - known as "German steak" - began to gain some popularity among Hamburg port workers and sailors, because it was a quick and hearty meal. And most importantly, it was very tasty.

But how did this sausage steak, finely ground and sandwiched between two slices of bread, get to America? Well, Hamburg is Germany's main port exit, and from there it seems that, in 1894, some sailors who had been lucky enough to try this delicacy, once they arrived in New York, talked about Kuasw sandwiches. At that time, the chefs of the restaurants in the area began to prepare this sandwich for the sailors... thus the recipe, known as the Hamburger Steak , began to spread throughout the United States.

There is also talk of a Russian origin...

Another similar version of the story - which always sees the city of Hamburg as the protagonist - tells that, in reality, it was the Mongols , in the 13th century, who spread the tradition of minced meat: it seems that they kept some "snacks" underneath from the horses saddle, so that the meat would get tender while riding and, if necessary, they would take it out from under the saddle and voilà… they already had a good lunch without even getting off the horse!

Khubilai Khan, the grandson of none other than Genghis Khan, seems to have spread this strange custom when he invaded Moscow, obviously bringing his customs and traditions with him. This tradition was thus "adopted" by the Russians, who began to call it "steak tartare" . But what does Russia have to do with Hamburg? According to this historical reconstruction, it would have been the Russian ships, therefore, that in the 17th century brought the recipe for steak tartare to the port of Hamburg, where there was a strongly registered Russian minority, to the point that the German city was nicknamed the "Russian port" .

And since it was not going to be less... the Americans also claim to be the first

As with ketchup , it therefore seems "official" that the hamburger was not born in America and that it has a special relationship with the German city of Hamburg. But what happened to the recipe once it arrived in the New World? It is here, in fact, that the story begins to get quite complicated, and many dispute the authorship of the recipe... we will talk about three of them, those considered the most "accredited", but, obviously, it is not up to us to decide which one is certainly the origin of hamburgers and their creator.

If you were to ask the state of Wisconsin where the world's most famous sandwich was born, the answer would be obvious. It is no coincidence that the city of Seymour calls itself the "home of the hamburger" , since apparently, in 1885, a certain Charles Nagreen , a native of that town, invented the first modern hamburger in history. According to this reconstruction, 15-year-old Nagreen had opened a booth at the Outagamie County Fair selling dumplings. Business, however, was not going well, because the meatballs were uncomfortable to eat while walking around the fair... so, in a moment of inspiration, the young man thought of flattening them, placing them between two sandwiches and calling them "hamburgers".

Burger Hall of Fame

And apparently it was the right choice, since every year he returned to sell his specialties at the fair, reaping great success, to the point of being known as "Hamburger Charlie". The business continued until 1951, the year of his death, but his motto – Burgers, Burgers, Hot Burgers; onions in the middle, pickle on top. Makes your mouths water : To entice people to buy his sandwiches, he had already made history. Today, in fact, Wisconsin boasts of having a Hamburger Hall of Fame and organizes, every August, a festival entirely dedicated to this fast food, with events such as "the parade of the largest hamburgers in the world". The winner? For now the record is held by one of 5,520 kilos that was served in 1989.

The Manches brothers conquer Hamburg, this time in New York

We moved to Canton, Ohio in the year 1885 . Here we meet brothers Frank and Charles Manches , who ran a business selling grilled sausages on the fairground circuits. Legend has it that while setting out to sell their sandwiches at the Erie Country Fair in the city of Hamburg, New York State , they ran out of pork on a day considered too hot to slaughter the animals and also get maintain the integrity of their meat (let's say they did it not so much for the good of the animal but for the subsequent enjoyment of their meat).

But when the need presses... the two brothers did not let themselves be discouraged and looked for an alternative. They substituted beef for pork , enriching it with coffee, brown sugar, and roasted onions, and named their creation a hamburger after Hamburg, the city where the fair was held.

So…who invented the hamburger?

The most accredited version (despite the fact that everyone tries to seize the primacy of the inventors) is the one that affirms that at the end of the 19th century, in the ships taken by European emigrants bound for America , to save time and money, meatballs were served. grilled between two slices of bread . The ships were part of the Hamburg Line and it is assumed that the sandwich got its name from there.

Later, once they landed in America, the emigrants continued to prepare these cheap meatballs, calling them hamburger steak and later reducing it to a simpler name, hamburger , which in German means “from the city of Hamburg”. In no time, this tasty and easy-to-eat dish (could be enjoyed anywhere, on a bench, in the office, or even on a walk) became popular across the United States.

Louis Lassen and his Louis' Lunch

Even so, another of the most accredited theories is the one carried out by Louis Lassen and his Louis' Lunch Wagon , inaugurated in 1895 in New Haven, Connecticut. The particularity? His restaurant consisted of a Food Wagon , a kind of small mobile wagon that sold breakfast and lunch to the workers. But why does this place boast of having invented the first hamburger in history?

Apparently one fine day in 1900 a customer was in a particularly rush and looking for a quick lunch. Legend has it that Lassen took the remains of the leftover fillets, ground them and finally placed them between two slices of toasted bread, so that his client could take it with her and eat it comfortably on the way. That was the tipping point: the customer was excited, and Lassen thought of creating a real recipe from that haphazard attempt. Since then, he has continued to serve a burger made with 5 different cuts of meat minced with a knife and then cooked in special cast iron drawers.. Lassen's story is officially recognized and cited by the Library of Congress, which recognizes Louis Lunch as the place where the first hamburger was sold in 1900.

There are still plenty of contenders, and hamburgers still have a ways to go from the turn of the 20th century to 2022, from the White Castle chain that sold five-cent sandwiches , to McDonald's or Burger King. We hope this article has piqued your curiosity about one of the most popular fast food restaurants in the world, which is celebrated every May 28 as World Burger Day . Shall we celebrate with a delicious sandwich? And what about trying vegan burgers?


About the Creator

Míriam Guasch

Hello, I'm Miriam! Enthusiastic pharmacist passionate about well-being, vegan food, nature, animal lover, avid traveler, ecologist. Excited to learn and share!

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