What Is a Cannibal Sandwich? Here’s Your Answer

Updated: Mar. 20, 2019

It's popular in the Midwest—especially Wisconsin.

What is a cannibal sandwich? If you’re from the Midwest, you probably already know. The good news for the rest of you—it has nothing to do with snacking on your neighbor. Sometimes known as “tiger meat,” “steak tartare” or simply “raw beef and onions,” it’s an appetizer of raw, lean ground beef usually served on rye cocktail bread with sliced onions, salt and pepper.

While you’re at it, check out our best Wisconsin recipes.

Where Did the Sandwich Get Its Start?

Making cannibal sandwich is a long-held tradition at parties, especially holiday gatherings, in the Milwaukee area. So much so that cannibal sandwiches even rate a mention on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.

But beyond that, the history isn’t clear. There are several versions of the sandwich’s origins. Legends link it to the Tartars (Mongols) of Central Asia. Others say it was born in Germany or France. But in the early twentieth century, it was called steack à l’Americaine in France—so no one knows for sure.

It’s Not Just Beef

Outside of the Dairy State, you can still find a cannibal sandwich, though it’s most likely going to be called steak tartare. This dish is usually served on rye bread with onions, capers, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and other seasonings. It’s often topped with a raw egg yolk.

While the ground beef version is the most common, you can also find venison, lamb and bacon tartare. These dishes have surprising origins, too!

How to Play It Safe

The consumption of raw meat has its detractors. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have urged people to pass on raw meat dishes because of the danger of harmful bacteria.

In fact, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has reported eight outbreaks in the state linked to the consumption of raw ground beef from 1986 to 2018.

The USDA says beef should be cooked to at least 145°F. Nevertheless, there are many people who swear they’ve been eating cannibal sandwiches for years with no ill effects. Just make sure you talk to your local butcher about the best cut of meat to buy!

Find more strange regional foods you’ve never heard of.

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