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What is the difference between a meatloaf and a hamburger?

Recently, my friends, Dustin and Dinsey had me and couple other friends over for dinner. They had made some really tasty meatloaf with a side of salad. As we exchanged ideas for how to make our meatloafs, there was a discrepancy between what was actually a meatloaf and what would fall as a hamburger, salisberry steak etc.

My question to you all : what makes meatloaf a meatloaf and a hamburger a hamburge?

To my understanding, I've always thought the setting ingredient that makes a meatloaf was the egg binder.

Is hamburger the same thing as meat loaf but just different shape? If you made your hamburger in a loaf shape would it become meat loaf? If you took your meat loaf and shaped it in to patties could you call it hamburger ? Is it the way its cooked or there an ingredient tha changes the dish? Granted, the ingrient in each of the foods are the same, but there are also variations among burgers and loafs. What is the deciding factor that makes this meat dish fall into its respectable categories?

I'm curious what you guys think and would be obliged if someone could shed some light into this debate. Looking through McGee's book didn't help much.

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  1. I'd say the only difference is a hamburger is grilled and a meatloaf is baked and their shape (loaf or patty).
    Ingredients for both can be inifinite to the imaginition.

    4 Replies
    1. re: monku

      Then again I've taken leftover meatloaf and put it in a pan to grill and make a sandwich...does it become a hamburger?

      1. re: monku

        No, it's a meatloaf sandwich, silly!!

        1. re: Phurstluv

          One of my favorite sandwiches as a kid was a grilled meatloaf and American cheese sandwich....sounds almost like a cheeseburger?

      2. re: monku

        I have heard of some making meatloaf, successfully, on the grill. Will have to try it some day.

      3. I think of hamburger as ground meat w/ some seasonings but meatloaf has fillers like egg, bread/crackers/etc. Salisbury steak, not that I've made it, is like meatloaf in a patty shape. Hamburger meat made in a loaf pan would be a loaf of meat but not a meatloaf.

        3 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          You've never had a Hawaiian hamburger....made with bread crumbs or panko maybe an egg and seasonings like meatloaf.

          1. re: monku

            Here in socal, they advertise a Hawaiian burger as a hamburger topped with teriyaki sauce and a grilled pineapple ring..... and not just the fast food places, either, I see it all over town. Would love to see what you're advertising!

            1. re: Phurstluv

              Not always pineapple and teriyaki sauce. Google up Hawaiian Hamburger recipes.

              Southern California: Go to Bruddah's in Gardena and they have a Hawaiian hamburger with mushroom gravy......it's a mix of hamburger, bread crumbs/panko and who knows what else, but no pineapple ring or teriyaki sauce.
              TnT Aloha Cafe or Gardena Bowl... Hawaiian hamburger with gravy.
              Curry House...they have a hamburger curry...hamburger is made with panko and ?...no pineapple or teriyaki sauce.....maybe it's a Japanese hamburger.

        2. These discussions have occured recently for several versions and you can search for those. It comes down to the fact that some of US (I'm one of those!) put nothing in a burger except the meat. Anything added and it becomes meatloaf shaped like a burger. But there are other who vehemently disagree.

          5 Replies
          1. re: c oliver

            Thank you, c o! I cannot even imagine using my meatloaf recipe, which has egg, bread crumbs, onion soup mix, ketchup & water in it, and then shaping into rounds and calling them hamburgers! Heresy!!

            My hamburgers have nothing in them except ground beef, spices like salt pepper, maybe some steak seasoning, and a splash of Worcestershire. That's it. I am not one of those who would wreck a completely good hamburger by putting bread crumbs or egg in it!

            1. re: Phurstluv

              Phurstluv, thats my thoughts exactly. I don't know who else reads the spirits forum, but I feel like this somewhat borders the debate between using vodka in a martini and calling it a vodka martini.

              1. re: Phurstluv

                How about a Japanese hamburger recipe? Sounds like a meatloaf recipe to me.

                1. re: Phurstluv

                  Those familiar with German cooking will recognize a meatloaf mixture sauteed as patties as Frikadellen. It has to be done on lower heat and for longer than a pan-seared hamburger, because it needs to be thoroughly cooked while maintaining a tender exterior. Salisbury steak is tougher. Frikadellen are quicker-cooking than meatloaf and convenient in that they are the perfect shape for sandwiches on buns.

                2. For me, a burger is must be shaped into some sort of patty form and cooked individually with direct hear and not baked in an oven for a long period of time. As for fillers and egg....it can still be a burger .....unless the filler is something like bread crumbs, crackers or oatmeal. The it instantly becomes a meat loaf to me, regardless of shape or cooking method.

                  FWIW...the 21 Club Burger, arguably the most famous and best burger for many who have had it, does contain eggs in the ingredients.


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: fourunder

                    Here's a Hamburger Steak recipe that has no Asian influence. Seems like meatloaf to me.

                  2. Here in Connecticut, it is against the law for a restaurant to call anything a hamburger that has any ingredients besides ground/chopped beef and spices. If it has extenders, fillers or other meat it is NOT a hamburger!

                    I agree with this standard. Meatloaf has extenders and fillers such as bread crumbs, vegetables, egg, ketchup etc. and is baked in a mass, not in individual servings.

                    Salisbury steak is usually individual sized meatloaf type portions, but may be made of tenderized cheap beef (rather than ground) cooked/simmered /served in a brown mushroom gravy. A 'good' salisbury steak requires a knife to cut unlike meatloaf or hamburger

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: bagelman01

                      A Law?? Typical state legislators!! I only say that bc I am from CT as well!!!

                      Meatloaf can also be made into individual servings, loaves, and they freeze beautifully. And I always remembered Salisbury steak as being made from cube steaks, one of the cheap cuts that were popularized in the '70s. I don't know what they use now, I don't eat that cut.

                      1. re: Phurstluv

                        A very good consumer protection law at that. When you order a hamburger in a restaurant in CT you are assured of 100% beef.
                        Years ago, one of my employees also owned a Duchess 'fast food' franchise (they are all in New Haven and Fairfiled counties for you out of staters). He explained to be that they liusted their burgers on the menu as 'Big D Burgers' NOT Bid D HAMburgers because at that time they were using fillers to cut costs. They had been previously fined by the state for violating the statute.

                        So a restaurant advertising 100% beef hamburgers in CT is no big deal, every commercially sold hamburger must be 100% beef.

                        The 'cube steak' you refer to as a cut, really wasn't a cut of beef, merely a slice of inferior beef that had been mechanically tenderized with lots of slits.

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          Sounds like a "hamburger steak" would be illegal in CT ?

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            My only point is don't they have better things to legislate than semantics?!

                            And yes, I know cube steak is not a cut of beef, but rather a tough piece that has been pierced mechanically. Either way, I'm not eating it.

                            1. re: Phurstluv

                              Actually the country/chicken-fried steak that I ate growing up was that same "cube steak."

                              And I agree with you - as usual. What BS that CT residents PAID for their legislatures to deal with this (not that any of the other states are any better). Argh.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Actually, it's quite an old regulation. From back when we actually had citizen legisltors. The CT legislature was not only part-time, paid about $4,000, NUT only met every other year and passed a two year budget.

                                I've lots of complaints about governement, I do business in CT, NY, FL and MA. BUT Connecticut is the only state I've lived in and conducted business in where taxes from the state have been reduced when not needed>>>>Sales tax was 8% in the early 1980s and has been 6 % for the last 20+ years. The tolls were eliminated on our roads more than 20 years ago as well. The tolls could only be used to pay the road bonds, when the debt was paid, the tolls were gone.

                                How many thousnads of times has the George Washington Bridge been paid for?

                                Sometimes consumer PROTECTION laws and reegulations PROTECT the consumer. I think it's a good thing to know that if you order a hamburger in CT it will be 100% beef and not a mix with soy or other filler.

                                BTW>>>I wish more restaurant related regulations were standardized throughout the state.

                                In some cities in CT one is required to use a clean plate for every trip to a buffet or salad bar. My ex-wife was refused a clean plate at a restaurant in New Haven in the early 90s. The manager told her: 'The New Haven Health Dept. doesn't require it, so we won't provide it." My ex walked out.
                                t that time we lived in Hamden, and the Quinnipiac Valley Health District which served our town required the use of a clean plate.

                                I'd like to see government make sure consumers are protected. If we are eating at restaurants we are DOUBLE consumers. We purchase and eat/imbine that which we purchase.

                      2. Traditional meatloaf contains more than just hamburger meat, it is usually a mix a of 3 different meats (hamburger, veal and pork or other meat), whereas a hamburger is just hamburger.

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: DishDelish

                          Whose tradition???????????????????

                          That's way too big a blanket statement.

                          Your 3 meat mix sure isn't TRADITION in most Jewish or Moslem Homes....<VBG>
                          and many food lovers I know (including my wife) come from families that don't eat veal (or lamb or other baby animals) for ethical reasons.

                          There are traditional meatloaf recipes from the Mediterranean/Midlle East that contain Lamb----Kibbee come to mind right away.

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            Hey, I don't eat veal either because I think that it is cruel the way they are treated so please don't bite my head off. I said 3 meats, and that was just an example of the 3. It can just be hamburger too, or just turkey, or just chicken etc... notice I said "or other meat" which was not a blanket statement. It's okay, go ahead and read it again. It is never good to assume that an example someone uses is the specific way they make it. I just remember these 3 basic meats mentioned together in my Cook's Illustrated book. Also, this is the mix of meats you can often get when you buy a meatloaf mix from the grocery store or local butcher, which I do not do since I don't eat veal.

                            Here are some fellow chowhounds talking about meatloaf mixes:

                            1. re: DishDelish

                              Well, it's called "meatloaf mix" for a reason;-) So, really, the statement is not a blanket one, it's rather well known to be the meat mixture that many folks use. I think if you polled CH'ers and asked what 3 meats are in "meatloaf" mix, they would say beef, pork and veal. Don't take it persoanlly!
                              That said, I sometimes use 3 meats for meatloaf (and stuffed cabbage), but not always. If I'm using one meat, it's usually beef, or turkey.
                              I think of meatloaf as adding binder/filler-ie: eggs and bread crumbs.
                              I think of hamburger being one meat-usually beef, sometimes turkey, sometimes lamb, sometimes buffalo. No binder, no filler. Just seasoning/aromatics.

                              1. re: DishDelish

                                I only use a meatloaf mix of 1/2 lb beef, 1/4 lb pork, 1/4 lb. veal. Makes for the most tender & flavorful meatloaf, that we love. But it is by no means a LAW!! Lots of people like to use turkey or chicken, I don't bc I prefer the taste of pork & veal, the ground poultry lacks the depth of flavor & fat needed to be tasty & not dried out.

                                1. re: Phurstluv

                                  I make my meatloaf using ground chicken fairly often. Instead of one big loaf though I make muffins, cuts down on the required cooking time which I think is what helps keep them moist - and the size makes for easy leftovers too.

                                  1. re: maplesugar

                                    Great idea! What else do you put in them to keep them moist & flavorful?

                                    1. re: Phurstluv

                                      I can't take credit I just played around with this recipe from Cooking Light(works with ground bison too): ttp://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=1160601

                                      Sorry tried to find a shorter link...no luck. Let me know if you try the recipe :)

                                      1. re: maplesugar

                                        Seems easier to me to use a scoop or your hands to form 12 meatballs to bake on a foil-lined sheet pan, rather than scouring out a muffin tin afterwards.

                                        1. re: greygarious

                                          I believe the idea of using muffin pans for meatballs is to reduce the oil splatter from the meatballs, and thus reduce the the amount of effort needed to later to clean the oven itself.....but I'll offer a solution.....line the muffin pan with foil.:-)

                                          Personally, my method is meatballs cooked in a stainless steel greased hotel pan.....never a problem with sticking and cleans up very easily. For those who do not know what a hotel pan is, it's the insert pan you see commonly in a buffet chafing dish setup.

                                          1. re: fourunder

                                            I bake/fry my meatballs on a rack above a half sheet pan. Clean up isn't a big deal if you soak it for a little bit, and the rack comes clean in the dishwasher. When your meatballs have enough fat in them, they really don't stick at all.

                                2. re: DishDelish

                                  I wasn't biting your head off <VBG> BUT I gladly have a sample bite of whatever you're making for dinner. It's too hot to cook tonight.

                                  I did see your mention of other meats..........
                                  I just have an issue of people referring to 'traditional' ways to make what is essentially a non-ethnic food. Almost all ethnicities have a baked ground meat dish, but there appears to be no American traditional meatloaf, we are too much of a melting pot.

                                  I also would never buy meatloaf mix. I grind my own meat. My 86 year old mother taught me 45 years ago: 'never buy ground meat that you don't see ground, you don't know how old it ios, or what's really in it.'

                                  It takes a short while to grind meat and I save money, choose the cuts and fat percentage, and can grind in onions if I'm making meatloaf, or oniuons and boiled eggs if making chopped liver.

                                  BTW>>> I enjoy Cooks Illustrated, but 'Yankee Cooking' (and I'm born and bred in New England) is some of the most boring food in the world.

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    I'll second your opinion of Yankee Cooking, though I'm a transplant from Long Island. According to Wikipedia, Julia Child was raised in CA, but on New England cooking. So without that heritage/trauma (;-D) to overcome, we might not have had her enthusiastic leadership in broadening Americans' culinary horizons!

                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                      Traditional is the word that has been used in many of the recipes I have read calling for meatloaf mix so there is no need to be offended. When you try to read into what I am saying you'll get something entirely different from what I really am saying. What I was basically trying to convey is that meatloaf can be any meat, whereas hamburger is just hamburger.

                                      I agree with you that homeground meat tastes better. I read about it in cooks ill and like to make my hamburgers that way. =)

                              2. I think that the only thing we can definitively say on the subject is that a single-serving portion of 100% ground beef, formed into a patty and grilled, is a burger, while a mixture of ground beef with any of a number of possible additives (other types of meat, eggs, bread crumbs, herbs, etc - and possibly not involving beef at all) baked in a loaf shape in an oven is meatloaf. Somewhere between these two extremes is the dividing line between the two, but that line is different for almost everyone and purely a matter of opinion.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: BobB

                                  Thanks for summing it up, Bob!!