Cheeseburgers are one of my very favorite comfort foods. The moist juiciness of an all beef patty goes well with creamy melted cheese, the sharp bite of an onion, the salty sour taste of a pickle, and the crisp sweetness of the lettuce and tomatoes. The type of cheese that is used or the use of additional ingredients like crispy bacon, caramelized onions, or diced chilies can completely change the flavor profile of this sandwich making it one of the most popular fast food items sold in any one of the 83,836 burger restaurants that are currently found in the United States.
Having previously written about the culinary history of hamburgers and sliders, I thought it would be interesting to share the story of the cheeseburger. Although hamburger sandwiches were first made in the United States during the late 19th century; the first known cheeseburger wasn’t produced until the early 20th century.
California, Maryland, Kentucky, and Colorado all claim that their respective states are the home of the delectable cheeseburger.
Popular food lore says that in 1928 while working in his father’s sandwich shop in Pasadena, California, a sixteen year old teenager named Lionel Sternberger accidentally dropped a slice of American cheese on a sizzling all beef patty thereby creating the cheeseburger. A now defunct restaurant chain called the Little Tavern claimed that they made the first cheeseburger in Baltimore, Maryland in 1932. Kentucky claims that the cheeseburger was first served at a Louisville diner in 1934. The Humpty Dumpty Drive-in in Denver, Colorado was so adamant that they produced the first cheeseburger in 1935 that they actually got a court order and a trademark for the term “cheeseburger” in support of this claim.
While there is no evidence that Lionel Sternberger produced the first cheeseburger, I did some research and found this 1932 cheeseburger advertisement (pictured left) from the Little Tavern. Pictured below is an even older menu from O’Dell’s in Los Angeles. This menu was first printed in 1928 and was retrieved from the digital archives of the Los Angeles Public Library. According to this menu, cheeseburgers smothered in chili were available for 25 cents. This menu clearly precludes all of the other claims that have been cited. Based upon this documentation, the first commercially made cheeseburger was produced and sold at O’Dell’s in Los Angeles, California.
The students in my culinary classes ended our first semester by making cheeseburgers. During the 2nd week of December we spent a week producing cookies like the one pictured left. My building administration had us make these cookies for the elementary students from three local area schools. The students had gathered at our high school’s theater to watch a Christmas show. A generous benefactor then gave each child a giftwrapped toy. Each child was also given a free pair of shoes.
To encourage my students to give me their best effort in producing our Christmas cookies, I promised each class that they could have a hamburger party if they helped me with meeting my production quota.
We made our burgers using frozen premade 1/3rd pound patties. After placing them on sheet pans lined with parchment paper, the students seasoned them to taste using salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. The burgers were then placed in a pre-heated 350°F oven for 25 minutes. During the last minute, students had the option of adding a slice of American, Cheddar, or Pepper Jack cheese to the top of each burger. While the burgers were cooking, they also had the option of toasting their buns using a griddle pan.
The Culinary I students enjoyed their burgers with potato chips. Since my Culinary II and III students were older and more experienced, I taught them how to how to use a stovetop to make French fries.
Pictured here is my new standardized prototype for a cheeseburger candle. I made this using a square silicone mold to produce a slice of cheese. After assembling the base for a regular hamburger candle (lower bun and burger, I added the simulated cheese slice and then used a warm knife to melt the corners so that they dropped over the patty just like real cheese.
This hamburger candle smells like beef, bacon, garlic, freshly baked bread, and cheese.
Since I plan to order an Etsy store in January, I am working to produce a small production line of cheeseburger candles. I have also produced new burger candles and am also creating a stock of sliders.
The existing inventory for my virtual store at Made in Nevada will be drawn down to free up additional candles for sale in the Etsy store.