Recipe: Indiana State Fair Cattlemen’s Ribeye Sandwich

State Fair Cattlemen's Steak Sandwich
State Fair Cattlemen's steak sandwich

Terry Kirts

While little of what we Hoosiers gobble up at the Indiana State Fair could be called “gourmet,” a few festival foods do rise to the top of the culinary pyramid. Think jumbo jerk-seasoned lamb chops or bison hushpuppies, duck-fat fries poutine, or jambalaya with blackened chicken and andouille. One staple since the early ’80s with steakhouse ambitions is the cattlemen’s ribeye sandwich, a big, meaty slab of charred beef on a bun that the Indiana Beef Cattle Association has recently dolled up with a pile of smoked brisket. And while the steaks that the cattle industry volunteers cook up aren’t dry-aged or prime, part of the joy of one of these hearty sandwiches is the slight chew of the meat and the big beefy flavor.

Cheesesteaks, Italian beef hoagies, and French dips have long been street food and diner favorites, especially on the East Coast, with Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, generally getting credit for serving the first steak on a soft roll as early as the late 1800s. Closer to home, the cattlemen’s ribeye sandwiches are one of the few items still served by actual livestock farmers, as most of the food preparation at the fair has been given over to concessions companies. So sinking your teeth into a juicy steak at the fair connects you to all of the cattle herders around the state.

Indy has no shortage of steakhouses, but that number shrank by one in late spring when longtime Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar became one of several casualties of the pandemic. This left chef-partner Brian Dougherty, who had been with Fleming’s since early 2019, without a job. But in one of the culinary success stories of the last few months, Dougherty quickly landed a position as executive chef at StoryPoint, a retirement community in Chesterton, Indiana, which he calls “the best job I’ve ever had.”

“I’ve been absolutely blown away by the restaurant-style cuisine we’re serving to these seniors,” Dougherty says. “It’s amazing to see the evolution of senior-living food over the last decade.” Steaks definitely turn up on Dougherty’s menu from time to time, and he still thinks like an upscale restaurant chef in recommending this flavor-packed take on a simple steak sandwich. The key difference here in making yours like those at the fair is to not slice the steak, but to enjoy it whole in all its gut-busting, lusciously fat-marbled form. The steak alone is tasty enough to stand up to any bread you can put it on, but it’s definitely worth loading up with cheese and onions. And while you can skip the chimichurri sauce, it’s an aromatic Argentinian condiment you’ll be glad to stash in your fridge for slathering on sandwiches, drizzling over French fries, and dolloping on eggs. Cut the sandwich on an extreme bias for the most dramatic presentation, and get out the good china.

State Fair Cattlemen’s Ribeye Sandwich with Chimichurri and Havarti

Chef Dougherty recommends choice-grade steaks for these sandwiches, but you can feel free to get prime or dry-aged if you want a luxe take on this fair staple. If buying prepackaged steaks, trim to a half-inch thickness or pound steak gently so steaks aren’t too thick. Chimichurri can be made up to three days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

 Makes 4 sandwiches


Ribeye sandwich

  • 4 choice ribeye steaks, 1/2-thick, approximately 7 to 8 ounces, fat trimmed to 1/4 inch
  • 8 thick-cut slices Havarti cheese
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 6-inch ciabatta rolls
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large tomato, sliced 1/4-inch thick, sprinkled lightly with salt
  • One recipe chimichurri sauce (see below)

Chimichurri Sauce

  • 1 cup tightly packed Italian parsley, stems removed
  • 1 cup tightly packed cilantro, stems removed
  • 2 tablespoons tightly packed fresh oregano leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil


To make the ribeye sandwich:

  1. Stir salt, pepper, and garlic powder together in a small boil. Season steaks all over with seasoning blend. Set aside.
  2. Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. Brush grill grates lightly with oil. Place steak over the hottest part of grill and cook for 3-4 minutes. Flip steaks, cook for 2 more minutes, gently add onions to grill, making sure they do not fall through grate. Continue to cook until onions are soft but not charred and steak is cooked to desired doneness, preferably medium rare.
  3. While steak is grilling, heat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice roll lengthwise and stack tops on bottoms of rolls and place on baking sheet. Place baking sheet in oven and toast rolls for 3 minutes until exteriors are crisp but interior is still soft.
  4. Remove ciabatta roll tops to a plate and spread each of the four bottoms with one tablespoon mayonnaise. Place a steak on each roll, then top with two slices each of Havarti and three slices onion. Return to oven and heat just until the cheese begins to melt. Remove from oven, ladle on tablespoon chimichurri sauce on top of each steak, then top with tomato slices and ciabatta roll tops. Slice crosswise on the bias and serve immediately, passing extra chimichurri sauce and plenty of napkins.

To make the chimichurri sauce:

  1. Place all ingredients except oil into bowl of a food processor
  2. Pulse until coarsely chopped.
  3. Drizzle in oil and process until ingredients are well-mixed, scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula as needed.