Hamburger and Burger Difference

The difference between a hamburger and a burger is not straightforward. In fact, it’s bizzarely complicated. Wondering about the difference between these words may not even be the best way to think of them. Let’s go through it.

Hamburger Vs Burger – What’s The Difference?

These words are used in so many ways that it’s not easy to simply define the Hamburger and Burger Difference. Instead of defining, I will try to show the Hamburger vs Burger difference.

Hamburger and Burger Difference
Hamburger vs Burger

Traditional Meaning of Hamburger

The traditional meaning of hamburger in the USA is a beef patty, served on a bun, possibly with some condiments on it. If you pull up to a McDonalds drive thru, and ask for a hamburger, that is exactly what you will get.

Note: We are going to consider cheeseburgers to simply be a subset of hamburgers with cheese on them. As such, we are not going to take cheese into consideration for the rest of this article.

This is not just true at McDonalds, although as the market leader (by far!) a lot of our cultural and societal ideas about hamburgers originate with McDonalds. Burger King also offers a “Hamburger” menu item, and it is quite similar to the “Hamburger” menu item at McDonalds.

Branded Meanings of Hamburger

Many restaurants refer to their own hamburgers as something other than hamburgers. They choose to use a proprietary, branded name for their hamburgers. For instance, at Wendy’s restaurants, the word “hamburger” means “Wendy’s Single”. At Jack in the Box, “hamburger” means “Jumbo Jack”.

Hamburger and Burger Difference
Two Branded Cheeseburger Hamburgers

Related: The Best Lettuce for Burgers

Burger as Synonym for Hamburger

A person might say “I am hungry for a hamburger, let’s go to Wendy’s” and the sentence makes perfect sense. The sentence “I am hungry for a burger, let’s go to Wendy’s” also makes perfect sense. In this context, “hamburger” and “burger” are synonyms. Also, hamburger and burger are understood to refer to the branded versions of the food in this context as well.

Burger as Short for Hamburger

See the paragraph above. Burger is simply being used as a short version of hamburger, which makes them contextually synonymous. This is also true when a hamburger restaurant is referred to as a “burger joint”.

In recent decades, “burger” has come into its own when used as the second word in a food related word pair. Check it out:

  • Veggie burger
  • Mushroom burger
  • Turkey burger
  • Chicken burger
  • Veal burger
  • Venison burger
  • Lamb burger
  • Pork burger
  • Bronto burger
    • Bronto burgers are brontosaurus burgers from the Flintstones
    • “Burger” is so well understood in American society that it can be used in a prehistoric fictional setting with meat humans never ate and it still works

The first word in the pair lets us know what the main ingredient of the item is, and the presence of “burger” brings all of its cultural meaning to the term. Therefore we know that the main ingredient is going to be formed into a patty, fried or grilled, and probably served on a bun with condiments.

Burger has also recently been used in non-food related word pairs

  • Nothing Burger
    • Nothing Burger means that the item referred to lacks substance. “That was a big nothing burger”
    • Usually applied to something that was originally believed to be important
    • First used in the 1950s, it has become much more popular since 2010
    • The term is meant to invoke an image of a hamburger bun with no “burger”
  • Something Burger
    • Something burger means that the item referred to is important. “That is certainly a something burger”
    • Usually applied to something that was originally thought to be trivial
Hamburger and Burger Difference
Two Empty Hamburger Buns (AKA Nothing Burgers)

Related: The Best Press for Smash Burgers

Is Hamburger vs Burger the Right Way to Consider these Words?

Hamburger and burger are linguistically and culturally intertwined. Sometimes they are synonyms. Burger makes up 2/3 of the word hamburger! There is no need to think of these words as opposed in some way.

Depending on how you think about it, there is not much of a hamburger and burger difference. Neither word would have meaning without the other. Instead of Hamburger vs Burger, let’s consider Hamburger AND Burger.