What? You didn’t know it was National Burger Month? That’s ok, neither did I, until I was reading a post about it at A Hamburger Today recently.
Burgers are a true bite of Americana and are as ubiquitous these days as any food in history. From fast food joints like McDonalds to fast casual dining options like Five Guys to fine dining options like the pioneer of over the top gourmet fare – the db burger at renowned Chef Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne – there are nearly as many ways to get your burger fix as there are people who like to eat them.
Writer and hamburgerologist Josh Ozersky, author of the book The Hamburger: A History, recently opined in a series of posts titled The Story of the Hamburger over at Eater that:
“The hamburger is a poetic public object, the result of care and industry and enterprise. It came into being as a commodity, and has existed at all times in the public sphere. A hamburger made at home is meaningless, an open letter written in lemon juice. But out in public, where it belongs, living in wrappers and radiating in neon, it’s part of our collective lives, a central symbol of food in the American imagination. Composed of bun and beef, and served with a special name, it has a place here that it doesn’t have anywhere else. As we change, so does it: and so to follow hamburgers is to follow history.”
And that history, specifically that of the hamburger’s true origin, is a hotly debated topic. Mr. Ozersky in the same post writes that:
“The earliest hamburgers, as served at White Castle (1921) (for that was the Wichita restaurant that birthed the burger), were small, frequently little more than an ounce of beef, and set in a tiny roll.”
However, there are numerous other stories of how the hamburger came to be including the tale of Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas who served burgers at his cafe in the late 1880′s and brought them to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Frank and Charles Menches who were vendors at the 1885 Erie County Fair that used beef when they ran out of sausage for sandwiches, or even Louie’s Lunch, a small lunch wagon in New Haven, Connecticut that is credited by the Library of Congress with selling the first hamburger and steak sandwich in 1895. Whether or not any of these offerings resemble what we know today as a hamburger is ostensibly what Mr. Ozersky meant when he wrote:
“You may have read about something called “hamburg steak” served at Gilded Age restaurants, but those aren’t hamburgers; they’re more akin to what we call Salisbury steak, when we think of it at all. The first hamburgers were sliders, the culinary equivalent of the tiny, agile mammals that are our own earliest ancestors.”
Regardless of how and where the hamburger truly originated in the United States, what I know is that they are tasty and have become an obsession of mine. From crafting a burger bar for my son’s second birthday party to forgoing prepackaged ground beef for my own custom built burgers, thinking about and creating the perfect burger, or even the perfect burger mix, is something that tends to occupy a great deal of my time. And, if all goes well, my latest creation will be the topic of a future post before this month of celebration is over.
Burger enjoyment is a highly personal experience and lately I’ve had a hard time being able to have it my way, pun fully intended. Whether it is the lack of texture in the way the meat is ground to the temperature at which the burger can be lawfully cooked, I more often than not, with all due respect to Mr. Ozersky’s opinion of the homemade burger, prefer to eat the burgers I make myself.
Sure, I enjoy the occasional burger while dining out; however, I have been limiting my burger consumption to a select few establishments where I know I can trust the quality of the meat being served. One only has to watch the episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution with the discussion of pink slime to seriously consider never eating commercially ground beef ever again.
That said there are a growing number of quality establishments popping up in the ever expanding burger landscape. Places like Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burger Palace, Michael Symon’s b spot or Richard Blais’ Flip Burger Boutique are just a few of the options for “chefified” burgers that have started their expansion. Then there are others like Smashburger and Elevation Burger (who boasts sustainable and LEED certified restaurants) that are battling for your dining dollar.
Thanks to places like Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack we are in the second Golden Age of the hamburger according to Mr. Ozersky and I fully agree with him. Burger bars and their like have been popping up nearly as fast as steak houses did before the economy headed south. No matter what style of burger you prefer or how you like it cooked (smashed, griddled, grilled or steamed, to name a few) there is a comforting safe haven somewhere for you to find your personal burger nirvana.
Where do you go for your favorite burger and how will you be celebrating National Burger Month?
If you’re interested in reading more about the history of hamburger’s Josh Ozersky’s full history of the hamburger’s past, present and future can be found over at Eater. While you’re there you can also check out their Burger Week 2011 coverage which should be wrapping up about the same time this post hits the feed.
If all this burger talk has you itching to start making your own custom creation The Burger Lab over at Serious Eats has the Top Ten Tips for Better Burgers. And when you’re done you can show off your creation by sharing your homemade burger over at A Hamburger Today.
Photo credit: The Culinary Geek