What exactly is this comfort food classic? Besides delicious and easy to make at home!

By Carl Hanson
Updated July 09, 2020

For those of us who grew up on school lunches, Salisbury steak day was the pinnacle. Served with mashed potatoes and gravy and maybe a little square of strawberry cake, each item partitioned in its separate compartment, Salisbury steak was the school lunch you looked forward to more than all others. Or maybe Salisbury steak makes you think of meals served on disposable aluminum trays in front of the TV. Either way, it's maybe not something you think to make at home. If so, that's a shame. Because no matter how fond your memories are of school-days lunches, homemade Salisbury steak and fixings are much more delicious than what you remember. But before you dive into our best Salisbury steak recipes, let's get down to business. What is Salisbury steak? And how do you make it from scratch?

Instant Pot (R) Salisbury Steak with Onion and Mushroom Gravy
Credit: KGora

What is Salisbury Steak

Like a cross between meatloaf and a hamburger patty, Salisbury steak is ground beef mixed with seasonings and often bread crumbs and/or dry onion soup mix, formed into patties, browned in a skillet, and simmered with a simple mushroom gravy—made either from scratch with beef stock and fresh mushrooms or with can condensed cream of mushroom soup. There are, naturally, many variations on this general hamburger steak theme.

See how to make a simple Salisbury Steak with Mushrooms:

Why is it called a Salisbury steak?

This hamburger steak with gravy was named after a doctor who studied nutrition in the 19th century.  According to Smithsonian magazine, Dr. James Henry Salisbury studied "healthy eating" during and after the American Civil War. Dr. Salisbury was a proponent of minced beef as a health food. Which sounds intriguing until you learn what foods the good doctor did not consider healthy: fresh fruits and vegetables.

What's the difference between Salisbury steak and meatloaf?

Meatloaf is a seasoned meat mixture that's formed into a loaf—a loaf of meat, if you will—and baked in a loaf pan in the oven. Salisbury steak is sometimes similarly seasoned but formed into patties and browned in a skillet on the stovetop. Salisbury steak is also typically served with gravy, often a mushroom-based gravy. Some meatloaf recipes do call for gravy or mushroom sauce, but meatloaf is more commonly prepared with a semi-sweet ketchup- or tomato-sauce based glaze.

Is Salisbury steak healthy?

Well, few folks would identify Salibury steak as a health food. But choose lean ground beef, saute your mushrooms and onions in olive oil, and make your own gravy using ingredients like homemade stock and you're making it healthier by degrees. You can also make Salisbury steak healthier by limiting portion sizes and enjoying it with healthy sides like green beans or simply roasted broccoli. Finally, you can always substitute lean ground turkey for ground beef, as in this Turkey Salisbury Steak recipe.

Turkey Salisbury Steak
Turkey Salisbury Steak | Photo by Holiday Baker

What goes well with Salisbury steak?

A classic match for Salisbury steak is mashed potatoes and gravy. Buttered noodles, white rice, macaroni and cheese, and tatter tots are other common side dishes. Basic green beans, steamed broccoli, carrots and peas, or corn are good side dishes to round out the meal.

What kind of meat is Salisbury steak?

Salisbury steak is made with ground beef, often lean ground beef because for this flavorful dish you don't want an excessive amount of fat drippings. Some recipes suggest substitutions like ground turkey or pork.

How do you make Salisbury steak from scratch?

It's simple! But there are many variations on the basic theme. Let's go to some of our top-rated Salisbury steak recipes, featuring a variety of seasoning options and cooking methods, from skillet to slow cooker, oven-baked to Instant Pot.

Check out our complete collection of Salisbury Steak Recipes.