During a trip to Asia in the early 1800s, a German merchant – it is said – noticed that the nomadic Tartars softened their meat by keeping it under their saddles. The motion of the horse pounded the meat to bits. The Tartars would then scrape it together and season it for eating. The idea of pounded beef found its way back to the merchant’s home town of Hamburg where cooks broiled the meat and referred to it as it as Hamburg meat.
German immigrants introduced the recipe to the US. The term “hamburger” is believed to have appeared in 1834 on the menu from Delmonico’s restaurant in New York but there is no surviving recipe for the meal. The first mention in print of “Hamburg steak” was made in 1884 in the Boston Evening Journal.