Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Baltimore Harley's Sandwich Shop Burger

      I won't go through the history of the Harley's Sandwich Shop chain as I have it all laid out in the tuna salad article, just suffice it to say that Harley's was THE fast food chain in Baltimore long before Gino's and McDonald's.  Harley's restaurants were open all night and so were a favorite of the night shift crowd and police officers.  These burgers were always simmering in Harley's secret sauce ready to be served to hungry customers.

     Reconstructing this recipe has not been easy.  The original recipes were lost after Shane's, the successor to Harley's, closed down in the 90's, however the clues are out there and I followed the trail.  The model for it appeared in an old edition of the Baltimore Sun.  I tried it but thought the sauce was watery and under-flavored compared to the original Harley Burger Sauce.  So since then I've made it no less than 8 times trying out different variations and ingredients until one day, one glorious day I hit the nail on the head

     Now keep in mind, this recipe is my own interpretation, based on how I remember the originals tasting.  I'm always open to comments and suggestions from anyone else who experienced this heaven on a bun back in the day. 

Edit 07/25/2023:  Oh boy has this recipe garnered some strict criticism over the years with a few people saying I'm off my rocker on the taste of the recipe.  I agree, there was work to be done so I played around with things, added a couple things and came up with this my (hopefully) final edit of this recipe.
The addition of beef stock in lieu of water adds much needed flavor and adding the tomato paste helps thicken what was otherwise a too thin sauce (I think it was thin so it could sit on a steam table all day and give it room to thicken slowly over time).

Last Edit 04/17/2024: I have worked on this recipe further based on some ideas I had.  Honestly there's little more I can do with it at this point as my aunt who used to work for Harley's sadly passed away so I have no further insight into the actual sauce recipe which is, sadly, lost forever at this point. 

Baltimore Harley Burger v3.0

Ground chuck, formed into 4, 4oz balls and smashed 1/4" thin separated by wax paper and frozen
4 Potato Bread Hamburger Buns
1 Cup Beef Stock

Sauce Seasoning:
2 large red onions sliced in thin rings
1/4 cup A-1 steak sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
3 drops Tabasco sauce 
2 tablespoons yellow Mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Extra Beef Stock or Water to thin sauce if it is too thick

The first step is to form the meat into 1/4lb patties.  These burgers are much thinner than your usual 1/4lb patty so I used 2 small plates and smashed each meatball into a patty 1/4inch thick.  Stack them separated by wax paper and freeze completely.  Get all your sauce seasoning ingredients ready by mixing together in a bowl until well blended. Get a frying pan (not nonstick!) searing hot and sear the burgers 3 mins on each side then set aside.  Add onions to pan and fry over medium heat until browned then add in beef stock.  Scrape bottom of pan to get up the brown bits then add the bowl of seasonings mixing well. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.  Sink your cooked burgers into the sauce spooning some onions over top then simmer on very low heat for 1 hour until the sauce reduces and thickens a bit, the end product should have thick gravy consistency. To serve, split a potato roll, on the bottom place a patty and top with some onions and sauce. If you want cheese, use provolone and place on top of the onions, serve with lettuce and tomato on the side.

Remove onions from any leftover sauce and save sauce in the fridge, I'll get to a use for that in another recipe.


  1. I recall as a kid hearing on radio the impassioned plea from the disk jockey for witnesses who might know who murdered several people inside the Harley store (I think the one on Hampden's Falls road ?); I never heard if the killer was id'd ? it was one of those emotions I felt when young and even now I still think about.

    1. The murders were at the York Road location. I believe it was 1968 and 4 people died. I lived in the neighborhood, one day f the dead was in my graduating class, and I have been haunted by it forever. I don’t believe the killer was ever caught.

  2. You know, after the Bullets NBA played, the players from both team ended up across street at Harley's; as a kid I used to stand with them. Wonder why they named the team "Bullets" (just askin').

  3. Gave this recipe a try and was, as in the past with other recipes for Harley Burgers, disappointed. This was more of a soup or broth than a sauce. I guess the family recipe will go to the grave with the family.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. not the recipe from the Harley Burger I remember. really a disappointment after i made it.

  6. I know what you mean. I gave it a try as well. Definitely not the recipe.


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