Given how many hamburgers humans put away a year, its hard to imagine a time when the fast food favorite didnt exist. In actuality, that time wasnt all that long ago. While
David Michaels traces the origins of the dish back to 1st century Rome in his new book, The World is Your Burger: A Cultural History, the modern version, he notes, really began showing up in the late 1800s. (But theres still no consensus on who should get credit for inventing the recipe.) However, the burger hasnt just become a dining staple. It is a major focal point of popular culture and has a way of reinventing itself for every new generation. I asked Michaels to pinpoint some of the most pivotal moments in the history of the burger. Read on for his picks.
The First White Castle Location
What Ford did for the motor car White Castle did for the burger. With the 1921 opening of its first location in Wichita, Kansascomplete with turretsthe fast-food joint as we know it was born. Unlike the hamburger stands that came before it, White Castles smartly uniformed staff served their customers quality-controlled patties amid gleaming enamel and chrome. It took the burger off the street and into clean, efficient yet inexpensive restaurants. Just five cents bought you a slider with onions and pickle (customers could choose to add ketchup or mustard, but nothing else). White Castles signature thin, square patty was first designed to cook fast and maximize space on the grill; nearly 100 years later, Time magazine would declare it the most influential burger of all time.
McDonalds Sets the Standard
Maurice and Richard McDonald were the ones to put the fast in fast food. By turning their kitchen into an assembly line and doing away with menu choices, table service and even the cutlery that slowed down other restaurants, the brothers served up burgers at speeds and in volumes never had seen before. Businessman Ray Kroc saw the potential of their formula and turned it into one of the worlds most successful franchise operations,driving the brand into suburbs and hearts across America and then, the world. No other name has ever attained such close association with the hamburger and the global spread of fast food.
The Hard Rock Cafe Opens
McDonalds was one of the first and certainly the biggest, but it wasnt the last. Long after the burger behemoths came a panoply of restaurants finding new ways to serve the worlds favorite fast food. In 1971, two U.S. expats with a yearning for the taste of home brought the first American-style hamburger to Britain. Their original Hard Rock Cafe, in an old Rolls Royce dealership, soon won the admiration of Eric Clapton, who had his guitar hung on the wall as a way of reserving his table of choice. Not to be outdone, Pete Townshend of The Who donated one of his guitarsand thus the Hard Rocks unique combination of burgers and music memorabilia began.
In-N-Out Burgers Go to the Oscars
In-N-Out has been serving the West Coasts best-loved burgers since 1948 with few changes to its menu (secret one included). Its template of well-crafted burgers, fries and shakes won it legions of celebrity fans: on many an Oscar night, winners and losers alike would stop at its LA locations to celebrateor drown their sorrowsAnimal Style. But in 2016 the chain showed its true place in Hollywood when it catered Vanity Fairs post-Academy Awards bash. Over 1,000 In-N-Out burgers were served at that years party, and went down so well they made the menu again in 2017proving that no matter how refined the atmosphere, a burger always hits the spot.
Daniel Boulud Debuts the Gourmet Burger
Award-winning chef Daniel Boulud created his burger as a riposte: not to the Americans who invented it, but to the Breton separatists who bombed a McDonalds in France in April 2000. The attack prompted Boulud to reflect on the burgers cultural significance. Were the French jealous of Americas creation? And could he do better? With that he set out to make maybe the greatest burger on Earth: braised beef combined with truffle and foie gras, horseradish sauce and a Parmesan bun. The db burger, as it was christened, took three days to make and became the first of a new breedthe gourmet burger, in whichhaute cuisinetechniques sit at ease alongside Americas most popular and perhaps simplest food.
Andy Warhol Eats a Burger
An immediately recognizable object, entwined with advertising and consumer culture, the hamburger was a gift to Pop Art. The biggest Pop artist of all, Andy Warhol, painted burgers: a small, squashed, distinctly unappetizing one that stars in his1985-6 silkscreen Hamburger. Perhaps more famously, he ate them. In 1981, Danish filmmaker Jrgen Leth persuaded Warhol to be filmed eating a Burger King Whopper, after which he turns to the camera and says, My name is Andy Warhol and I just finished eating a hamburger. The most famous artist in the world has the camera turned on him to record him participating in the most commonplace of American pastimes. Its a fascinating example of how an icon like the burger can unite the everyday and celebrity, mass consumption and art.