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Aug 31, 2009 10:53 AM

What constitutes a "burger" and a "sandwich?"

I've seen boneless skinless chicken breasts, seared ahi tuna, and now grilled jumbo shrimp with kung pao sauce and fried noodles all described as "burgers." To me, all those are just sandwiches. They may be good or bad but I don't consider them "burgers." To me, a burger is ground protein: beef, turkey, tofu, salmon. I'd consider all of those burgers just so long as the stuff is ground up and formed into a patty. But if you mix some tuna and mayo and chopped green peppers and put it on a bun, is that a tuna salad burger or a tuna sandwich? If you fry a fish and put that on a bun, is it a fried fish burger or a fish sandwich? If you put a one-inch pile of bologna on a bun, what would you call that apart from disgusting? Why do restaurants insist on calling anything they slap on a bun a "burger?" The sandwich is a noble institution. It deserves better than this sort of treatment.

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  1. <Why do restaurants insist on calling anything they slap on a bun a "burger?" >

    In my experience, they don't. Every time I've seen "burger" on a menu, it's been the kind of ground protein you describe. Can you provide an example of a menu that calls a tuna salad sandwich a tuna burger? Or a sliced turkey sandwich a turkey burger?

    1 Reply
    1. re: small h

      Right. Most of the time you see something along the lines of "tuna melt" or even the burger like "patty melt" is given its own nomenclature. And much of the time places we go out here in LA have given various sandwiches their own "in-house" names. Certainly Junior's Deli has many that fit that description and the SF Saloon has the chicken salad sandwich my wife loves - the "Nob Hill" named after a famous area of SF.

    2. This is something that bugs me. Almost every time I see a Chicken Burger on a menu, it is a chicken breast on a bun. And yes, I would not call that a burger; I would call that a sandwich. I don't really like chicken breast on a bun, but I do like chicken burgers, so my attention is often caught, but usually I am disappointed when I read the description.

      1. You're right - a burger is a subset of the sandwich category, not vice versa. If you look at old menus you'll see that before a certain point (the '50s?) it was typically listed as a "hamburger sandwich." Which makes perfect sense.

        21 Replies
        1. re: BobB

          That's correct. I've seen some old Connecticut diner menus from the 1920s call it a "Hamburg Sandwich." But at some point, people started grinding other types of meat and calling it a burger, which is fine, but then it became, "Let's just put something--anything--on a bun and call it a burger."

          I think you could get away with putting a crabcake on a bun and calling it a "crab burger." But how about a deepfried softshelled crab? Or some crab salad? It's like when I see something unusual on the menu described as a something "burger," I have to ask how is it prepared. "Well, the chef puts a dead unjugged rabbit fish on a brioche roll. It's our signature burger."

          1. re: monkeyrotica

            I think round and ground/cut. A slice of meatloaf on a bun is not a burger. A bean burger is a burger, as is a veggie burger. Chicken breast cut in a round is not but ground chicken in a round is.

            1. re: monkeyrotica

              Are you sure they didn't just mis-spell bugger? If you make the replacement (apart from the first reference) in your post you will see it makes a lot more sense.

              1. re: monkeyrotica

                I would hesitate to call one made with tofu a "burger" because to me that implies animal protein, ground and formed into a patty. Nobody I knows will grind tofu for a burger.
                I'd call it a soybean sandwich.

                My grandfather, long passed away, was surprised when I once served him tofu, and he said "Heck, that's just beans for people what got no teeth." His Okie accent made it all the more convincing.

              2. re: BobB

                I don't agree that a burger is a 'subset' of the sandwich category. There is no requirement that a burger be served on a bun or bread.

                How many times have you seen that terrible 'Diet Plate' on a menu? Hamburger with cottage cheese, iceberg lettuce and jello? Not a slice of bread to be seen.

                1. re: bagelman01

                  I usually seen the Atkins option, where you use the lettuce to hold the burger. Maybe being able to hold the thing in your hand is one factor in a meal's "sandwich-ness?"

                  But, yeah, if it's on the plate and you can't pick it up, it's more like a salisbury steak than a burger or a sandwich.

                  1. re: bagelman01

                    A burger comes on a bun. The bunless burger is just a hamburger patty. That's all. You can call anything you want, anything. It doesn't make it so.


                    1. re: Davwud

                      Which is exactly my point: just because you put a slab of meat on a bun, that doesn't make it a "burger."

                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                        You haven't named a single restaurant that labels a sandwich a burger. Are you sure this phenomenon actually exists? I was the first person to respond to your post, and I asked for examples then. Can you link to a menu to illustrate this?

                        1. re: small h

                          I just made up that "tuna salad burger" as a joke. But boneless chicken breast and seared ahi tuna "burgers" are pretty common. And here's a link to the Kung Pao Shrimp "Burger."


                          To me, those are sandwiches, not burgers.

                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                            Yeah, you're right, that Kung Pao Shrimp thing is not a burger. Although I have had shrimp burgers - made out of chopped shrimp - in Georgia and South Carolina. They are awesome!

                          2. re: small h

                            Susan's Fish 'N' Chips in Portland , Maine calls their fish sanwhich a fish-burger.

                            1. re: small h

                              Byron's drive-in here in Honolulu has a butterflied breaded deep fried prawn on a bun that is called a shrimp burger. I don't think its really a burger either, but it is on the menu that way. Those chopped shrimp burgers that you (small h) mentioned sound really good. And I agree, if it is chopped and made into a patty then cooked, it pretty much qualifies as a burger (per Davwud below.) That is why I don't include a "spamburger" (have you seen the commercials?) as a real burger. It is not formed into a patty then cooked. I guess if you ground up the spam then fried/grilled/broiled it, perhaps.

                              The next question would be how many additives to the protein can you have before you no longer have a burger. I would not include a crabcake sandwich because there is too much other stuff in there. If you made mini-meatloafs in patty form, again... its a meatloaf sandwich, not a meatloaf burger.

                          3. re: Davwud

                            Not at my house. I eat my burgers on toasted bread. I really don't like the doughy texture of burger buns.

                            1. re: KristieB

                              I'm not sure where you get your burger buns but what you make at your house is a hamburger sandwich.


                            2. re: Davwud

                              Burger without bun or bread?

                              We used to call it a "Salisbury Steak" which, now, come to think of it, really sounds like a euphemism.

                              1. re: Tripeler

                                I think of salisbury steak as mealoaf in a patty, or individual size serving that's flat. But, I've only had it when I was a child in Banquet frozen meals, or in school cafeterias.

                                1. re: Tripeler

                                  Dr Salisbury was a Civil War era doctor who tried to popularize a high protein diet, including some sort of minced meat patty ("Eat the muscle pulp of lean beef made into cakes and broiled") But it took the WW1 anti-German sentiments to turn the lunch counter Hamburger Steak into Salisbury Steak.

                              2. re: bagelman01

                                Why is that terrible? Depending on the quality, of course. Never had Jello with it, either, but I didn't grow up in the midwest US, where I think it may have been ubiquitous to the '50s 'diet plates' . As long as the cottage cheese was tasty, I'd eat and enjoy it.

                                1. re: EWSflash

                                  I didn't grow up in the midwest either, but in CT, worked and lived there and in NY and So FL and this is still a staple on menus, especially diners.

                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                    That's funny to me as a born/bred Wisconsinite (Midwesterner), where I rarely saw a "diet plate" item that was as you described. However, when I lived in Philadelphia or visited East Coast relatives, I often saw a diner or deli diet plate on menus that was some combo of bunless burger, a scoop of low-fat cottage cheese, slice of canned peach or fruit cup (rarely fresh) and/or Jell-o.

                              3. To me, it's about the protien and how it's handled. It's also about the bun. You're right that simply putting a chicken breast on a bun does not a burger make. To me, what makes a burger is a formed, cooked patty. If you take a crab cake, which is a formed, cooked patty and put it on a bun, I'd agree with it being called a burger. So long as the bun is round. If the patty is cut in half and put on an oblong bun it's a sandwich.
                                Salmon from a can mixed with mayo and spread on bun is a sandwich but if formed into a patty and cooked, it's a burger.


                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Davwud

                                  Formed and Cooked would seem to eliminate Maid-Rites and Nu-Ways from the burger kingdom by your definition. Maybe they are the duck billed platypus of the
                                  burger world.

                                  1. re: bbqboy

                                    Loose-meat sandwich

                                    It's self-explanatory.

                                    1. re: SnackHappy

                                      except that NuWay and Maid Rite both call their sandwiches burgers.
                                      Guess they didn't get the memo.:)

                                    2. re: bbqboy

                                      Even Maid-Rite doesn't call it a burger.

                                      "Since 1926 Our Maid Rite restaurants have been serving our delicious loose meat fresh ground beef sandwiches"

                                      It's not a burger. Not a formed patty.


                                      1. re: Davwud

                                        Yeah. Loose meat sandwich = minimalist sloppy joe.

                                        Maybe we should call them "neat joes?"

                                  2. To me a Burger has always been simply ground/minced beef.
                                    Check out this site:

                                    A sandwich is anything between two slices of bread..... yeasted or unyeasted rolls included.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: Gio

                                      I would be more liberal with both those definitions, I would accept other kinds of ground meat and even vegetarian patties in burgers. And I would include wraps, and tacos in the sandwich category. Anything served in bread that you can eat with your hands is a sandwich AFAIC.

                                      A McChicken is a sandwich, but it's not a burger. A Quarter Pounder is a burger, but it's also a sandwich.

                                      1. re: SnackHappy

                                        <"Anything served in bread that you can eat with your hands is a sandwich AFAIC. ">

                                        I completely agree with your statement! But, only a Burger is a burger. LOL

                                        1. re: SnackHappy

                                          The Brits seem to call chicken sandwiches served on buns/rolls "chicken burgers." Not sure if McDonald's refers to them that way though.

                                          1. re: deibu

                                            To be fair, the Brits also call trucks "lorries" so I don't know how much stock I'd put in them. But they do get the honor of naming the sandwich after the Earl of Sandwich, so maybe there's some merit.

                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                              They call fries, chips and chips, crisps. It's just a mess over there



                                              1. re: Davwud

                                                LOL, and you'd never call a chip butte a french fry burger!