Where did the hamburger get its name?

by | Jan 14, 2010 08:00 PM ET
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Welcome to Brain Stuff from howstuffworks.com, where smart happens.

Marshall Brain

Hi, I'm Marshall Brain with today's question, why is called hamburger when there's no ham in it? The short answer to that question is that hamburger came from Hamburg, Germany. And that's a little weird when you think about it. The Frankfurter, a.k.a the hot dog, came from Frankfurt, Germany. Germany and fast food definitely have something going on together.

Hamburger started with the Tartars, a nomadic people who invaded central Asia and eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. The Tartars ate their shredded beef raw, hence the name steak tartar these days. According to one account, they tenderized their beef by putting it between the saddle and the horse as they rode. When the Tartars introduced the food to Germany, the beef was mixed with local spices and fried or broiled and became known as Hamburg steak.

German immigrants to the United States brought hamburg steak with them. It showed up on New York City restaurant menus in the 1880s. Hamburgers became a sensation as sandwiches at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. White Castle, founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas is the world's oldest chain of hamburger restaurants. The hamburger's popularity exploded in the United States after WWII when burgers became the main menu item at drive-in restaurants spawned by the growing number of cars in the United States.

McDonald's, which started as a hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California, has spread the hamburger around the world. The world's largest restaurant chain, with more than 26,000 restaurants and 119 countries has served billions and billions of hamburgers.

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