Hamburg Steak (Hambāgu)

Hamburg Steak Recipe

Chicken teriyaki aside, Hamburg Steak or Hambāgu (ハンバーグ) as the Japanese like to call it, is probably the most popular entrée to stick in a bento lunch in Japan. Although it’s unclear exactly when this dish was introduced to Japan, it presumably comes from the American Salisbury steak, which is named after its inventor Dr. J. H. Salisbury.

The name “Hambāgu” (pronounced hahm-bah-goo) is a transliteration of the English term Hamburger, which in turn got its name from the Germen city of Hamburg. Confused yet? I’m not done:-) To add to the confusion, if you go to Japan, you’re just as likely to come across a Hambāgu (the topic of this post) as you are a Hambāgā (the sandwich that McDonald’s made famous).

Ingredients for Hamburg Steak

Hamburg Steaks are thicker than a Salisbury steaks (think restaurant style burger), and they’re filled with onions and garlic and seasoned with soy sauce and ketchup. The sauce is made by reducing red wine with ketchup and tonkatsu sauce, giving each Hambāgu a luscious tangy-sweet coating that balances out the rich, melt-in-your-mouth patty.

I like the sweetness and flavor of adding caramelized onions but I’m also a fan of the crispy texture of lightly cooked onions, so I usually sauté half the onions with the garlic before adding it into the meat while adding half of them raw. That said, if you prefer your onions milder, caramelize all of them; if you like them strong, you can skip the sautéing and add them all in raw.

While it may sound strange, I like adding silken tofu (the really soft kind) to things like Meatloaf and Hamburg Steak because it adds richness and moisture to the mix without as much fat as using ricotta cheese. If you’re worried about it tasting like tofu, fear not, you could feed these to tofu haters all day long and as long as they don’t see the carton in the trash they’ll have no idea they were eating bean curd!

While they’re best freshly made, these are also great at room temperature, which is probably why Hamburg Steak is such a popular addition to bento boxes in Japan. Serve it with a bowl of rice if you want to do it Japanese-style or stick it in a hamburger bun if you want to have some fun with it!

Hamburg Steak Recipe
Hamburg Steak (Hambāgu)
Print Recipe
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Votes: 25
Rating: 4.68
Rate this recipe!
This Japanese take on Salisbury Steak is tender, moist and enrobed in a tangy sweet sauce making it perfect to add to bentos boxes for lunch.
Hamburg Steak Recipe
Hamburg Steak (Hambāgu)
Print Recipe
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 25
Rating: 4.68
Rate this recipe!
This Japanese take on Salisbury Steak is tender, moist and enrobed in a tangy sweet sauce making it perfect to add to bentos boxes for lunch.
Servings Prep Time
patties 30minutes
Cook Time
Servings Prep Time
patties 30minutes
Cook Time
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 small onion finely diced
  • 1 large clove garlic minced
  • 450 grams beef - ground
  • 170 grams tofu - soft
  • 1 cup panko
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon parsley minced
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons tonkatsu sauce Worcestershire sauce also works
  • 1 tablespoon demi-glace (optional)
  1. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to a frying pan and sauté half the onions and all of the garlic until medium brown and caramelized. Let these cool to room temperature.
  2. Combine the beef, tofu, sautéd onions, raw onions, panko, egg, 2 tablespoons of ketchup, oyster sauce, parsley, soy sauce and black pepper in a large bowl. Put some food-safe gloves on and knead the mixture together until it is uniform in color and texture. Mixing ingredients for hamburg steak
  3. Add a little bit more oil to the frying pan that you fried the onions in and place over medium heat. Because the patties are on the soft side, you'll want to form them and add them directly to the pan. I usually make about 8 oval patties about 1" thick.Hambagu patties frying
  4. Fry them until they've formed a dark brown crust on one side, then use a spatula to carefully flip them over and brown the other side. Unless you have a very large pan, you won't be able to do them all at once, so fry 4 at a time and transfer them to a plate when they're browned on both sides. Don't worry if they're not cooked all the way through as they will finish cooking in the sauce.
  5. After you've fried all the patties, drain off any excess oil (but don't wash the pan as the brown stuff is what will give your sauce flavor). Add the red wine and boil until it's reduced by about half in volume. Add the ketchup, water, tonkatsu sauce, and demi-glace and stir to combine.
  6. Place the patties back into the pan, cover, and cook for 7 minutes, flipping them over once in the middle. Cook uncovered for another 3 minutes to thicken the sauce a little. Serve with rice, pasta or boiled potatoes.

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  • Kalyn Denny

    Very interesting post, and this sounds delicious.

  • leaf (the indolent cook)

    That is a great mix of ingredients – and with that sauce… the patties look luscious!

  • Dsfkj

    Hi!  Thanks so much for posting this recipe!  I can’t wait to make it.  I don’t use wine though– is there any substitute for it in this recipe?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      You could substitute beef stock. 

  • Janie

    what can I use other than demi-glaze?  Or would ready made demi-glaze be okay?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Ready made is fine, but just make sure it’s actually Demi glace ( there are lots of fakes ). Demi-glace Gold is the type I usually use.

  • dan nguyen

    thanks for posting. Love your bog ! 

  • Jessen

    Great Idea!  I’ve recently made a chinese meatloaf, but this Rocks too!

  • Angela

    This in a bento box comes as a surprise to me. You have made the American Hamburg steak look sexy. That’s not easy.

  • PolaM

    I love this burgers! They must be super flavourful!

  • Inhae Inés Koo

    These make me nostalgic… Koreans make these for lunch too!

  • Jeff @

    This hambagu recipe looks very lucios!

  • Jenny Hartin

    Looks delicious!

  • Sarwat abbasi

    an easy recipe to follow :-)

  • christina tran

    yummy  i want to make it ^_^

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  • Ima Cherie

    Hi Mark merci beacoup for the recipe :) 

    the best beef burger ever :) 

  • Sinwithne

    My son made these and they were the best hamburgers I ever ate. Yummy, so moist.

  • lilly

    My local grocers only has medium firm and hard tofu, no soft is there anything else i can use w/o traveling and hour just to get tofu?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi lilly, you can use medium firm. Otherwise fresh ricotta cheese will also work.

  • Katie Vick

    how would you suggest i keep the patties from falling apart in the pan?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      They need to be well browned on one side before you try to flip them otherwise they may fall apart. If you’re having trouble with sticking, then try using a non-stick pan. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of being careful as you flip. I hope that helps.

  • Paul D.

    Hello Marc,
    Any suggestions on how to modify this for a curry sauce instead. I have ideas, but I really like your recipe. I’ve been very bummed since they closed a local Japanese curry house that had a hambagu in curry dish that I loved.

  • Audrey

    Hi Marc,
    Are u using curly parsley?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      For this recipe it doesn’t matter. I usually prefer flat leaf, but on this particular day my grocery store was out of flat-leaf, so I used curly.

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  • yoshif8tures

    I cooked this last night, and this recipe is just superb and simple to follow! Thank you very much!

  • Carla

    I made these the other night. The only differences I did were as follows: I DID NOT add the silken tofu, oyster sauce, tonkatsu sauce,or the demi-galze. I DID make a homemade gravy to pour over them and still used my homemade gravy in the same ways that the demi glaze was to be used. These are now a repeat meal in my household. So darn good! Just thinking about them I want them now!

  • Sarah

    Oh my goodness, this is wonderful! I can’t stop eating it…help!!

  • Holly in Japan

    I made these exactly as the recipe calls for using the worcestershire option and opting out on the demi-glace. It was awesome! I am an American living in Japan, and these are just as good as the restaurants. Thanks for the delicious recipe!

  • JT

    can i use egg tofu(the kind in the plastic tubes) instead of silken tofu?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      HI JT, to be honest I’m not sure. If it has egg in it, it will probably curdle if exposed to high heat, so I’d be concerned it will change the texture. That said, I’ve never tried it so if you feel daring, give it a shot and let us know how it goes.

  • jami

    I am a little confused, do you stuff the patty?

    • Alex

      No, all these ingredients are part of the patty.

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  • Katharine

    Can I leave out the Panko? Will they fall apart if I do?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Katharine, the panko is there for two reasons. The first is that the bread soaks up the juices coming out of the meat, keeping it moist (rather than having it leach out onto the pan). The second is that is keeps the patties tender (because bread is more tender than cooked meat). It is not a binder and leaving it out will not make your patties fall apart (though it will have the problems listed above). To help with the moisture loss, you could add some potato starch to the mixture. This will thicken the liquid coming from the meat and make it harder for it to leave the patty. As for tenderness, you could increase the amount of soft tofu you add.

  • Michael Jacobs

    This is now my go to recipe for Hamburg. My wife who is Japanese loves it. I usually double the recipe and leave out the demi-glase. Thanks!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Thanks Michael, glad to hear you guys enjoy it!

      Sent from Mailbox

  • chi

    what if my store only carries firm tofu?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Chi, firm tofu has a much lower moisture content and firmer texture than soft and won’t dissolve into the meat as well (you’ll see bits of tofu in the mixture). If you can try looking in other stores, it would be best to find it somewhere, but if you absolutely can’t find it, using firm tofu won’t ruin the dish.

    • Alex

      I don’t know if this would work, but you might try putting it in a food processor or blender with a small amount of water and pulsing it a few times. The tofu has to be broken up anyway. Just don’t go overboard and liquify it.

  • Rudy

    This is great! Thanks for the recipe!

  • Charlie

    Hi Mark!

    Hoping you are fine. Wish I had of been your guest at Noma. Although I would have to admit I wouldn’t have been able to eat the dish with the ants.

    These hambagu look so good.
    I have been searching for a meatloaf recipe that I would like (hate the stuff).
    I just may make up this recipe and put it in a bread pan and bake it like you would a meatloaf.
    I’ll also try them as burgers.

    Thanks for this recipe. You won me over with “tender and moist”.

    Have a Joyful Day :~D

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Charlie, I’m not usually a huge meatloaf fan either, but if moist and tender is what you’re looking for, try my meatloaf recipe

      These Hambāgu are moist and tender, but not as tender as my meatloaf since they need to retain their shape in the pan. The meatloaf on the other hand just needs to be firm to not flow all over the pan, so it’s going to be more tender.

  • Charlie

    For ingredients that are hard to get, try amazon.


  • Alex

    I’m going to be making this recipe for the third time. I was thinking of baking or broiling them in a glass pan instead of on the stovetop. Is there any reason that I shouldn’t?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Alex, I’ll often do this when I’m cooking a large quantity. It works pretty well with the only drawback being that the shape tends to get more bun like when you do it this way.

      • Alex

        I tried this with a large pan full, the flavor turned out the same, but like you said, some of them ended up bun-like. I cooked a small batch using ground pork and a chicken demiglace for a person who doesn’t eat beef, that one turned out too.

  • AnnieB

    This recipe is really amazing, I have been making this many times now and it’s delicious! I think using tonkatsu give the sauce a little more oomph than Worceistershire sauce, but it is a little harder to find. I had to go to a Japanese market to find it, but totally worth the trip!

    I do have a question: Can I make the sauce before hand and put it in the fridge for later use? Or will that diminish the flavors/texture?

    Thank you so much for this recipe again!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Annie, so glad to hear you’ve been enjoying it! You could make the sauce ahead of time, but the problem is that the sauce get’s its flavor from the brown fond the patties leave behind in the pan, so it’s not going to taste as good unless you make the patties ahead of time as well, which you could certainly do. This isn’t one of those dishes that gets better with time, so it tastes best when freshly made, but I often like having leftovers the next day in sandwiches, so there’s certainly nothing wrong with preparing it ahead of time and reheating.

  • Ryan Smithyman

    tried it couple days ago and loved it, i did change tofu for ground pork and was juicy and tender, left over uncooked meat was used next day for meatballs in a tomato sauce. great recipe thank you marc

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Ryan, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it! If you get a chance, give it a try with the tofu. I promise it doesn’t make it taste like tofu and it makes the patties melt-in-your-mouth tender. You can also use ricotta to achieve a similar effect if you’re allergic to soy.

  • Vinny

    Marc youre a genius. This was amazing and definitely a keeper. Thanks for sharing

  • Rachel Page

    I made this tonight and served it with a side of mashed potatoes. It was just great!

  • Aulia Syifa Rodhiya

    Hello Marc,
    I’m very interested in this and thinking of making it to my whole family 😀
    But according to our belief, we cannot eat anything with wine or any alcoholic drink in it. Is there anything you’d recommend to substitute the wine?
    I think people with kids will appreciate it too. Thank you :)

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Aulia, you can substitute beef stock or water. As for people with kids, the alcohol burns off during cooking, so it is safe for kids to eat.


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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