Saddle Up for a History of the Hamburger and Its Strange Origins

Consider the hamburger: Tucked inside a bun and served with fixings, it’s an American icon. But how did it get that way? This National Geographic video traces the hamburger’s history.




Consider the hamburger: Tucked inside a bun and served with all the fixings, it’s an American icon. (Share the spotlight, hot dog.) But how did it get that way?

National Geographic recently released a short video about the history of the hamburger, tracing its origins back to Genghis Khan and the Mongolian cavalry, who, back in the 13th century, “would actually keep meat under their saddles,” Cutthroat Kitchen judge Simon Majumdar says in the video. This meat-meets-seat move was not only for convenient transport, Majumdar maintains, but also because “they realized it would be tenderized as they were banging against the saddle as they rode.” Oh my.

From there minced meat moved to Russia, where you got steak tartare, and Germany, where Hamburg steak was born. Immigration brought “steak in the Hamburg style” to the United States.

But what about the bun? According to Majumdar, when plates ran short at a state fair in the 1920s, the vendor started serving the meat on bread. “Through these kind of acts of chance or serendipity is how you develop a dish,” he adds.

Because it was relatively inexpensive compared with fancier cuts of beef, the burger caught on big during the Depression and then even bigger in the 1950s, when it became the perfect food for a culture in a hurry and in love with cars and “modern assembly lines.”

Fascinating. And yes, we would like fries with that.

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