McDonald’s boasts that they’ve served billions upon billions of them. Competitors like Burger King, Wendy’s, White Castle, and A&W have also sold their fair share, as have local restaurants around the world. You’ve probably made your own for family and friends. What is it about hamburgers that has enthralled humanity?

The Golden Horde inspires the Golden Arches

Believe it or not, the roots of the modern hamburger stretch back thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians and other cultures were known to eat ground meat, although no evidence of sesame seed buns or tiny ketchup packets has ever been found. Most notably, Mongolian emperor Genghis Khan and his “Golden Horde” of fearless, fast-moving horsemen needed a convenient meal that could easily be eaten with one hand while they were on their way to conquering two-thirds of the known world. They spent most of their time atop their sturdy steeds and rarely had a chance to stop and build a fire. In need of fast food, they concocted flat patties out of scrapings of mutton or lamb and tenderized the meat by sticking it under their saddles as they charged into battle. Once the fighting ended and they had the opportunity to eat, this delicious delicacy was consumed raw. The ancient proto-burger was further refined with the addition of raw eggs and chopped onions by Russian chefs after Khubilai, Khan’s grandson, invaded Moscow and introduced them to the unique meal that had fueled the Mongolian army for generations.

Hamburg Steak

If you’re fortunate enough to have a kindly old uncle or two, they probably refer to “hamburgs” when discussing what you might call burgers. But have you ever wondered where the term originated? In the 1600s, German sailors brought the Russian steak tartare back home to the seaport town of Hamburg and, in turn, introduced it to the New World when European emigrants arrived at the New York ports in the late 18th century. Before long, food stand operators near the harbor began selling “steak cooked in the Hamburg style” to attract hungry and homesick immigrants. Although there is some dispute as to who came up with the idea to serve the cooked beef between two pieces of bread, the dish was eventually included in cookbooks and had reached California by the late 19th century.

Burger on a Bun

At this point, hamburgers had been placed between slices of bread, but never on a bun. During an exhaustive investigation conducted in 1995, travel reporter Michael Wallis discovered that the first time burger met bun was in 1891 on a farm west of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Pre-dating vendors at the St. Louis World’s Fair by 13 years, Oscar Weber Bilby celebrated the Fourth of July by grilling up some ground Angus meat and served the juicy hamburgers on his wife’s homemade yeast buns to family, friends, and neighbors. Apparently, it became a tradition as people came from miles around every year to enjoy Oscar and Fanny’s tasty burgers on a bun. Using the same grill he had used in 1891, Oscar opened a hamburger stand – called Weber’s Superior Root Beer Stand – with his son, Leo, in 1933. The family continued to operate the same grill well into the 21st century after converting the wood stove to natural gas.

A Hamburger Today

Popular culture has seen a slew of hamburger-loving characters over the decades, most notably the infamous Hamburglar from the marketing conglomerate at McDonald’s. However, the original and most influential was J. Wellington Wimpy, a character in the popular Popeye comic strip who first appeared in the early 1930s. Known for his insatiable craving for hamburgers, Wimpy was too cheap to pay for them himself and often conned other patrons at the diner into paying for his favorite meal with his famous line: “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Wimpy’s cartoon antics popularized the tasty treat in the United States and inspired a successful restaurant chain called Wimpy’s that served – what else? – hamburgers.

Grinding Your Meat

If you love your hamburgers as much as J. Wellington Wimpy and the Hamburglar, you would probably enjoy making your own burgers from scratch. To start Prepping Meat, you need a home meat grinder. Before meat grinders were produced for home use, different tools like the mincing knife were used to process meats into the desired size or texture. Meat grinders control the fat content, cut style of the beef, and the amount, making burger formation more compact. Depending on your preferences, you can grind your own beef, chicken, or pork. Your mouth must be watering by now, so here’s what you need to grind your own hamburger meat:

  • 1 and a half pounds top sirloin steak
  • 2 pounds boneless chuck steak
  • Place grinder attachment – including shaft, tube, plate, die, and screw – in the freezer from one hour in advance up to overnight.
  • Cut steaks into cubes about one inch by one inch. Spread cubes evenly in single layer on baking sheet. Place sheet in freezer 30 minutes before using grinder.
  • Fill large bowl with ice and a little bit of water. Insert smaller bowl onto ice to catch meat when it comes out of grinder. This is important to prevent meat from sitting too long at room temperature.
  • Follow your grinder’s instructions to affix 3/8-inch plate.
  • Run meat through grinder once, with chilled bowls underneath to catch ground beef. Make sure not to separate different cuts.
  • After switching to 1/4-inch plate, run meat through grinder attachment again.
  • Cover beef and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or until you are ready to use.

From here, you have two options. You can safely keep the ground beef in the refrigerator for up to two days, or you can put it in a freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to three months. Either way, prepare to cook and enjoy your own homemade hamburgers. You’ll be continuing a tradition that stretches back to the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan and the Oklahoma farm of Grandpa Oscar.