I Made This Depression-Era Hamburger. Here’s What I Thought

During the Great Depression, cooks had to get creative when it came to making tasty meals with limited ingredients. Enter the deceptively delicious onion burger.

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? The Great Depression forced home cooks to be creative when ingredients were scarce or difficult to afford. But that didn’t stop thrifty cooks from making delicious food. A perfect (and simple!) example is this recipe for Depression-era hamburgers, often referred to as onion burgers or Oklahoma burgers.

These burgers are cooked up with about half an onion per burger, as a way to stretch the more expensive ground beef—without skimping on flavor.

How to Make Depression-Era Onion Burgers


  • 4 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 pound ground beef, formed into 4 equal-sized balls
  • 1 or 2 medium yellow onions, sliced very thin with a mandoline slicer or a sharp knife and divided into 4 equal portions
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 slices American cheese
  • 4 hamburger buns, sliced in half and toasted

Susan Bronson for Taste of Home

Initial Thoughts

Ground beef is an ingredient I always have on hand, so I was game to try this simple way to stretch a pound of meat. The actual cooking really only consists of two ingredients–ground beef and onions. I’m a huge fan of simple recipes, so this is right up my alley.

Getting Started

Step one is to prep your onions by slicing them paper-thin. A mandoline slicer is the perfect tool for the job–just make sure you follow all these safety tips. If you don’t have a mandoline, you can always use a very sharp knife; be sure to mind your fingers!

Then, divide your beef into four balls. You can make this meal extra thrifty by stretching it into six portions. Just be sure to slice an extra onion.

Making the Burgers

To make sure you don’t crowd the pan and the burgers cook evenly, make your burgers in batches. I used a 10-in. cast iron skillet on the stovetop.

First, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add two beef balls and quickly flatten with the back of your spatula until they are quite thin. Cook for one minute.

Then add a portion of the onions on top of each burger and season with salt. Flatten again with the spatula to incorporate the onions into the burger and let cook for an additional minute.

Carefully flip the burgers, being sure to scrape up any of the browned meat from the pan as you go. Add a slice of American cheese on top of each burger. Cook until the onions are crisp and caramelized, the burgers are cooked through and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately on toasted buns.

Love burger night? Here are the copycat recipes for restaurant burgers you need to try.

finished onion burgerSusan Bronson for Taste of Home

The Final Product

If you love the flavor of onions, you will love these burgers! Served alongside a hearty portion of steak fries, these juicy and flavorful burgers are an easy (and inexpensive) way to get dinner on the table any night of the week.

Find More Thrifty Recipes from Depression-Era Cooks
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Susan Bronson
Susan Bronson is a writer and editor based in Northern Wisconsin.