The Humble Origins Of Oklahoma's Onion Burger

America loves burgers. The food's modern iteration originated in the U.S. in the late 1800s, per History, and has remained popular there ever since. The idea is simple — beef between buns — but these days, burgers can get pretty weird. Americans have put donuts, mac 'n cheese, ramen, spaghetti, and even tur-duck-en on their burgers (via Let's Eat Cake). Oklahoma's onion burger isn't as far out there as those ones, but it's still uniquely fascinating in its own right.

It's not difficult to guess what Oklahoma's onion burgers are made of: beef, bread, and onions, mostly. Still, in this day and age, sandwiches are endlessly customizable and options abound, so it's not hard to find examples of Oklahoma onion burgers with add-ons. Sid's Diner puts mustard and pickles on their fried onion burgers, while Smitty's Garage Burgers & Beer does the same plus American cheese, and Tucker's Onion Burgers offers your choice of grilled jalapeños, ketchup, lettuce, mayo, mustard, pickles, and tomato. 

What's the big deal about an onion burger, though? Most of us have had onions on our burgers before. The point is the amount of onion shredded, fried, and grilled into the burger. Per Atlas Obscura, half a bulb's worth is the traditional way to make true Oklahoma onion burgers. How did this excess of onions come about?

The Great Depression

Near the beginning of the Great Depression, a burger joint called Hamburger Inn was the first to go all out with their onions (via Atlas Obscura). Ross Davis, the man in charge of the place, had been faced with a problem. Located near Route 66, the Inn was frequented by ravenous motorists. However, ground beef cost a good bit of moolah, and the nationwide economic crisis was hurting everybody's wallets — customers and restaurants alike. So, Davis needed a way to save money. He did so by using onions, which were cheaper than beef, to pad out the meat of the burger. This cost-saving measure turned out to be beloved amongst Hamburger Inn's patrons. After all, the result was a crunchy yet tender and savory mouthful.

The idea spread throughout western Oklahoma, according to Food & Wine, and the meal remains popular to this day in the Sooner State. The original Hamburger Inn location has since closed, but the business still operates out of a new location, according to Yelp. Oklahoma fried onion burgers are a regional favorite, a classic take on burgers borne out of necessity. They may have humble origins, but that doesn't make them any less OK.