Earlier this month, we chatted about pea burgers—an ultra-green update on the more classic bean burger. Like most veggie burgers, these buddies came with a host of mix-ins: bread crumbs, egg, onion, scallion, garlic, mint, cheese, the kitchen sink! Not only do these ingredients bulk up and bind the vegetables, they also season and enrich. To which the peas (and beans and sweet potatoes) of the world say: thank you!
But with beef, the original burger, it gets more complicated. According to Merriam-Webster, a hamburger is: either “ground beef: a patty of ground beef” or “a sandwich consisting of a patty of hamburger in a split, typically round, bun.” So, just ground beef—that’s it? Well, that’s the question: Which side are you on?
A few years back, we published a piece making the case for mix-ins. The cheat sheet: more flavor. “It doesn’t take much to make your burger just a little better. In fact, it’s as simple as adding one extra element,” Samantha Weiss Hills wrote. She suggested additions like bacon, pickles, fresh chorizo, cheese, and ginger.
In Minneapolis, the signature Juicy Lucy burger is mix-in-mandatory—American cheese, sneakily stuffed in the center. In Mississippi, a slugburger is fleshed out with bread crumbs or soybeans.
Hamburgers’ humble ancestors comprised more than just beef. The immigrants traveling from Hamburg, Germany, to North America ate what was then known as Hamburg steak, often extended with eggs, minced onions, and/or bread crumbs.
As delicious as the above suggestions are, they’re not hamburgers—they’re [inset adjective here] burgers. Does bacon in a burger sound amazing? For sure. But it’s a bacon burger. A molten-cheese middle? Sign me up. But it’s a Juicy Lucy. Since burger is just an abbreviation for hamburger, they share the same definition. Which is...
“A patty of pure ground beef with no salt, seasonings, flavorings, or additives of any kind mixed into it,” according to J. Kenji Lopéz-Alt in The Food Lab. If salt is mixed in, he explains, the texture becomes firmer, smoother, sausage-like.
While the Hamburg steak included mix-ins, it was just that—Hamburg steak—not a hamburger. This contemporary word connotes something entirely different. While the history is worth knowing, it also highlights these two different terms, which indicate two different dishes.
Are you pro or anti mix-ins? Tell us why in the comments!
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.