There are lots of food traditions that sound downright strange until you've tried them yourself. Canadians enjoy jellied moose nose, while they chow down on crispy tarantulas in Cambodia. When it comes to the food of the Midwest, I usually picture hot dishes or puppy chow, cheese curds if in Wisconsin. However, another Wisconsin delicacy sounds less than appetizing- the cannibal sandwich.
What is a Cannibal Sandwich?
While its name is frightening enough, the components of a cannibal sandwich aren't what most would pick for delicious snack. A cannibal sandwich starts with rye bread, which is then topped with piece of fresh raw ground beef, chopped raw onion, and salt and pepper to taste. While the cannibal sandwich is most beloved in southeast Wisconsin near Milwaukee, it is also made throughout the Upper Midwest.
This strange but tasty delicacy is also called wildcat, tiger meat, or steak tartare. While the raw ground beef version is most traditional, you can find varieties of cannibal sandwiches made with raw egg, venison, lamb, or bacon rather than beef.
Although most people wouldn't go near a slab of raw beef, this traditional delicacy has many a fan who swear by its deliciousness. For those worried about food safety, there are ways to minimize the risks associated with eating raw meat. For one, it's best to eat a cannibal sandwich with ground steak. The riskiest option would be eating ground beef right out of the package, because of the danger of E. coli and salmonella.
For the adventurous foodies out there who are intrigued by this Wisconsin staple, it's best to make a cannibal sandwich with the leanest cut of beef you can find. Tell your butcher that you'll be eating it raw and ask for it to be freshly ground with a clean grinder. Once you've prepared it, it's best to dig in sooner than later.
Story of the Cannibal Sandwich
If you're wondering how such a strange food originated, it goes back to the northern Europeans who first came to Wisconsin. Meat was highly available at the time, as so much of the state is agricultural. In this way, this popular raw meat sandwich was borne of practicality. Eventually, it became a holiday tradition for Wisconsin families, seen as a special appetizer to enjoy throughout the holiday season. It's even mentioned by the Wisconsin Historical Society's website!
However, as food safety awareness grew, the popularity of the cannibal sandwich lessened due to health concerns. Wisconsin department of health services (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture urged Wisconsinites to let go of this particular holiday dish because of the risk of Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter and Listeria.
Health officials traced multiple salmonella outbreaks to the holiday dish, further driving the point home. Because of these concerns, people started opting for different holiday treats. The cannibal sandwich is now regarded with trepidation because of health concerns. Although this Wisconsin delicacy will forever be a culturally significant dish for Wisconsinites, it should probably live on in their memories rather than on their plates.