The Oxford English Dictionary defines a burger as:
- a flat round cake of minced beef that is fried or grilled and generally eaten in a bread roll.
- [with modifier] a similarly shaped cake made of a specified ingredient: a nut burger
I think in the contemporary context it’s important to remove beef as a necessity for the burger. Many meats, nuts, vegetables or combinations thereof make appropriate burger patties. It’s understandable why Oxford would use this definition, as dictionaries define the common perception of thing. I’m more interested not in what burgers are, but what they could be. So I’m going to use a simpler definition:
A burger is a cooked patty made from raw ingredients that is partially enclosed by a bun on its top and bottom.
I think this is a tidy definition. On one hand, it emphasizes the preeminence of the patty over its accompaniments. It’s important that a patty is defined as cooked from raw ingredients, as it differentiates a patty from deli meats. Wilensky’s Light Lunch in Montreal has been serving their Wilensky’s Special of grilled beef salami and bologna on a kaiser with mustard since 1932. It’s a noble sandwich, but it’s not a burger.
Also, the bun being at the top and bottom differentiates the burger from a taco or a wrap. There is the possibility of a burger where a single slit is cut into the side of a roll and the burger inserted, but I would consider that a burger roll, a dodgier cousin of the burger. A burger shouldn’t be cooked with the bun like a sausage roll or Cornish pasty; the cooking of the patty and optional toasting of the bun should occur separately, and then the burger assembled.
So there you have it, the definition of a burger.