Unveiling The Misnomer: Why 'Hamburger' Lacks Ham

  1. Home
  2. The-Knowledge-Quotient

Unveiling The Misnomer: Why 'Hamburger' Lacks Ham


The origin of the hamburger's name is as intriguing as the dish itself. Despite its name, the classic hamburger contains no ham. Instead, its roots trace back to Hamburg, Germany. In the 18th and 19th centuries, German immigrants brought their beloved Hamburg steaks to the United States.

These were fried patties of minced beef, mixed with onions, eggs, bread crumbs, and mild spices. Over time, the dish evolved, and the name was shortened from “Hamburg steaks” to “Hamburgers” when the beef patties were eventually served between slices of bread.

Claims to the Hamburger Throne

While the name's origin is relatively clear, pinpointing the exact inventor of the modern hamburger is more contentious. Several claimants vie for this culinary accolade. Some credit brothers Frank and Charles Menches, who reportedly sold beef patties between bread slices at a county fair in Hamburg, New York, in 1885.

Others attribute the invention to Charlie Nagreen, who purportedly did the same at a fair in Seymour, Wisconsin, that same year. Then there’s Oscar Weber Bilby, said to have first served a bun-based burger in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1891. Additionally, Louis’ Lunch sandwich shop in New Haven, Connecticut, asserts it served the first hamburgers in 1900.

A Melting Pot of Culinary Ideas

The true origin of the hamburger likely lies with all these contributors. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of great movement and cultural exchange in America. Immigrants brought with them their culinary traditions, which blended and evolved into new, uniquely American dishes.

Regardless of who first put a beef patty in a bun, the hamburger quickly became a beloved staple, embodying the melting pot of American cuisine.

Hamburger vs. Beef Burger: What’s in a Name?

Interestingly, there is no difference between a beef burger and a hamburger. The term "hamburger" stuck due to the dish’s resemblance to the Hamburg steak, despite containing no ham.

Thus, all beef burgers, and even some meatless varieties, fall under the “hamburger” umbrella.

Is a Burger a Sandwich?

This brings us to another food debate: is a burger a sandwich? While technically meat between bread, like a sandwich, a burger distinguishes itself with its specific components and preparation. The Earl of Sandwich popularized the idea of meat between sliced bread in the 18th century.

However, burgers typically use buns, not sliced bread, and feature grilled patties, giving them a distinct identity separate from sandwiches.

A Culinary Icon

The hamburger’s name, origins, and categorization may be complex, but its place in culinary history is undeniable. From fairs and sandwich shops to backyard barbecues and fast-food chains, the hamburger remains an American icon. Enjoy it however you like—rare, well-done, or with a side of fries—knowing its rich, storied past.