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© Copyright 1995-2020, Clay Irving <>, Manhattan Beach, CA USA

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History of the Hamburger
The origin of the hamburger is suggested to be nomadic Mongolian and Tartar warriers who loved the taste of raw meat. They would tenderize filets of meat by placing them under the saddles of their horses while riding — I bet that was tasty!

Sailors at the port of Hamburg Germany were said to enjoy a meal of a thin patty of ground beef sausage fried in butter. The patty was served with a fried egg on top of the patty between two slices of lightly buttered bread. The sandwich was known as Deutsches Beefsteak. Supposedly, when sailors visited the port of New York, word of the Deutsches Beefsteak spread and sailor began to ask for "hamburgers". The term "hamburger" appeared on a menu (believed to be printed in 1834) from Delmonico's restaurant in New York, but, technically speaking, the Delmonico hamburger was not a "real" hamburger because it was not served between slices of bread.

The State of Wisconsin claims to be the "Home of the Hamburger" — They claim that the hamburger originated from a 15-year old boy named Charlie Nagreen. Charlie had a stand at the Outagamie County Fair to sell meatballs. Charlie soon learned that his meatballs were of little value to his customers, simply because they were difficult to eat while trying to enjoy the fair. So Nagreen flattened the beef and placed it between two slices of bread. And that was the first hamburger. His idea was a success and soon he was known to many as "Hamburger Charlie." Charlie returned to the fair every year until his death in 1951 and he would entertain people with guitar and mouth organ and his jingle:

Hamburgers, hamburgers, hamburgers hot; onions in the middle, pickle on top. Makes your lips go flippity flop.

Charlie Nagreen's hometown of Seymour, WI honored Charlie with the Hamburger Hall of Fame located at 126 North Main Street, Seymour, WI, USA. Seymour also holds multiple titles for the world's largest hamburger — The latest being an 8,266 pound burger cooked at Burger Fest on August 4, 2001.

In the 1890s, "Hamburg steak" referred to a piece of beef that had been pounded and tenderized rather than a ground beef patty. In Mrs. Rorer's New Cook Book (1902), Hamburg steak is described as beef put twice through a meat grinder and mixed with onion and pepper, closer to the present day hamburger.

By 1912 ground meat patties were being served in buns, and according to "The American Dictionary of American Slang", the suffix "burger" came to mean "any hot sandwich served on a bun, often toasted, with many condiments...." White Castle opened their first "hamburg stand" in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, and the popularity of the hamburger grew as Americans took to the roads. In the 1950s the McDonald's chain began, spawning dozens of competitors.

According to "The American Dictionary of Food and Drink", Americans eat three hamburgers per week per person! This is about 38 billion annually, or 59 percent of all sandwiches consumed.

Selecting and Safely Handling Hamburger Meat
Below are some guideline for selecting and safely handling meat for hamburgers.

Shaping a Hamburger
Hamburger recipes repeat, "do not overhandle meat"! If you shape a burger into a compressed, dense burger, you are going to have a compressed, dense, tough burger after you cook it. The red lean and flecks of white fat should be distinctly visible in the patty. When the patty is compressed too much, the red lean and white flecks of fat meld into a pink blur,

Look at the patties in the image below [4] — The one on the bottom has been kneaded and compressed into shape. The one on the top, however, was (keyword, here) "gently" pressed into shape.

When shaping hamburger patties, remember that there's more shrinkage in higher-fat meats than lean meats. So, when using ground chuck or regular ground beef, form the patties slightly larger than the diameter of the hamburger bun-they'll shrink down to just about the right size.

Patty Size
A Hamburger Today poll indicates some people like diminutive sliders, while for others, the bigger the better. 5 ounces, the size favored by reputable joints such as Bill's and Le Parker Meridien's Burger Joint, was the happy medium. And the people wisely decided to form the patty ½ an inch thick, a size which maximizes surface area browning, while still being thick enough to offer a medium rare center. A preference for 8 ounce burgers was narrowly voted as the number two favorite size.

Make a Dent
A hamburger patty, properly shaped will puff up as it cooks. This happens because the collagen [5] in the meat shrinks when heated. A collagen molecule resembles a stretched-out spring. When heated to approximately 130°F, the bonds keeping the spring taut are released, and it snaps into a jumbled coil, shriveling the tissue. The top, bottom, and side of a hamburger patty receive the initial heat from the grill. When the sides heat up and the collagen tightens the meat in the patty is forced up in the middle of the patty.

By making depressions in the patties with "gentle" pressure from your fingers, the resulting burger (below), while thick, is also flat and evenly cooked. [6]

Patties made with the same amount of meat but formed without a depression, such as those below, resulted in burgers with a distinct bulge in the center.

In Cooks Illustrated taste tastes, the best hamburgers were found to be approximately 6 ounces and 4½ inches in diameter and ½ inch thick.

Food Safety
Cross-contamination is the bacterial contamination of a food product from another source. There are three main ways cross contamination can occur:

  1. Food to Food
  2. Equipment to Food
  3. People to Food

Food to Food Contamination
Food can become contaminated by bacteria from other foods. This type of cross contamination is especially dangerous if raw foods come into contact with cooked foods. Here are some examples of food to food cross contamination:

Equipment to Food Contamination
Cross contamination can also occur from kitchen equipment and utensils to food. This type of contamination occurs because the equipment or utensils were not properly cleaned and sanitized between each use. Some examples are:

People to Food Contamination
People can also be a source of cross contamination to foods. Some examples are:

Preventing cross contamination
Follow these steps to prevent cross contamination and reduce hazards to food:

  1. Keep the meat as cold as possible.
  2. Wash your hands between handling different foods.
  3. Wash and sanitize all equipment and utensils that come in contact with food.
  4. Avoid touching your face, skin and hair or wiping your hands on cleaning cloths.
  5. Store foods properly by separating washed or prepared foods from unwashed or raw foods.
  6. Try preparing each type of food at different times and then clean and sanitize food contact surfaces between each task.

Cooking a Hamburger
Hamburgers should be cooked on a medium-hot fire—If you can only hold the palm of your hand about 5 inches over the grill for a few seconds, the fire is ready. Gently place the hamburgers on the grill and cook 2 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the heat of the grill.

Here are some tips for cooking your hamburger:

What's the Best Cheese for Cheeseburgers? [7]
On the 4th of July, we Americans don't merely celebrate our country's independence from the British Empire—we also pay our humble respects to that most American of comfort foods: the cheeseburger. But what types of cheeses work best? As I see it there are three variables to consider: meltability, tanginess, and the funk factor. Some choose to optimize for one of these variables, but there may be a perfect cheese to satisfy all three.

If you're going to go for cheeses that melt perfectly, processed cheese is the way to go. Whether it's Velveeta or Kraft American Singles, processed cheeses make up for their bland flavor with undeniably superior meltability. (They contain added emulsifiers which help prevent the separation of water, fats, and proteins when heat is applied.) Processed cheeses are also the way to go if you want to really showcase the flavor of the meat—the cheese will add a nice texture to the sandwich without interfering taste-wise. However, there are other meltable cheeses that potentially have much more flavor: Gruyère, Comté, Brie, Taleggio, Fontina, and many more.

If you're willing to forgo some of the smoothness of the cheeses listed above, and would rather have your cheese add a sharp bite to the sandwich, your best bet is to go for an aged Cheddar, Monterey Jack, aged Provolone, or even Parmigiano-Reggiano. While some of these cheeses may separate a bit when hot, they are also much more flavorful than your average processed cheese. Tangy cheeses also tend to balance the savoriness of the meat really well.

The Funk Factor
If you really want a cheese that will contribute a great deal of flavor to the overall cheeseburger experience, go for a blue. It is best to choose a blue that is fairly rugged so that you don't end up with a saucy mess. Think Maytag Blue rather than Gorgonzola. If you go the blue route, don't be upset if all you taste is the cheese—blue cheese is super strong and will often overpower the subtle flavors of the meat. But if funkiness is your thing, a blue cheeseburger can be a revelatory experience.

Ultimately I think that a really good aged Gruyère or Comté is the best way to go if you want to maximize all three factors. These Swiss/French Alpine cheeses melt really well (they are the fondue cheeses after all), they have a little bit of tang, and if you find the right specimen they can add that nice funky edge as well.

Final Prep
Let your burger rest after you remove it from the grill — A minute or so is fine. Flip it halfway through the rest period so the juices get distributed.

You always build a perfect hamburger from the bottom up:

1 Source: Bobby Flay seminar at the Food and Wine Classic 2008 in Aspen, CO
2 Undercooked meat may contain harmful bacteria, and the very young, the very old, and those with immune systems that have been weakened by cancer, kidney disease, and other illnesses are most at risk and vulnerable to illnesses associated with contaminated food. The symptoms of foodborne illness — such as diarrhea or vomiting, which can cause dehydration — can be very serious. Safe food handling practices at home or anywhere food is served is especially important for those in the "at-risk" group.
3 Source: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
4 Source: GOURMET, June 2002, p155
5 Collagen is the main protein of connective tissue. It has great tensile strength, and is the main component of ligaments and tendons. It is responsible for skin elasticity, and its degradation leads to wrinkles that accompany aging.
6 Source: COOK'S ILLUSTRATED, July & August 2000, p7
7 Source: "What's the Best Cheese for Cheeseburgers?", Posted by Jamie Forrest, July 2, 2008 at 1:15 PM, A Hamburger Today

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