There are many different tales depicting the history of the hamburger on the internet and in book form. There actually is no proven information as to where the hamburger was invented. Most of the hamburger stories are based upon second hand information or false claims.
Lets put it this way, when hamburgers first became a popular item between the years 1895 and 1906, every cook and restaurant from coast to coast laid claim to being the inventor of the hamburger. Back in those days, claiming to be the first to accomplish something in any area of expertise was a marketing ploy.
Since news traveled slow back in the 1890's, folks naturally took advantage of the information game time delay. For example, if a burger recipe was a local hit in New York, it might take months for the general public in some place like Minnesota or California to get the news about burgers.
Those who had access to telegraph or courier communication lines found out about burgers long before the general public and this create opportunities to turn a profit. When the local population finally tried burgers for the first time, they probably assumed that the burger is a local invention, especially if a local shop owner claimed to have created the first burger in an advertising campaign.
This is probably why there are at least 8 places in this country that boast being the home of the very first burger ever made. Oddly enough, every claim of originality is within a few months of each other.
If you look at the origin of minced beef, then China, Egypt, Arabia and Persia get the nod for the original hamburger more than a thousand years ago. When Europe is considered in the equation, sausage makers in Hamburg Germany get the honors, because they made complimentary grilled ground sausage meat snack sandwiches for customers in the late 1800's. When browsing American periodical records, there are about 8 claims for the original burger title around the turn of the 19th century.
The word "Hamburger" is affiliated with the city of Hamburg, Germany. Butcher shops in Hamburg commonly sold uncased sausage that was flattened and grilled, then placed on a bun or bread.
Originally, all sausage meat was minced or pulverized by hand. Mechanical sausage grinders were not invented till sometime in the middle of the 1800's. Meat grinders were not commercially available till the 1870's. The meat grinder timeline is an important factor when discussing the origin of the word "Hamburger."
In the mid 1800's, German American immigrants introduced a food item that was called "Hamburg Steak." By the year 1865, Hamburg Steak was a popular item at American casual restaurants and saloons.
A Hamburg Steak is cheap tough beef steak that is beaten with a mallet or the back of a cleaver, till it is tenderized to the point of being pulverized. Grilled onions are placed on the tenderized meat and then the steak is folded in half. The edges are pounded together to seal the onions inside. The meat is cooked on a griddle, then served on sliced bread with mustard. The German American style Hamburg Steak was the predecessor of the modern ground beef Hamburger!
When iron and steel was no longer in short supply after the American Civil War, mechanized sausage making machinery became more common. New York City was a major manufacturing center, so sausage grinders were marketed in the northeastern cities first. Cheap tough cuts of beef were fed through a grinder to produce ground beef. Machine driven meat grinders made this an easy chore.
In the 1890's, ground beef replaced the pulverized steak in Hamburg Steak recipes. This is when the modern hamburger was borne! Grilled onions and were mixed with ground beef and the mixture was seasoned with traditional German sausage spices. Egg and bread crumbs were added too, so the burger meat retained its shape when pressed.
Sandwiches made with the 1890's style ground beef mixture were originally called Hamburg Steaks. Snack food vendors marketed the reinvented ground meat version of the Hamburg Steak Sandwich at big events like state fairs in New York. By the year 1904, everybody called this unique sandwich a "Hamburger" and the name stuck. A few years later the sandwich was served on a bun, instead of sliced bread.
The original cooking method for making burgers is still considered to be the best. Portions of the ground beef mixture are rolled into a round ball shape. The ball of ground burger meat mixture is placed on a flat steel griddle, then a spatula is used to smash the burger into a flat patty shape. The patty is grilled till it is fully cooked and browned on both sides. The best burger stands, like Fatburger and Smashburger, still use the patty mashing method.
The original Hamburgers were only topped with mustard. Purists still claim that mustard is the only condiment sauce that should be offered with a hamburger. In modern times, everything but the kitchen sink is used to top off a burger, so the old rule of only using mustard has kind of gone out the window.
I am not the only American chef that is aware of today's original 1890's New York Fairgrounds Style Hamburger Patty recipe. Oddly enough, while working at a Northern Italian restaurant, an American chef from New York City and I were in charge of cooking the employee meal one day. We had an excess amount of ground beef, so hamburgers were the choice for the employee meal. The NYC chef asked if I had ever seen the original hamburger recipe and I told him that I had just finished researching the topic. The New York chef smiled and said "Mix it up and make sure that you add enough nutmeg!"
1890's New York Fairgrounds Style Hamburger Mixture:
This recipe yields enough for 1 large burger patty. (About 9 ounces)
Step 1: Heat a sauté pan over medium low heat.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
Add 1/4 cup of small chopped onion.
Sauté till the onions are tender.
Set the grilled onions aside to cool.
Step 2: Place 7 ounces of ground chuck in a mixing bowl.
Add the grilled chopped onions.
Add 2 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.
Add 1 pinch of nutmeg.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced parsley.
Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of plain fine bread crumbs.
Add 1 tablespoon of whisked egg.
Step 3: Thoroughly mix the ingredients.
Refrigerate the ground chuck mixture for 30 minutes, so the flavors meld.
1890's New York Fairgrounds Style Hamburger:
This recipe yields 1 large burger.
*For an 1890's style Hamburger, serve the burger on sliced bread. For an early 1900's version, place the burger on a bun. The bun can be split and grilled till it is toasted.
Step 1: Heat a cast iron griddle over medium/medium low heat.
Season the griddle with melted butter.
Step 2: Press the Hamburger Patty mixture into a round ball shape.
Step 3: Place the burger meat ball in the hot griddle.
Use a spatula to smash and press the patty flat.
*Do not even the outside edges with the spatula! The original New York fair Hamburgers were quickly made, with no time to form perfect patties. This adds an authentic touch!
Step 4: Grill the patty on both sides till it is fully cooked. Flip the patty a few times, so the Hamburger cooks evenly.
Step 5: Place the grilled patty on a hamburger bun or 2 slices of bread.
Place a dollop of mustard directly on the hamburger patty. (Ketchup is optional, but it is not traditional!)
Garnish the plate with lettuce leaves, sliced onion, sliced tomato, pickles and a parsley sprig. (optional)
The original 1890's New York Fairgrounds Style Hamburger is an antique recipe that is worth trying!