Steakburger Vs. Hamburger: What's The Biggest Difference?

When it comes to burgers, the meaty debate between steakburgers and hamburgers has sparked culinary curiosity. These two burger variations may look similar at first glance, but a deeper examination reveals a stark contrast in the quality of meat used.

A steakburger attempts to elevate the burger experience by incorporating into the grind one or more premium cuts, such as t-bones or ribeyes, that are traditionally left as whole filets and served as steak, hence the name. The use of these top-tier cuts is meant to imply quality and a superior level of tenderness and flavor. In contrast, hamburgers are crafted using ground beef that typically consists of cheaper cuts like chuck, round, and sirloin. While still enjoyable, these cuts are generally used for "lesser" purposes and lack the cache that higher-end cuts have.

The idealized advantage of using premium cuts in steakburgers is the marbling. Marbling refers to the fine streaks of intramuscular fat within the meat, which contributes to juiciness and imparts a deeper beef flavor. As the sizzling heat of the grill, griddle, or skillet interacts with the marbling, the fat melts and renders the burger moist. It should be noted though, that beef comes in grades based specifically on marbling. The top three are what we normally see in stores, which in descending order of marbling are prime, choice, and select. While steakburgers may be made from prime beef, there is no rule governing their composition, and they may be made from less-marbled choice or select cuts.

What does steakburger really denote?

Though it is unclear who first coined the term steakburger, restaurant chain Steak 'n Shake nonetheless played a pivotal role in popularizing steakburgers. The chain, which was established in 1934, has, from the start, served exclusively steakburgers. Founder Gus Belt would grind t-bone steaks, sirloin, and round right in front of customers to prove that his patties were made with the steaks he had promised.

Another hallmark of Steak 'n Shake is the style in which steakburgers are cooked. Typically prepared as smashburgers, steakburgers are meticulously pressed onto a hot griddle, creating a caramelized crust. The technique of smashing the patty onto the griddle allows for maximum sear and the development of a combination of textures, with a juicy interior and lacy-edge, crispy exterior. This cooking method has become synonymous with steakburgers for some.

A steakburger can also be interpreted as a more general concept, referring to fancier burgers served at steakhouses. In this context, steakburgers can transcend traditional boundaries and embrace a wide array of luxurious ingredients and embellishments, from gourmet cheeses and artisanal buns to unique toppings and flavorful sauces. For this reason, especially the quality of a "steakburger" can vary wildly. 

Is a hamburger just as good?

The juicy truth is that a hamburger can be just as mouth-watering as its steak-inspired counterpart. While steakburgers do include what are considered premium cuts like ribeyes and t-bones, hamburgers embrace the deliciousness found in more economical options, such as chuck. Chuck is a flavorful cut that contains a generous amount of intramuscular fat, resulting in natural marbling. Once the meat is ground, the marbling — whether derived from prime ribeye or choice chuck — reacts all the same, infusing the meat with the same richness and flavor.

The misconception that the term "steakburger" automatically denotes superior quality overlooks the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into creating exceptional hamburgers. In the hands of skilled chefs and burger enthusiasts who deploy top-tier seasoning, shaping, and grilling techniques, hamburgers can be every bit as good as steakburgers. The ultimate goal is to savor the deliciousness of a well-crafted burger, regardless of the meat cut or terminology used. Whether it's the succulent juiciness of a perfectly cooked regular hamburger or the luxurious experience of a marbled steakburger, every bite should be a celebration of flavor.

Hamburgers will always have a place in the pantheon of burger greatness. They harness the inherent marbling of "lesser" cuts to deliver a juicy and satisfying experience that rivals steakburgers. Embracing the creativity and skill of burger craftsmanship, one can appreciate the unique qualities and flavors that both standard hamburgers and steakburgers bring to the table.