Why Are Hamburgers The Fast Food King Instead Of Hot Dogs?

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Hamburgers and hot dogsJuly 20th is National Hot Dog Day. It’s a perfect time to consider this intriguing question asked by Paul Freedman in his book The Restaurants That Changed America while describing the impact of the fast-food industry on Howard Johnson’s: “Why did the hamburger triumph as opposed to the hot dog?”

He points out, “Frankfurters are also easy to eat in the car and historically they were the food item most closely identified with the United States in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century… it’s clear from the lack of mammoth national hot-dog chains that even now there is something about the frank that doesn’t lend itself to the industry.”

Why are hamburgers and not hot dogs the more popular/sustainable fast food business model? This is all the more interesting because hot dogs arrived on the scene well before hamburgers.

Search newspaper archives from the mid-nineteenth century and you’ll see plenty of Continue Reading “Why Are Hamburgers The Fast Food King Instead Of Hot Dogs?”

Are You Grilling Or Are You Barbecuing?

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Ages ago an errant stroke of lightning struck a dry woodland. The ensuing fire consumed not only the trees, but several animals too slow to escape. A curious caveman meandered into the still smoldering forest. He stopped. What was that he smelled? It smelled… “delicious” would have been the word he would have used if he could speak English.

He looked all around for the source of that compelling aroma. Amidst the pockets of remaining flames, he found it. It looked ugly, a blackened char. Yet, it was unmistakable. The sumptuous scent came from what looked like what used to be an animal.

Salivating, he grabbed it and took a big deep bite.

Then promptly spit it out. “Yeech!” How could something that smelled so good taste so bad.

But the bite revealed the hidden treasure. Beneath the charred surface the caveman saw Continue Reading “Are You Grilling Or Are You Barbecuing?”

First Hamburger: The Top Ten Myths About Who Invented It

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Who Invented the first hamburger Top Ten MythsFor some reason (and probably a good one if you think about it), the powers that be have decreed May 28th as “National Hamburger Day.” This coincides nicely with the month of May either being “National Hamburger Month” and “National Burger Month,” depending on whose press release you read.

As a result, no doubt you’ve read, listened to, or watched something about the almighty burger at your favorite news outlet. The question you should ask (but won’t know to) is whether what you’re reading, hearing, or seeing is true. Unfortunately, in all likelihood, probably not.

To help set the record straight, here are the top ten myths about the origin of the first hamburger:Continue Reading “First Hamburger: The Top Ten Myths About Who Invented It”

Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VII: Those Amazing Menches Boys

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(The seventh part in a series of seven)

Brothers Charles and Frank Menches were prolific concessionaires. They didn’t start that way. By the time he was twenty, Charles had a “successful season” with the Bob Stickney circus. Contemporary reporters called him a “thoroughly proficient” trapeze artist.1 After spending several years as a high wire and trapeze artist with the Bob Stickney circus and the Old John Robinson circus, Charles decided to enter the concession business full-time with his brother Frank in 1884.2

Frank, six years younger than Charles, was no slouch when it came to athleticism, either. He was an award-winning bicycle racer, competing into his early twenties.3,4

Born in Canton, Ohio, the brothers dove into multiple business ventures at an early age. While working with the circus, Charles began dabbling in concession sales. Very quickly, he Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VII: Those Amazing Menches Boys”

Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VI: A Day In Hamburger History – September 18, 1885 – Everything is the Same, Except, “You Are There!”

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(The sixth part in a series of seven)

“What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… all things are as they were then, and you were there.”

– Walter Cronkite, at the conclusion of each episode of the CBS Series You Are There

On this day, September 18th, 1885, the last day of the Erie County Fair, Hiram P. Hopkins woke up to threatening skies. While the weather appeared ominous, he breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t see the clouds as presaging rain. Rather, he saw the southwesterly breeze as ushering in unusually warm temperatures. In exchange, he’d accept the oppressive humidity.

In the early morning, before the expected thousands of fairgoers arrived, Hiram strolled the grounds. Just a day earlier, the place was packed, the crowd so dense it was difficult to move. This morning the only people Hopkins could see were the many vendors prepping their booths for the final day. Popcorn, peanuts and candy sellers had a brisk business the day before. The same was true of those selling lemonade, pop, and sandwiches.

As he passed close to the grandstand, he noticed two young men fretting about. It was Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VI: A Day In Hamburger History – September 18, 1885 – Everything is the Same, Except, “You Are There!””

Hamburger WhoDunIt Part V: CSI: Hamburg(er), N.Y.

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(The fifth part in a series of seven)

“Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk..”

– Henry David Thoreau

And then there was one. Charles and Frank Menches were born in Canton, Ohio. Their father, Jacob Menches, an engineer in Prussia, immigrated to America and became a grocer in Canton. Their mother, Charlotte Hahn Menches, was originally from France. As young men, both boys were quite athletic. Charles as a well-regarded gymnast who travelled with a popular circus as a trapeze artist and high wire walker before he turned twenty.1 Frank, six years younger than Charles, was an award-winning bicycle racer.2,3

While the brothers’ lives contain several amazing stories, our focus here is on only one: Their role as (potentially) the first to sell a hamburg sandwich. How this story became known is itself a story. The brothers’ claim was widely known (the headline of Frank’s 1951 obituary reads “‘Inventor’ of Hamburger Dies.”4 The real story, however, lay hidden for half a century and was published decades after the brothers had passed away.Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part V: CSI: Hamburg(er), N.Y.”

Hamburger WhoDunit Part II: The Shrine of the Four (and a half?)

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(The second episode in a series of seven)

“You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Illustration from the Monday, July 23, 1894 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

Thus spoke crime fighting sleuth Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second novel featuring his most-popular character, as published in the February 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. By coincidence, the most noted hamburger origin stories occurred within a few years on either side of this date. It’s fitting, then, that we employ the deductive techniques of the Baker Street mastermind in attempting to solve one of histories greatest culinary mysteries: Who sold the first hamburger?

First, as in all good police thrillers, let’s take a look at our line-up of suspects (in reverse chronological order). In each case, their hometowns have created what amounts to a shrine to their claims. We count them as four and a half because two are inexorably tied together. Still, for our purposes we’ll untie them. Here’s the line-up:Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunit Part II: The Shrine of the Four (and a half?)”

Hamburger Helper – Solving the Greatest WhoDunIt? In Culinary History

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(The first part in a series of seven)

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburger today.”

When J. Wellington Wimpy first voiced that phrase on December 28, 1934 in Fleischer Studios short “We Aim to Please,” Popeye’s 17th theatrical cartoon, [http://popeye.wikia.com/wiki/We_Aim_to_Please] the White Castle hamburger chain had already been around for 13 years. By the time E.C. Segar added the character of Wimpy to his King Features Syndicate cartoon Thimble Theatre in 1931, White Castle was well on its way to selling 50 million hamburgers. It would achieve that mark in 1941.

A year earlier, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald moved their father’s food stand from Route 66 in Monrovia, California to the streets of San Bernardino. They rechristened their Continue Reading “Hamburger Helper – Solving the Greatest WhoDunIt? In Culinary History”