The History of Salisbury Steak Begins with Civil War Soldiers

Nothing beats a Salisbury steak drowned in beef gravy for a filling, comforting dish. Add some classic sides of mashed potatoes and green beans and you're set. However, there's more to this tasty comfort food than its ability to bring warmth and contentment to a weeknight dinner. The history of Salisbury steak goes back to the diets of soldiers in the American Civil War.

Many Americans love a good Salisbury steak, for its rich flavor and quick cook time, but few know its history. This meal is similar to the Hamburg steak or hamburger patty, which was introduced to America when German sailors brought it to New York in the late 19th century.

History of the Salisbury Steak

Salisbury steak history
YouTube: William G. Pomeroy Foundation

The Salisbury steak is a version of the Hamburg steak, and it became popular in America around this time as well, but in a very different turn of events. One of the biggest struggles for soldiers during the Civil War was malnutrition, which killed more soldiers than combat. Unfortunately, the issue was difficult to fix due to the high price of proteins at the time.

Soldiers' diets consisted mainly of 'soldier biscuits," which were dried biscuits with some fortified veggies and fruits, along with soup and bread. However, as malnutrition took a toll, it became clear that the soldiers needed something more to sustain themselves to continue in the war.

An American physician named Dr. James Henry Salisbury was an early dietician in the mid-1800s, and he had the idea that soldiers needed protein to remain healthy, even more than fruits and vegetables.

Salisbury Steak Saved The Day

Salisbury steak history
YouTube: William G. Pomeroy Foundation

To test his theory, he provided protein to soldiers, treating them for chronic diarrhea and malnutrition with a diet of chopped beef. Salisbury saw that this did indeed improve their health, providing nutritional content and protein with quick and easy preparation.

After World War I ended, Dr. J.H. Salisbury wrote a book, "The Relation of Alimentation and Disease," in which he explained the relationship between diet and health. He focused specifically on the necessity for animal proteins rich in B vitamins, and was one of the first to explain the health benefits of animal fats for metabolic health.

Salisbury's findings set off one of the first fad diets in American history. He suggested eating a Salisbury steak three times a day, along with hot water to cleanse the digestive system. The physician was also one of the first to promote a low-carb diet for weight loss, which his Salisbury steak fit into perfectly.

Salisbury Steak Today

Slightly more seasoned than a hamburger steak, a Salisbury steak is made of ground beef, along with add-ins like bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and beef broth or beef stock. These tasty ground beef patties are cooked on medium-high heat and served with brown gravy and a few tasty side dishes.

One of the best parts of this simple and historical meal is that it can be on the table in 30 minutes, making it the perfect dish to feed an army or simply have a quick TV dinner on a weeknight. Here's a Salisbury steak recipe!

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