Ernest Hemingway’s Famous Hamburger Recipe

Ernest Hemingway has a lot of fans and is one of the most popular authors in history. One thing he’s famous for, however, is his hamburger recipe. In this article, I’ll tell you how it goes along with some other interesting facts about him.

The “best homemade hamburger recipe” is a staple of American cuisine. It was created by Ernest Hemingway, and has been popular ever since.

Ernest Hemingway was a man with a voracious thirst for life. He had an insatiable appetite for a wide range of interests, including food, whether pounding away at his typewriter, deep sea fishing off the Florida Keys, hunting from the mountains of the American West to the savannas of Africa, or issuing journalistic dispatches and even running his own reconnaissance patrols on the frontlines of war.

Hemingway has had a close relationship with eating since he was a youngster. His father exposed him to hunting and fishing when he was a small lad, as well as its ethics: Ernest had to eat anything he killed. For most hunters, such a rule is feasible (and frequently tasty), especially when the game consists of rabbits, deer, elk, and poultry, all of which Ernest devoured with pleasure; he even had a recipe for campfire-cooked trout that he followed to the letter. Nonetheless, he followed his father’s dictum on less common and easily prepared wildlife, eating anything from porcupine to snake to lion.

Though Papa found serenity in the wilderness, he also appreciated the gastronomic pleasures of society, such as eating out and savoring a fine wine or a cool daiquiri. Ernest’s posthumous masterwork, A Moveable Feast (1964), exemplifies his fondness for describing his meals. I recall giving my wife this remark to get her to try oysters for the first time:

I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and make plans as I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine.

While Hemingway was not very domestic, he would cook at home for himself and others on occasion; as a war reporter, he was known to fry up a pancake breakfast in his hotel room on a portable burner and invite his fellow journalists to partake. 

He had his domestic staff make his meals most of the time, based on recipes he had rigorously taste-tested and devised himself. When a treasure of digital records was donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston in 2009, a batch of them resurfaced. The majority of these records date during Hemingway’s twenty-year stay in Cuba, during which he wrote some of his finest works, including For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

While the most of the data in this archive material were boring, there was one item in particular that caught my eye, thanks to The Paris Review: Papa’s favorite hamburger recipe.

I’ve always been a purist when it comes to burgers. My theory is well documented: use the finest meat you can get, with a good fat-to-meat ratio, and season it simply with salt and pepper. Make a loose patty out of the burger and cook it in a cast-iron pan to get a good char and a medium-rare center.  


So I must admit that Hemingway’s directions for making his hamburgers astounded me: “ground beef, onions, garlic, India relish, and capers, fried so the sides are crispy but the center red and juicy.” Though the latter cooking method seemed to be on spot, I was overwhelmed by a flurry of extra ingredients, some of which I stupidly though were superfluous.

However, if there is one person who merits a great deal of faith, it is Ernest Hemingway. So I set out to recreate his recipe, with all of the ingredients and directions, precisely as stated.

However, I ran into some of the same problems while recreating this three-quarter-century-old burger recipe. Since then, one of the Spice Islands spices has gone bad. And India is ecstatic? I looked at my local shop and online, and although I was able to find anything, it was not simple. With my beers cold in the fridge and my wife craving this burger, I decided to locate a suitable replacement (included below). Because Hemingway, or possibly a family member, has a bunch of extra ingredients sprinkled around the page, I felt less terrible about not following the recipe to the letter. 

Ernest Hemingway hamburger recipe.

The end product was easily one of the greatest burgers I’ve ever tasted. That isn’t something I’m simply saying. My wife even told me it was the nicest burger she’d ever tasted. When the seasoned meat is cooked precisely as directed, it produces a delicious umami bomb of complexity, and the burger drippings are absorbed into the bread, eliminating the need for condiments. I can see why a guy so well-traveled, indulged, and imbibed would go to such lengths to provide such a pleasure. I’m just grateful he took the time to record it for others, as I am with much of his work.  

I’ve included the recipe in its entirety below, along with a few substitution notes.

Papa’s Favorite Hamburger Recipe

Ernest Hemingway hamburger recipe.

Papa’s Favorite Hamburger is the result of a lot of testing. There’s no reason a fried hamburger should be gray, oily, paper-thin, and flavorless. You may flavor the ground beef with whatever you choose, such minced mushrooms, cocktail sauce, minced garlic and onion, chopped almonds, a huge dollop of Piccalilli, or anything else comes to mind. This is Papa’s favorite combo.


Ingredients in a bowl to make a burger.

I’ve gathered all of the components in one place so you can view them all at once. However, as you can see from the directions, you add them to the meat in stages while preparing the dish.

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tblsp. coarsely chopped green onions
  • India relish, 1 heaping teaspoon
  • capers, 2 tablespoons
  • Spice Islands Sage, 1 heaping teaspoon
  • 12 teaspoon Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning
  • 12 teaspoon Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder 
  • 1 egg, beaten with a fork in a cup
  • a third of a cup of dry red or white wine
  • 1 tablespoon oil for cooking


With a fork, shred the meat and distribute the garlic, onion, and dry spices over it; then, using a fork or your fingers, incorporate them into the flesh.


Mixing of meat and ingredients in a bowl.

Allow the steak to rest out of the icebox for ten to fifteen minutes while you prepare the salad and arrange the table. Add the relish, capers, and the rest of the ingredients, including the wine, and let the meat remain for another 10 minutes, if possible, to marinate gently.

juicy patties with hands.

With your hands, form four big, juicy patties. The patties should be an inch thick, soft but not runny in texture.

Fried patties in a pan.

When you put in the patties, the oil in the frying pan should be hot but not smoking, and then reduce the heat down and cook the burgers for approximately four minutes. Remove the pan from the flame and increase the heat to high. Flip the burgers over, return the pan to a high heat, and cook for one minute before turning the heat down and cooking for another three minutes. The burgers should be crispy brown on both sides and pink and juicy in the centre.

Changes/Notes on Substitutions

  • Spice Islands stopped producing Mei Yen Powder a few years ago. I used 1 tsp soy sauce, 12 tsp kosher salt, and 12 tsp sugar, mixed together and added to the meat mixture.
  • Spice Islands’ other seasonings are still available. Although the Beau Monde is a unique combination, any excellent grade sage may be replaced for the sage.
  • India is a lovely country. You can still acquire this online, but only in large quantities and at a hefty price (for a jar of relish). The flavor is best characterized as being in the center, neither too sour or sweet. I’m a dill relish fan, so I simply used my favorite dill relish instead, and the outcome was fantastic.

India is a lovely country. You can still acquire this online, but only in large quantities and at a hefty price (for a jar of relish). The flavor is best characterized as being in the center, neither too sour or sweet. I’m a dill relish fan, so I simply used my favorite dill relish instead, and the outcome was fantastic.

Matt Moore is the author of The South’s Best Butts and a frequent contributor to the Art of Manliness.



Ernest Hemingway’s famous hamburger recipe is a very popular one. The best grilled hamburgers are made with ground beef, salt, pepper and onion powder.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Mei Yen?

A: Mei Yen is a fictional character from the popular fighting game, Tekken. She was created by Namco and her popularity has led to appearances in other games such as Soul Calibur V and Tekken 6.

How do you make the perfect hamburger patty?

Whats in a Manhattan burger?

A: A patty, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and a bun.

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