Hamburgers: More than just goodness on a bun

CBS News

(CBS News) Spending time at the grill is a hallowed tradition of summer. Lee Cowan brings us the sizzling results . . . :

Consider for a moment, the hamburger -- that spheroid of summer goodness that practically drips red, white and blue.

Just ask restaurateur Danny Meyer. the passionate palate behind the Shake Shack sensation: "It's the most democratic food that America has ever produced, at least for carnivores, because it's kind of there for everybody all the time."

In fact, hamburgers are THE most popular food in the country. On average, most of us down a burger once every 9 days.

Josh Ozersky might have downed a few more than that. He wrote the book on burgers -- one of them, at least -- and is proud to say the U.S. can indeed take credit for inventing an icon.

"Everything about its identity is American," said Ozersky, author of "The Hamburger: A History." "Its birth is American, its evolution is American, its economic life is American, its cultural life is American -- it's almost more American than America itself. I mean, it represents America to the world in a way that George Washington doesn't."

Had the burger been around then, there might have been grease stains on the Constitution. But as it turns out, most put the burger's birth around the late 1800s.

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Countless people claim to have created the very first one. After all, it's not exactly the space shuttle.

"Hamburgers are not that complicated," said Andrew Schnipper, of Schnipper's Quality Kitchen. "It's not rocket science!"

But the Schnipper brothers -- Andrew and Jonathan, burger chefs practically since birth -- admit that simplicity can be a little deceiving.

And there are a lot of variables: the beef-to-bun ratio, whether to but butter on the bun, how coarsely one grinds the meat. "Absolutely! There's so many different styles of burgers out there," said Jonathan.

"There are so many different styles of burger out there," said Andrew. "Everyone wanted to say that they know what the best burger is, but it's a very personal experience. That maybe is why burgers are so popular, because it's so personal to all of us."

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One thing IS certain. From its very inception, the burger was meant to be mobile. "Go and try to eat fried chicken while you're driving, you know what I mean?" laughed Ozersky.

Lee Cowan samples a hamburger with Danny Meyer, owner of Shack Shack, in New York City's Madison Square Park. CBS News

Most credit White Castle as being the first to realize its take-out benefits. Folks like In-N-Out practically made the drive-in a religion.

But it was McDonald's, of course, that made them ubiquitous. Even the hamburger's very ingredients became a national mind-numbing jingle. ("Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun." Remember that?)