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Despite its German-ancestored name, the hamburger is as close as this country comes to having a national dish. From dime-thin sliders to luxurious pillows of kobe beef, patties of ground meat are part of every non-vegetarian’s diet. In the world of fast food, they are identical from coast to coast; and thin lunch-counter burgers as well as thick pub burgers tend to have no specific regional identity.
But even if burgers are less geographically specific than, say, hot dogs or chili, there are some styles unique to a particular place. These include the green chile cheeseburger of New Mexico, the onion-fried burger of Oklahoma, the steamed cheeseburger of central Connecticut, the butter burger of Wisconsin, and the Jucy Lucy (sic) of Minneapolis.
Exactly where and when the hamburger was invented is an issue that depends on the fundamental question: What is a hamburger? People have eaten ground beef for centuries, going back to Mongolian cowherds known as Tartars. But hamburger history begins with the act of making the beef into a patty and putting it in a bun or between slices of bread, thus making it a no-fork phenomenon.
Credible claims of this occurrence come from New Haven, Connecticut (1900: thrifty sandwich-maker Louis Lassen finds a use for the trimmings of his steak sandwiches, which are enjoyed by sailors from Hamburg, Germany); St. Louis (1904: Fletcher “Old Dave” Davis of Athens, Texas, presents his ground-beef sandwich at the World’s Fair); Hamburg, New York (1885: the Menches brothers’ sandwich stand at the Erie County fair runs out of pork, so beef is substituted); and Seymour, Wisconsin (1885: at the Outagamie County Fairgrounds “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen flattens a meat ball and serves it on bread).
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