The hamburger is one of the world’s most popular foods, with more than 40 billion served up annually in the United States alone. Although the humble beef-patty-on-a-bun is not much more than 100 years old, you can’t tell the story of its origin without outlining a far greater lineage, linking American businessmen, World War II soldiers, German political refugees, medieval traders and Neolithic farmers. The groundwork for the ground-beef sandwich was laid with the domestication of cattle (in Mesopotamia around 10,000 years ago), and with the growth of Hamburg, Germany, as an independent trading city in the 12th century.
Jump ahead to 1848, when political revolutions shook the 39 states of the German Confederation, spurring an increase in German immigration to the United States. With German people came German food: beer gardens flourished in American cities, while butchers offered a panoply of traditional meat preparations. Because Hamburg was known as an exporter of high-quality beef, restaurants began offering a “Hamburg-style” chopped steak.
In mid-19th-century America, preparations of raw beef that had been chopped, chipped, ground or scraped were a common prescription for digestive issues. After a New York doctor, James H. Salisbury, suggested in 1867 that cooked beef patties might be just as healthy, cooks and physicians alike quickly adopted the “Salisbury Steak”. Around the same time, the first popular meat grinders for home use became widely available (Salisbury endorsed one called the American Chopper) setting the stage for an explosion of readily available ground beef. Read more