Food & Drink | December 17, 2020 6:19 am

What’s a Cannibal Sandwich, And Why Is Wisconsin Trying to Cancel Them?

Don't worry, unlike Soylent Green, the holiday favorite isn't actually made of people

cannibal sandwich
They don't all look like this
Deb Lindsey/WashPo/Getty

In the ’70s and ’80s, University of Colorado students would gorge themselves on a banquet of raw meat, red onions and jalapeno peppers as part of an annual Packer Day feast that was held in honor of Alfred G. Packer, a convicted cannibal who ate five of his companions after a snowstorm trapped them in the San Juan mountains in the winter of 1873. 

Though Packer Day has since been deemed to have been in bad taste, there’s another state in the U.S. where eating raw meat remains an annual winter custom — or does it?

In Wisconsin, it is a holiday tradition to eat a slice of bread topped with a spread of fresh raw ground beef, chopped onions and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Known as a cannibal sandwich, the unusual dish makes hundreds of people sick each year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

That being the case, the Wisconsin DHS is urging state residents to forego eating the sandwich — which is sometimes referred to as tiger meat or a wildcat — this year, especially with so many other health concerns to worry about.

Since 1986, there have been eight outbreaks in the state linked to the consumption of raw ground beef, according to the Wisconsin DHS. It is quite possible the number of outbreaks will increase to nine if the advisement from the Wisconsin DHS is ignored.

“Not good. It is kind of crazy to be doing that in this climate. I wouldn’t eat it,” NYC chef John DeLucie tells InsideHook. “Even I eat my burgers medium now. It’s not my favorite, but it is smart.”

According to James Peisker of Nashville-based butcher shop Porter Road, the only way to safely try a cannibal sandwich is to immediately consume one using meat that was trimmed and ground in your presence.

“There is a safe way to enjoy this tradition but it must be done with the utmost care of cleanliness,” Peisker says. “E. coli lives on the outside of the meat until it is cut or ground to the inside of the product. That is why it is safer to eat a steak rare than a burger. In a burger, the outside surface of the meat is all mixed together in the grinding process. If you want to try this, it would be best to try it at home with a very clean and sanitized grinder. If you really want to be safe, trim the outside of your meat and save it for another project and only use the inside that didn’t touch any of the cutting board that touched the outside of the cut before grinding. Or, get the meat from your trusted local butcher and enjoy.

While we can’t recommend it, if you do give it a shot, plan accordingly.