Bøfsandwich, The Danish Hamburger That's Swimming In Gravy

In the annals of food history, there are a great many variations on the hamburger, and very few of them fall into the category of "light fare." No, most burgers seem as though they are in competition vying for the title of the greasiest, grimiest, most over-the-top take on a ground beef sandwich that can exist. In the U.S. alone, there's the donut-bound Luther burger, the truffle, foie gras, and wagyu amalgamation that is the Fleurburger 5000, and the borderline-sacrilegious Ghost Burger. But, what may indeed take first prize is a gravy-laden masterpiece — or monstrosity, you be the judge — from Denmark called the Bøfsandwich.

Literally translated as "steak sandwich" or "beef sandwich," this heart- *ahem* show-stopper of a sandwich has a stunning array of classic ingredients: a minced beef patty, of course, ketchup, brown mustard, dill pickles chips, pickled beets slices, diced raw onions, caramelized onions, crispy fried onions, piccalilli or remoulade, and plenty of dark brown gravy. But this wasn't always the case.

History of the bøfsandwich

The Bøfsandwich started out — and can still be found across Denmark — as something resembling a standard hamburger with a ground beef patty topped with ketchup, mustard, raw onions, crispy onions, and remoulade on a bun. Things started to get wild in the region of Jutland in the 1950s or 1960s, where adventurous cooks and eaters began offering and ordering the Bøfsandwich with pickled beet slices and liberal amounts of brown gravy poured over the whole thing. One can imagine this is the kind of hearty chow you might need to get through cold winters on a peninsula that juts out into the North Sea.

According to De Brune Riddere, a site dedicated to chronicling the Bøfsandwich, the current iteration is an amalgamation of two classic dishes: a classic hamburger and a Danish minced beef patty traditionally accompanied with brown gravy, caramelized onions, and potatoes. Enterprising hot dog cart operators, lacking griddles to fry burgers, would keep them warm in their gravy pans, inadvertently birthing a regional classic.

How to make a bøfsandwich

Most of the ingredients in a Bøfsandwich are pretty straightforward, such as ketchup, mustard, buns, and burger patties. But a few could do with some explaining, and for that, we defer to De Brune Riddere's authority. Piccalilli, aka chow chow, is a type of relish-mustard hybrid that is made different ways in different places. Here, though, it refers to a fine blend of minced cruciferous and other vegetables — cauliflower, cucumber, carrots, etc. — along with mustard, vinegar, and sugar. Remoulade is also up for interpretation depending on who you ask, but here they just mean adding mayonnaise to the piccalilli. Finally, the brown gravy here is fairly standard, but they do suggest tying the various elements together by using beer to deglazing the pan you cooked your burger and caramelized onions in, then adding beef stock, cornstarch, and a little cream.

Building a Bøfsandwich isn't terribly difficult, and there isn't a codified order in which things must be laid out. If, however, you do better with directions — starting from the bottom, it's bottom bun, mustard, beets, pickled cucumber, raw onion, burger(s), caramelized onions, piccalilli, top bun, a whole lot of gravy, and crispy onions. As you can see, it's an odd mix of careful assemblage followed by utter chaos, so it's safe to say this is a knife-and-fork sort of sandwich.

Where to try a bøfsandwich

If you are in or plan to be in Denmark and want to try a Bøfsandwich for yourself, you could go out blind and attempt to find the best, and maybe you would. But why not trust De Brune Riddere, the experts, who have been assembling a Bøfsandwich hall of fame and giving out awards every year since 2012 for the best version they can find?

Past winners include Cafe Ella in Horsens, Denmark, which uses lemon and orange juices in their gravy for a sweeter hit. Rasses Skovpølser in Skanderborg offers a Bøfsandwich with two thin, lacy-edged patties rather than one. Grisen makes its gravy from a Danish brown sauce that includes pork mixed with a classic red wine sauce.

The through line between the winners, runners-up, and those restaurants that garnered praise in other categories seems to be the quality of the ingredients and a sense of gluttonous whimsy. Rising above the humble origins of the Bøfsandwich, fresh beef and vegetables that bring big flavor to the dish, along with careful consideration of how to elevate the gravy, earn high praise from the judges. No matter where you go, though, understand that you're in for an undertaking, so bring your appetite and appreciate this singular Danish dish.