Wisconsin’s Most Divisive Sandwich: The Story Behind the Cannibal

By Kevin Revolinski

March 1, 2023

Is it dangerous or delicious? We sent our team to find out the truth.

Sure, the name is a little jarring, but fine-dining restaurants call it “steak tartare” and charge you double. 

“Eating seasoned raw beef has been a tradition for many generations here in Northeast Wisconsin,” explained Levi Zeitler, Merchandising Coordinator for Salmon’s Meat Products in Luxemburg–15 minutes east of Green Bay. Perhaps better known for its stellar hot dogs, Salmon’s keeps a small mountain of seasoned raw beef in its deli case year-round–and it’s not meant for hamburgers. 

The cannibal sandwich is a Midwestern staple: fresh raw beef on rye bread topped with chopped onion, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Some love it; others love to hate it.

How Its Made

Fresh is key when it comes to eating raw meat. Salmon’s beef comes from the family farm of Randy and Renee Ebert just a few miles down the road in Algoma, so the meat is closely monitored from farm to deli counter. 

“Although the USDA does not recommend eating uncooked beef,” says Zeitler, “we believe following our HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) practices and being state-inspected daily in our state-of-the-art harvest facility would calm any apprehension.”

Salmon’s only uses the leanest whole muscle cuts.

“We make it every other day, but it will hold up for 4 to 5 days in your refrigerator. Some people like it fresh while others like it aged a few days,” Zeitler adds. 

Don’t cringe; the best steaks benefit from weeks of dry aging – though that is a different controlled process that allows meat to age safely to enhance tenderness and flavor. 

The Visit

My wife Tip and I stop by Salmon’s on a Saturday morning, and the place is already bustling with locals getting their meat orders in for the weekend. Coolers line the walls, filled with a variety of sausages you likely know and at least a few you may not. I jump in line behind a guy holding a steel bucket full of meat. 

I’m amused by the enthusiastic chatter, especially on a relatively cold Saturday morning. One customer orders bacon. Another, two spots back in line, voices his approval. “That’s some great bacon,” she shouts. Several heads nod around the room, mentally adding it to our own orders. When it’s my turn, I ask for a bit of seasoned beef. 

“How much do you want? This tub?” The young woman behind the counter holds up the largest of the paper deli containers.

“Um… a third of the small tub,” I reply. 

She scoops up a big chunk of raw meat, “Like this?”

“Or… maybe half that?” I chuckle nervously. She packages it up and heads to the scale.

I ask the guy next to me if he eats it.

“I don’t partake in the raw beef,” he says, shaking his head either in shame or measured disgust. “I know lots of people love it. I can’t… I can’t get myself to do that.”

The woman behind him chimes in. “I love it!” she says. “Growing up, my mother made seasoned raw beef, and I thought it was the most disgusting thing in the whole wide world. But when I was pregnant with my fifth kid, I had a huge craving for it. This is the only place I get it from.”

“You need good dark rye bread,” another customer chimes in. 

“And onions!” adds another. All heads nod. 

“Don’s Bakery makes a light rye, but they also have a marble rye that’s really good,” my neighbor in line recommends. Someone at the back of the line says she butters her bread first. Another enjoys the meat alone. 

The Test

Ingredients in hand, my wife and I head west on Highway 54 to the Thumb Knuckle brewery where I–my wife is not in the raw beef camp–assemble my cannibal sandwich at the bar. 

The bartender gets me a paper plate, a knife to slice the onion, and a plastic knife to spread the meat across a piece of rye. The texture is smooth and soft, and when I bite into it the flavor is surprisingly delicious, too. I’m an instant fan. But the raw onions are enough to guarantee that no one will come close enough for me to tell them about it. 

The bartender pours me a porter, sets it down, and steps back–arms crossed. 

“My family eats it, but I have never had the guts to try,” he says. “If they could get it at every family function, they would!” 


NOTE: According to the USDA, all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit before eating.

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