Why the Name "Hamburger" If the Patty Has No Ham?

America's Favorite Food Quiz
Americans love their hamburgers, but typically not with ham. Westend61/Getty Images

The short answer is that it came from Hamburg, Germany. And that is just plain weird when you think about it, because the frankfurter (a.k.a. the hot dog) came from Frankfurt, Germany (see What are hot dogs made of? for details). One can only imagine why French Fries beat out German Fries...

Hamburger started with the Tatars (or Tartars), a nomadic people who invaded central Asia and eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. The Tatars ate their shredded beef raw (hence the name "steak tartare" these days). According to one account, they tenderized their beef by putting it between the saddle and the horse as they rode. When the Tatars introduced the food to Germany, the beef was mixed with local spices and fried or broiled and became known as Hamburg steak. German emigrants to the United States brought Hamburg steak with them. It showed up on New York restaurant menus in the 1880s. Hamburgers became a sensation as sandwiches at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.

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White Castle, founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kan., is the world's oldest chain of hamburger restaurants. The hamburger's popularity exploded in the United States after World War II when burgers became the main menu item at drive-in restaurants spawned by the growing number of cars. McDonald's, which started as a hamburger stand in San Bernardino, Calif., has spread the hamburger around the world. The world's largest restaurant chain with more than 26,000 restaurants in 119 countries has served billions of hamburgers.

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Originally Published: Jul 18, 2000

Hamburger FAQ

Where was the hamburger invented?
The hamburger was invented in Hamburg, Germany.
What is the origin of the hamburger?
The hamburger came from the Tatars, a nomadic people who invaded eastern Europe in the Middle Ages and ate their shredded beef raw. When they introduced this food to Germany, people began mixing the beef with spices and frying or broiling it, where it became known as a Hamburg steak.
When did hamburgers become popular?
Hamburgers became popular in the United States after World War II when burgers became the main menu item at drive-in restaurants like White Castle.
How many calories are in a typical burger?
The average calories in a fast-food burger is around 520 (a McDonald's Big Mac has 560 calories). A plain McDonald's burger (no toppings) has 240 calories, while a Burger King hamburger with ketchup, mustard, and pickles has 241 calories.
Are hamburgers bad for weight loss?
Yes, hamburgers are not particularly conducive to weight loss efforts because of their fat and calorie content. If you want to enjoy a burger, make it at home and swap the ground beef for lean turkey or skip the bun and extra caloric toppings.

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