My mother cooks a few dishes very well. But growing up, I found some of her dishes very bland. Rather than complain, I was encouraged to cook my own damn hamburger, or whatever. So from an early age, I was cooking. It didn’t take a genius to realize you could make a better hamburger by adding egg, mustard, steak sauce, chopped onion or grated carrot, salt, pepper, other spices, etcetera - though you might have to compensate for ease of flipping or change of texture if adding too much.
When ground beef was first introduced, supposedly it was considered suspect due to scary practices in the meat industry. Pink slime aside, I have at least moderate confidence in the grocery store beef I buy. White Castle and early chains used to advertise 100% beef to reassure people. This stuck. Chefs like Bobby Flay or the Modernist Cuisine team still say a burger is all about the toppings and should just be beef… “otherwise you’re making meatloaf”.
Pshaw, sez I. You want to make the best sandwich you can. That means making the patty taste amazing. You can still use great toppings to add more character.
So why still the purity clause? Does any major chain make a delicious burger adding obvious goodness to the beef?
Everyone says how much they like meatloaf sandwiches - though my leftover meatloaf never lasts long enough to make it into that form.
I love meatloaf sandwiches, especially with my mother’s recipe. When it cools it’s nice and firm, and can be thinly sliced. But my sandwiches are basic. Thinly sliced meatloaf, firm white bread, a little mustard and butter.
I believe that Hamburg Steak, that is, ground beef patties in the Hamburg style, is not just beef. And when my mother made hamburgers, she naturally used egg as binder and some tomato – that’s what she learned when she came to America. If she didn’t use a binder, she’d get a Sloppy Joe – which is nice in it’s own right, but is not a hamburger.
A pure beef patty is also nice, even though it’s not really a hamburger. It’s particularly nice when compared with a 1970’s Australian hamburger – where they’d standardized on saving money by not including very much meat in the hamburger patty.
I don’t know why ground beef used to fall apart when cooked, if not bound with egg. Cooking style, grinding style, or fat level? Dunno.
AIUI, supermarket ground beef used to be 50% fat and would fall apart if you so much as looked at it cock-eyed. Today, the cheapest ground beef you can get at the store is 27% fat, so it’s considerably less likely to disintegrate as the fat melts during cooking.
Many years ago I saw a show with Delia Smith, the doyen of British cooking programmes, in which she cooked hamburgers. She remarked that she preferred a good hamburger to a steak because they could more reliably be cooked to perfection. Here recipe was ground beef with a minimum of 20% fat and freshly ground pepper. And a little salt once cooked . They have to be thick enough to char nicely and remain medium rare in the middle.That is all I have ever done since.
As for meatloaf sandwiches, because I live alone, I get more leftovers for sandwiches than I originally had with mashed potatoes when I cooked the meatloaf.
My thought is that there are a few reasons that most, if not all restaurant burgers go with 100% beef:
Most fillers are cheap, so advertising 100% beef is a sign of quality - I think there are quite a few people who would feel like they are getting a better deal getting a pure-meat patty rather than one that was half bread-crumbs and condiments.
Having an all-beef patty and varying only the toppings allows for better customization for customers - if someone was allergic to onions or wanted to go gluten-free, for example, it could be problematic if the patties were made with onions or bread crumbs already in them. Likewise if people are just picky and don’t like the taste of pickles, mustard, etc.
Related to 2), it’s possible that most people prefer the taste of all-meat patties as opposed to “meatloaf” style patties. People’s tastes vary enough that there might not be any filler/seasoning mix that is appealing to as broad of an audience as meat-only patties, so if restaurants want to maximize their sales they will go with a burger with the broadest appeal rather than one that might be better for some people but worse for others. For home-made burgers using ground beef, I do enjoy having onions/pickles/seasonings incorporated, but if it’s a burger made from a ground up steak, I’d prefer to have the patty without any additives other than salt/pepper.
Back in the mists of time, when we used to actually have a faculty lunchroom with a dedicated lunch line, the food service people would always make a couple of extra meat loaves on Meat Loaf Day for those of us who love meat loaf sandwiches. Thick slice of loaf with mustard and relish is the way I like them.
Oh yes,it’s the best way to eat the leftovers. I always butter the bread, then either ketchup or Dijon mustard depending on my mood, Sometimes a smear of prepared horseradish too. Next to blt’s it’s my favorite sandwich, followed by tuna fish.
There is a small restaurant chain south of Seattle that has meatloaf sandwiches. It is just a hamburger patty with some added ingredients and with gravy on a hamburger bun. I miss my mother’s meatloaf, it was average as a dinner item but made great sandwiches the next day.