Would Venison Help Make Hemingway’s Burger Better?

Ernest Hemingway is, or was, a lot of things: writer, bon vivant, drinker, hunter, angler, probably a bully at times, world traveler and lover of good food and beverage.

Ernest Hemingway with one of his cats. (Photo: Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Boston)

Ernest Hemingway with one of his cats. (Photo: Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Boston)

A couple of years ago Hemingway’s papers and such were released by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. These include items ranging from grocery lists for tins of food to be shipped to his home in Cuba to more serious works. Among the papers were recipes including one Hemingway apparently preferred for his hamburgers.

Papa, as he was known, apparently enjoyed a hearty helping of beef along with some tasty condiments. The burger sounds fantastic. That it’s made in a pan instead of on a grill, well, that’s something to muddle about over a beer and compare the merits of cast iron or open fire. In short, it’s a good excuse to have a beverage and eat more burgers.

As soon as I saw Hemingway’s recipe, though, my thought turned to deer meat. What would be the outcome if you substituted hearty, delicious ground venison for the beef? I’ll bet it would be fantastic.

Give Hemingway’s recipe a try, perhaps along with a good summer ale or hearty stout. I’m sure he’d approve of either.

Ernest Hemingway burger recipe  from Hemingway Museum in CubaHemingway’s Hamburger

  • 1 lb. ground lean beef
  • 2 cloves, minced garlic
  • 2 little green onions, finely chopped
  • parsley [sic]
  • 1 heaping teaspoon, India relish
  • 2 tablespoons, capers
  • 1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands Sage [sic]
  • 1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands Mei Yen Pepper**
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
  • About 1/3 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 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.

** Cheryl Lu-Lien of New York, author of A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family, wrote about this recipe for The Paris Review. Apparently, the Spice Islands folks discontinued the Mei Yen Pepper spice a few years ago. But she was able to re-create it. Check out her super review of Hemingway’s burger recipe and other insights.

For Mei Yen Pepper, use:
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.


If you want another super burger, give this one a try from Scott Leysath. It’s one of our favorites!

Venison Bleu Cheese Burgers are great!

Venison Bleu Cheese Burgers are great!

Venison Bleu Cheese Burger
1 1/2 pounds ground venison
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cups mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
2 tbsp bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
4 burger buns
4 lettuce leaves
4 slices tomato

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent. Stir in mushrooms and sauté until soft. Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool.

Add ground venison, blue cheese, bread crumbs, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands to blend. Form into 4 large patties. Grill, pan-fry or broil patties until browned. Add to bun with lettuce, tomato and your choice of other condiments.


Our great project between Rick and Jen and F+W Media, our parent company, for their super new wild game cookbook is ready for the big spotlight.

Hunting for Food:  A Guide to Harvesting Field Dressing and Cooking Wild Game is available now for pre-order at ShopDeerHunting.com and will be released in July 2015.

“Hunting for Food” is 175 pages covering 13 species, with great cooking preparation photos and super recipes. Begin with detailed instructions on the best practices for hunting different types of game, including coverage of how to find or attract the game you’re looking to hunt, best times for hunting, and the gear you’ll need to be successful.

Once you’ve successfully completed a hunt, then what? This complete field-to-table guide also includes information on field dressing and processing wild game, as well as recipe cooking instructions for preparing it. Processing and preparation instructions cover a wide variety of game, including fish, fowl and small game, as well as deer and wild hog. Get Your Copy of Hunting for Food now.