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A hamburger is typically considered to be a variant on a sandwich involving a patty of ground beef. The name comes from the German city of Hamburg, something from Hamburg being "hamburger"; such ground beef patties originating or enjoying early popularity there. Originally these patties were known as "Hamburger steak" (first mentioned in an American cookbook in 1891), and when this was put between bread or in a bun it was called a "Hamburger sandwich". By the mid 20th century both terms were commonly shortened to "hamburger" or simply "burger".

The Hamburger's history is disputed. There is a description of something that is almost certainly similar in Roman texts. In Hamburg it was common to put a piece of roast pork into a roll in those days, called Rundstück warm. Perhaps an emigrant brought the idea to the US?

There are two independent definitions of what differentiates a burger from a sandwich:

  1. Burgers use processed meat, regardless of the type of bread.
  2. Burgers use a "burger" bun, regardless of the filling.

Some fast food restaurants rely heavily on the hamburger sandwich. The McDonald's chain of restaurants sells a burger called the "Big Mac", which is possibly the best known hamburger, and certainly the world's biggest selling. Another major fast-food chain, Burger King, sells a burger called "The Whopper". These burgers are typically served with french fries.

Ingredients for a burger vary.