Are You Man Enough to Make Ernest Hemingway’s Favorite Burger Recipe?

Papa made a mean, lean patty.

Hamburgers and Ernest Hemingway are eternal. The author, who stood for a certain brand of red-blooded drinking, shooting, bullfighting masculinity, liked his beef patties done a certain way. Hemingway’s hamburger recipe has been available for years. BroBible called attention to Papa’s burger again, just in time to use this formula to elevate any given Sunday during football season. 

Though Open Culture found a version of this recipe was published as early as 1966, writer Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan may be responsible for first resurrecting Hemingway’s beefy feast in our time. In a 2013 article in the Paris Review, Tan wrote of reading about a project that digitized many of Hemingway’s papers, and how she was struck by mention of the author’s “mundane” instructions distributed to staff at his residence in Cuba, in particular his idea of a “perfect burger.” 

“I had made burgers before,” Tan wrote, but “(this) one was different; I wasn’t making just any burger — I was attempting to recreate Hemingway’s hamburger. And it had to be just right.” 

In her exploration of the way the author handled everyday household affairs, Tan found that Ernest Hemingway took surprisingly specific interest in “in temporal minutiae.” She quoted Sandra Spanier, editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, who said he “was meticulous in all ways, deeply involved in every detail of daily life and very attuned to what kinds of foods he wanted to have served.” 

Tan helpfully transcribed Hemingway’s Perfect Burger into easily readable form for her article:


PAPA’S FAVORITE HAMBURGER. There is no reason why a fried hamburger has to turn out gray, greasy, paper-thin and tasteless. You can add all sorts of goodies and flavors to the ground beef — minced mushrooms, cocktail sauce, minced garlic and onion, chopped almonds, a big dollop of piccadilli, or whatever your eye lights on. Papa prefers this combination.

Ingredients —

1 lb. ground lean beef

2 cloves, minced garlic

2 little green onions, finely chopped

1 heaping teaspoon, India relish

2 tablespoons, capers

1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands sage

Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning — ½ teaspoon

Spice Islands Mei Yen Powder — ½ teaspoon **

1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork

About one third cup dry red or white wine.

1 tablespoon cooking oil

What to do —

Break up the meat with a fork and scatter the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fingers. Let the bowl of meat sit out of the icebox for ten or fifteen minutes while you set the table and make the salad. Add the relish, capers, everything else including wine and let the meat sit, quietly marinating, for another ten minutes if possible. Now make four fat, juicy patties with your hands. The patties should be an inch thick, and soft in texture but not runny. Have the oil in your frying-pan hot but not smoking when you drop in the patties and then turn the heat down and fry the burgers about four minutes. Take the pan off the burner and turn the heat high again. Flip the burgers over, put the pan back on the hot fire, then after one minute, turn the heat down again and cook another three minutes. Both sides of the burgers should be crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy.

** Spice Islands discontinued its production of Mei Yen Powder three years ago. If you don’t have any in your pantry, here’s how to recreate it:

9 parts salt

9 parts sugar

2 parts MSG

If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon Mei Yen Powder, use 2/3 tsp of the dry recipe (above) mixed with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce.

The only part we dare question in this era of food-borne nastiness might be the part about leaving “the middle pink and juicy.” These burgers are rich, too, probably not ideal for your next eating competition.

Feeling as adventurous as Hemingway in Pamplona? Add Leo Tolstoy’s mac and cheese to the menu. Afterward, wash it all down a Hemingway’s Special cocktail. Or three.

Ernest Hemingway’s idea of the perfect hamburger sounds like excellent fuel for sprinting safely through the running the bulls. Or just watching the Buffalo Bills run. 

Photos by Tara Moore/Taxi