Beating burgergate: a Soho House guide
The rising cost of McDonald’s cheeseburgers has sent Britain into a tailspin – so why not make your own (and make it Dirty), says Samuel Muston
Thursday 28 July 2022 By Samuel Muston
The news that McDonald’s was increasing the price of a cheeseburger in the UK, from 99p to £1.19, was met with the typical 21st-century British reserve: everyone, naturally, went completely bananas. The general sense of public feelings was summed up by a woman named ‘Loz’ on Twitter who spoke of ‘daylight robbery’ and then went on to say ‘this has made my year significantly worse and I am not pleased’. The enthusiasm was about the same as greets a fart in a hatchback.
Seeing as they sell 4,500 burgers a minute, you’d think McDonald’s might have predicted this. But au contraire, they had forgotten the key to their very own success: people really, really love burgers. Witness a drive-thru at lunchtime or go to Soho in London at night and you’ll see the queues snaking from any doorway with the word ‘burger’ above it. And not forgetting our very own infamous Dirty Burger – a veritable cheddar-smothered institution available in every Soho House around the world, morning(ish), noon and night for your round-the-clock burger fix.
For some, burgers – especially ones with cheese – are an edible religion, something to genuflect over, to savour. For them, for most of us in fact, the coming together of a beef patty and two slices of bread is up there with the invention of lager or... the wheel. As DBC Pierre, wise man and Booker prize winner, once said: ‘a burger is the counterweight to all life’s misery’.
But to better understand the burger, we must first acknowledge its origins. The term hamburger comes, in a roundabout way, from the influx of immigrants from Germany to the USA in 1848. Their chopped steak dish took the name of one of the cities from which many of the refugees proceeded, becoming known in America as Hamburg-style. One of the earliest adverts for burgers was created by a New York restaurant called Fakers – it runs: ‘celebrated Hamburger steak sandwiches are always on hand to replenish an empty stomach and fortify even Satan himself’.
This said, some clever Dick claims to have also unearthed two earlier recipes. The first, from 1AD in Rome, calls for ground minced meat, pine nuts, peppers and flavourings of wine and garum. Which, to be honest, I think should be disqualified on account of its lack of bun.
The second comes from the celebrated 18th-century English cookbook writer, Hannah Glasses, who adds suet, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, wine and rum to her ground beef. She even serves it on toast. But, in her recipe, she refers to it as a sausage, not a patty, which just won’t do.
When it comes to the cheeseburger itself, we are on much sounder historical ground. Credit must go to 16-year-old Lionel Sternberger, who in 1924 decided to whack some cheese atop a hamburger while working at the Rite Spot, his dad’s sandwich shop in California. This beautiful birth was actually a mistake – he only did it because he had burnt one side of the burger. Still, we salute you, Lionel.
There are few foods to gain such cultural traction. It is not just a cause of online argument and national fury, the cheeseburger’s big brother, the Big Mac, is even used by The Economist magazine as a measure of comparative national buying power. Perhaps now they should rename it the ‘Cheeseburger Index’.
In summary, this bun, patty and cheese tower draws us in like moths to a flame, wherever we come from, whatever our station, no matter how clever or dull we are. It is the lingua franca of food. Meddle with it at your peril.
So, if you find yourself in need of a cheeseburger that would make Lionel proud, hot-foot it to a Soho House where our Dirty Burger has secured coveted House Favourite status across the world. Or better yet, for an at-home fix, check out this burger tutorial by Soho House LA’s executive chef Andrea Cavaliere below. We’re lovin’ it.