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Tilting at Windmills

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January 29, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

CULINARY SLEUTHING....Who invented the hamburger? Apparently it's the bun that's the key to this question, not the meat. Josh Ozersky investigates, and Harold & Kumar will be delighted to learn who deserves the honor. The rest of us, not so much.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Since what White Castle serves under the name "hamburger" fails the basic test of edibility, I'd give credit elsewhere...

Posted by: theophylact on January 29, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

No way. Under the right circumstances (read: following heavy imbibing of spirits), White Castle = super awesome.

Posted by: jhupp on January 29, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Concentrating on the bun itself (or the standardization) would be the only way the US could claim the hamburger at all. Steak Hache is hardly unknown in France and it is certain that the Ancient Romans had chopped or ground beef grilled in patties as street food.
Now, whether they actually slapped it between two slices of bread or a bun or not we don't know, although I've seen at least one TV show (respectable one too!) that insisted they would slip it into something like pitta bread.
BTW, the Earl of Sandwich would most certainly not have had ground beef patties in his sandwich: steak or roast beef slices. Ground beef in his time was very much poor man's food.
White Castle? Not so much the booze that makes them palatable...

Posted by: failingeconomist on January 29, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Just a completely random and oddball comment...I haven't heard Josh Ozersky's name since he was Boston Celtics columnist for the NBA fansite Hoopsworld.com. How Josh became a world-renowned food writer and meat expert is beyond me...but it's good to know you can make a living as a writer if you really really try.

Posted by: owenz on January 29, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Take that, all you irrational Bush haters.

The hamburger!

You're just giving aid & comfort to the enemy.

Posted by: Absent Observer on January 29, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Oh common on Kevin. First you should have posted on the LAT Op-Ed: "The feds should stop harassing sick patients who have the legal right to use pot."

Then we can discuss, hamburgers, and fries, and onion rings and Ho,Ho's, and chocolate chip cookies, and....

Posted by: Keith G on January 29, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

According to Wikipedia, there is the modern hamburger, and there is the pre-modern variations that led up to the modern hamburger, meandering through the histories of the Tartars, Hamburg, and Germany.
I vote the Tartars, where one put a piece of mutton under ones saddle all day, and by the end of the trail that bit of tenderized raw meat was ready for dinner. Ta Da: the first order "To Go"! But alas, Biggie Drinks were still a thing of the future.

Posted by: Zit on January 29, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Where's the beef?!

Posted by: Mark Foley on January 29, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Zit did they use horseradish sause?

Posted by: Keith G on January 29, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

On another note...

Why are McCain and Lieberman on the Sunday morning interview shows more than anyone else?

Every week, they are there.

Posted by: david in norcal on January 29, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

What amuses me about this piece is the bit at the end about how such-and-such a place serves great hamburgers.

C'mon, folks! Topnotch hamburgers aren't at all hard to make. I can't remember having ever had a better burger than the ones I grill for myself.

Posted by: RT on January 29, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Why are McCain and Lieberman on the Sunday morning interview shows more than anyone else?

because they are whores.

Posted by: cleek on January 29, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I read the piece

...and I really want to eat burgers at a place called Dirty Martin's Kum-Bak!

Posted by: Kenji on January 29, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

It sounds to me like there was a little cultural bias in their research. Did they search ancient illustrated texts from India?

1) Sesame has been cultivated for approximately 5000 years in India.

2) Wheat has been cultivated in SW and S asia for even longer.

3) Lettuce is one of the oldest cultivated crops. Probably originating in India or central Asia.

4) In Vedic times Hindus ate beef following carefully prescribed sacrificial rituals. Prior to that time consumption was likely even more common.

In other words, it's likely some hindu mother regurgitated some beef onto a soft sesame bun (made with fermented dough and camel hair) for her child several millenia ago.

Posted by: B on January 29, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Keith G,
The article did not mention horse radish, but I imagine such a vibrant flavor would have overpowered the sublties of a meat marinaded for a day in horse hair and horse sweat, tenderized by leather, and savored in its natural state of rawness as the evening meal.

Yummm. White Castle could only dream of flavor such as this.

Posted by: Zit on January 29, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

With all the weighty issues facing the world, does anybody really care who invented the hamburger???? I agree with RT that the best burgers are personal creations. There is no Dirty Martin's Kum Back in Austin--it's called Dirty Martin's Place; near UT-- passable burgers, but probably not even the best in town.

Posted by: sparky on January 29, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Historical sidenote:

On December 12, 2000 the United States Supreme Court invented the shitburger. We have been eating it ever since.

Posted by: olds88 on January 29, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Best burger I've ever had was at a gay bar in Phoenix called Pookie's. Who knew?

Posted by: Cat lover on January 29, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

And I'm not even gay.

Posted by: Cat lover on January 29, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Why the "not so much" comment? I've seen that expression all over the place, but only after Borat. Did this expression exist before then?

Posted by: Yashko on January 29, 2007 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Jon Stewart(The Daily Show) has used "Not so much" for several years.

Posted by: R.L. on January 29, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Even the most staunch advocates have to get down off the soapbox every once in a while and mingle with the masses. And where better to mingle than in a hamburger joint.
You get yourself a brew, a burger, and if your ears are open, probably the most authentic grassroots dialogue possible.
And afta' suppa' then you can rejoin the fight fueled by the best of American tradition.

Posted by: Fat Old Grump on January 29, 2007 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

As a native columbusite, klumbus ahia being the corporate home of White Castle, makers of the finest sliders anywhere, I'm with Harold and Kumar. Except in NY they put ketchup on theirs. Bleyech!

Posted by: klyde on January 29, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

The burger I make for myself at home: A good third of a pound or so of ground beef, pan fried to medium rare, with a bit of red wine poured on top at the start of cooking and a bit of thyme sprinkled on as well. While it's cooking, I mix up a heaping teaspoon or so of mayonnaise with oregano and a little lemon juice; that goes on the top half of the well-toasted Thomas' English muffin (sandwich size) on which the burger is served. Bed of green-leaf lettuce on the bottom half. Eat with a generous amount of medium salsa--I'm partial to Old El Paso. Now that's a burger.

Posted by: John on January 29, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

"In other words, it's likely some hindu mother regurgitated some beef onto a soft sesame bun (made with fermented dough and camel hair) for her child several millenia ago."

And they are still serving that exact dish at Planet Hollywood. (Although they have more recently switched to Guatemalan mothers.)

Posted by: Kenji on January 29, 2007 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

The unsurprising part of that story was how it started: With a politician from Texas pushing a bullshit story based on nonexistent evidence.

Posted by: Tom on January 29, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

I'll guess Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with the knife.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 29, 2007 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

About burgers. I remember a "Popeye" daily comics episode from 60-70 years ago that had Wimpy frying up a stack of "hamburger sandwiches" on sliced bread. He more than once referred to them as such, not simply as hamburgers. Maybe "hamburger" is a fairly recent generic reference to what originally merely specified a type of sandwich. During the 1930s in Flint, Michigan there was a grill whose "EATS" sign featured a picture of Wimpy the burgerphile. We all knew what they served there. The bun may be a fairly recent addition to the hamburger sandwich, I can't remember. But all I really want to know is: Who was the evil motherfucker who put sesame seeds on the hamburger buns?

Posted by: buddy66 on January 29, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

Is this something we need defined?

Seriously, we're not talking the first lunar mission here, we're talking about a fuzzily defined evolution of a common food item from similar food items in the past.

Let disputation reign, and let every place with even a modestly plausible claim reap all the tourist dollars it can from their arguments.

Posted by: Fides on January 29, 2007 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, Sparky? For the record, it's Martin's Kum-Bak Place. At least, that's what it says on the sign. Known to all far and wide as Dirty Martin's. Ate there only once. Mad Dogs (RIP) had better burgers.

...huh. Well, here's why I thought it was called what I said above: 10th row down on the right http://www.dirtymartins.com/12/album/24/3/Random_photos.htm I guess they're officially Dirty Martin's now. Now that they've put up a huge billboard. It was always Martin's Kum-Bak place when I was in college. But always just called "Dirty's".

Rumor has it that the grease is the same grease as was first used there in '26.

Reading the article, I may have to give it another try. Just for the history.

I will be very impressed if it manages to stay around there another 5 years, what with all the large buildings going in on that part of Guadalupe.

Posted by: ERic on January 29, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

With all the discussion of Dick Cheney's staffers at tpm, I think it's fair to ask why are there so many, and what do they do?

I think I have the answer,

Dick just really likes a man in an apron.

Posted by: cld on January 29, 2007 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

My hubby likes fresh hamburgers on toasted bread. I buy hormone-free and anti-biotic free
meat for this wonderful guy. Just thought I'd add this in case he is reading.

Posted by: consider wisely always on January 29, 2007 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

Eric, my ex-wife, god bless her, would be 100% with you on Mad Dog's. I think I ate there once but do not remember it well, but it was a sad day when that went away. I also remember Dirty Martin's as Martin's Kum Bak, but I'm not sure when they went with the name change. The burgers are good, but for my money in Austin, you can't go wrong with Dan's or Mike's Pub downtown. That said, I'm back in school at UT this semester, and may have to make the walk down to Martin's after class tomorrow.

Posted by: Ferrari on January 30, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, good job Ferrari, now I've got a Mike's Pub craving! But yes Eric, I used to go to Mad Dog's pretty frequently. Best burgers I ever had until Mike's and Casino El Camino. And their milkshakes, ooooh buddy...I was bummed for weeks when Mad Dog's closed.

Posted by: Constance Reader on January 30, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK



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