Why Is It Called a Hamburger If There’s No Ham?

There’s no clear reason as to why a hamburger is called a hamburger, but our best guess is right in the name: The origins can be traced back to Hamburg, Germany. As Europeans began to immigrate to the United States en masse in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought with them their favorite foods, including Hamburg steaks, or fried patties of minced beef and chopped onions that were bound together with eggs, bread crumbs, and mild spices.

The burger as we know it today evolved from Hamburg steaks. The name of the German dish was shortened to “Hamburgs” and then, when the beef was eventually sandwiched between two slices of bread, to “hamburgers.” Some sources claim the word “hamburger” first appeared on a menu in 1873, when Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City advertised a hamburger steak. Americans later abbreviated it to “burgers.”

But is this really why a hamburger is called a hamburger? As with other popular foods, there are many people who take credit for not only the word but also the idea.

Were the inventors actually brothers Frank and Charles Menches, who placed a beef patty between two slices of bread at a county fair in Hamburg, New York, in 1885? Was it teenager Charlie Nagreen, who placed meatballs between slices of bread and sold them as hamburgers at the Outagamie County Fair in Seymour, Wisconsin, that same year? Or was it Oscar Weber Bilby, who first sandwiched a patty in a bun in 1891 in Tulsa, Oklahoma? Maybe, as locals will tell you, the first hamburgers were served at Louis’ Lunch sandwich shop in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1900.

They actually get their name from Hamburg, Germany, home of a cut of beef called the Hamburg steak that eventually evolved into what we now consider hamburgers.

In 1802, the Oxford English Dictionary defined Hamburg steak as salt beef. It had little resemblance to the hamburger we know today. It was a hard slab of salted minced beef, often slightly smoked, mixed with onions and breadcrumbs.

The difference between a beef burger and a hamburger

There is no difference! While we can’t say for sure why a hamburger is called a hamburger, beef burgers are still called hamburgers, even though there’s no ham in them. The term “Hamburg” influenced the modern food’s name, perhaps because Hamburg steak so closely resembles the beef patty, so every burger is considered a hamburger, including those with meatless patties.