What Is Salisbury Steak and Where Did Its Name Come From?

The name “Salisbury steak” conjures up visions of the school lunch line or, if you’re a fan of adult contemporary music of the ‘80s, a certain hill in a Peter Gabriel song (although, you’d be misspelling it) but what is Salisbury steak, actually? Today, we’re taking a closer look at this frozen meal staple, to find out a little more about how it came to be such an iconic dish. And hopefully, after a few paragraphs, we’ll no longer have “Solsbury Hill” stuck in our heads. 

What is a Salisbury steak?

Salisbury steak is a classic American dish consisting of ground beef or a blend of meats. It’s shaped into a patty and usually seasoned with onions, bread crumbs, and various spices. It is often pan-fried or baked and served with brown gravy. It’s classically served with mashed potatoes, vegetables, or noodles, making it a comforting and satisfying meal. (But sadly not a “part of this complete breakfast.”)

What is Salisbury steak made of?

Salisbury steak is not, technically, a cut of steak. It’s made of ground meat, which is usually ground beef, although a blend of meats can be used. Per the USDA, Salisbury steak has to be made up of at least 65% meat, and up to 25% of that meat can be pork. The ground meat is typically seasoned with onion, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. The mixture is then shaped into oval or round patties in order to mimic traditional steak shapes. No T-bone to shatter any unsuspecting teeth! To be classified as Salisbury steak, it must also be fully cooked, per the USDA. That’s why you don’t see raw Salisbury steaks at your butcher—they don’t exist!

Why is it called Salisbury steak?

Salisbury steak is named after Dr. James Henry Salisbury (not Dr. James Henry Steak, although that would have been funnier). He was an American physician and early advocate of a meat-centric diet. In the late 19th century, Dr. Salisbury promoted a diet centered around minced or ground lean meat, believing it to be beneficial for health. He theorized that ground meat was easier to digest and a good source of protein. He tested his theory out on Civil War troops, who were suffering from terrible digestive issues and malnutrition. He suggested a chopped beef dish. The dish gained popularity and became a comfort food staple, retaining its name in honor of Dr. Salisbury’s dietary principles.

Where did Salisbury steak originate?

Salisbury steak originated in the United States, although it isn’t named after any of the 12 cities of Salisbury. It’s named after Dr. James Henry Salisbury, who hailed from Dobbs Ferry, New York, and it spread in popularity during the American Civil War. 

And that’s the story of Salisbury steak. It’s not just a microwaveable meal, it’s a piece of Americana—smothered in gravy.

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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