How to Explain Cannibal Sandwiches to Your Non-Wisconsin Friends

Odds are, someone’s going to ask.

This past week, a Wisconsin Department of Health Services tweet went semi-viral amongst internet-dwellers. The tweet warned about eating what we here call “cannibal sandwiches”

The reactions from across the country were mixed at best. There was confusion, bewilderment and also more than a little bit of disgust.

The cannibal sandwich is under attack.



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Personally, I have never tasted one of these beloved Wisconsin sandwiches. If you had asked for my thoughts on them before this Twitter storm, I probably would’ve said they seemed really gross, because its raw meat.

But now things have changed. Out-of-staters are asking me to explain this quirk of Wisconsin living to them. Group messages are filled with mockery. The internet is judging my home-state and all of a sudden I find myself not only explaining the sandwich, but defending it for the sake of Wisconsin.

If you find yourself in the same position, here’s what you need to know.

This tradition of raw meat dates back to the 19th century, when German and Polish immigrants took the meal. Back in the day, home cooks would grind the meat at home.

“Well, that was two centuries ago, genius” your cousin from Delaware asks. “We know all about the health issues now, so you guys should stop.”

“Shut up, Hector,” you respond. “I’ve seen you at McDonald’s. Don’t pretend you care about health, Mr. Three Big Macs and a Large Fry.”

“At least they cook the Big Macs,” your cousin mutters, but you ignore him and continue confidently explaining.

Officially, the name of the cannibal sandwich is “steak tartare,” which may be less catchy but does add an air of fancy-pantsery to the meal. Normally it’s served on a slice of rye bread with some raw onion to counterbalance the blandness of the raw meat.

Over the decades, it has proved consistently popular in Wisconsin, as evidenced by the dismissive replies to the WDHS’s tweet warning about its dangers. In the holiday season of 2017, Bunzel Meat Markets sold 1,200-1,400 pounds of ground sirloin, just for cannibal sandwiches.

“But still,” your cousin continues to interrupt. “Popularity doesn’t mean it’s safe, because it absolutely isn’t.”

“Your mom smells,” you respond. “We call her Smelly Aunt Jean. She’s an extremely unpleasant and ill-mannered woman, and you, Hector, have proven to be fruit of the same stanky, stanky tree. You fool. You charlatan. You scum.”

“Dude…” your cousin says.

“I’m sorry. I get worked up sometimes about cannibal sandwiches. It’s just that works not going great, and you know how everything is with Amy at home.”

“That’s rough, man.”

“You’re damn right, it is. The other day she told me — get this, I swear — she told me that I fly off the handle too often, when it comes to talking about idiosyncratic local cuisine. Can you believe that?”

“Oh … wow, yeah.”

“But anyway. What were talking about?”

After you’ve explained the origins of the cannibal sandwich, it’s probably best to note that doctors do warn that it could, in rare cases, end up killing you. This is a risk a decent chunk of Wisconsinites are willing to take. And that’s all there is to it.



Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.