The most popular item on the Maid-Rite menu, these Loose Meat Sandwiches taste as good as the Iowa-famous diner classic. This easy ground beef recipe cooks in just 10 minutes!

A loose meat sandwich on a plate.

Not quite as sloppy as a sloppy Joe, but still firmly in the category of “messy,” a Loose Meat Sandwich is the ultimate, all-American road food feast. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to try one at Tastee, Maid-Rite in Muscatine, Iowa, or even at Canteen Lunch in the Alley, you already know what all the fuss is about.  If not, well then consider this recipe the next best thing.

Depending on where you are in the Midwest, the sandwich can be called a Nu-Way, Steamer, Big T, loose hamburger sandwich, tavern sandwich, or just a Maid Rite. Since the 1920s, it has been made with sautéed (sometimes steamed) ground beef and onions, served on a bun and dressed up with ketchup, mustard, and pickles.

If you love Sloppy Joes and hamburgers, then you need to add a tavern sandwich to your culinary bucket list.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Loose Meat Sandwich (Maid-Rite Copycat) Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for loose meat sandwiches

Ingredient notes

  • Ground beef: I prefer a ground beef blend of 85% lean, 15% fat, for the best flavor.
  • Onions: Yellow onions, white onions, or even shallots will do. I add them after the meat is cooked so they’re still a bit raw in the beef, just like a traditional Maid-Rite sandwich. Brown them in the skillet before browning the beef if you like them a little softer and milder in flavor.
  • Hamburger buns: I love a good quality soft burger bun, toasted, buttered, and ready to go. But you can even make these slightly smaller soft dinner rolls for a buffet-style meal or a tailgate menu.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. In a large skillet, combine beef, water, mustard, and sugar. Simmer over medium heat until the beef is cooked through, about 5 minutes, breaking up clumps of meat with a spoon.
Ground beef cooking in a skillet.
  1. Drain the fat if desired (I don’t, and it is closer to the original recipe if you don’t, but you can if you want). Stir in onion and season to taste with salt and pepper; I like 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.
Ground beef and onion cooking in a skillet.
  1. Serve meat on buns with toppings on the side, such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and pickles. 
A loose meat sandwich on a plate.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This Maid-Rite recipe makes 4 delightfully sloppy sandwiches.
  • Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Make ahead: Feel free to make the meat up to 3 days in advance, then store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Reheat on the stove or in the microwave until warm, then pile inside hamburger buns.
  • Freezer: Make the loose meat portion, then divvy it up in single-size or family-size servings in freezer-safe containers or zip-top bags. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and reheat on the stove or in the microwave.
  • Slow cooker: To make Loose Meat Sandwiches in a slow cooker, brown ground beef in a skillet, then add to a slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients except buns to slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 2 to 3 hours. Serve in buns.
  • Optional seasonings: Some cooks swear by a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce to amp up the flavor.
  • Take your Maid-Rite over the top: Any burger toppings you like will be a hit atop a Loose Meat Sandwich, too. Try dill pickle slices, red onion, tomato slices, a splash of barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, ketchup, and/or mustard.
Two hands holding a loose meat sandwich.

Best sides for Maid-Rites

A loose meat sandwich on a plate.

Loose Meat Sandwich (Maid-Rite Copycat)

The most popular item on the Maid-Rite menu, these Loose Meat Sandwiches taste as good as the Iowa-famous diner classic. This easy ground beef recipe cooks in just 10 minutes!
5 from 89 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Servings 4 servings
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 302

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound ground beef (85/15 recommended, see note 1)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup onion finely chopped, plus more for topping (see note 2)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 hamburger buns split, for serving
  • Toppings such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, for serving

Instructions 

  • In a large skillet, combine beef, water, mustard, and sugar. Simmer over medium heat until the beef is cooked through, about 5 minutes, breaking up clumps of meat with a spoon.
  • Drain the fat if desired (I don't, and it is closer to the original recipe if you don't, but you can if you want). Stir in onion and season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper).
  • Serve meat on buns with toppings on the side such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and pickles. 

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Ground beef: I prefer a ground beef blend of 85% lean, 15% fat, for the best flavor.
  2. Onions: Yellow onions, white onions, or even shallots will do. I add them after the meat is cooked so they’re still a bit raw in the beef, just like a traditional Maid-Rite sandwich. Brown them in the skillet before browning the beef if you like them a little softer and milder in flavor.
  3. Hamburger buns: I love a good quality soft burger bun, toasted, buttered, and ready to go. But you can even make these slightly smaller soft dinner rolls for a buffet-style meal or a tailgate menu.
  4. Yield: This Maid-Rite recipe makes 4 delightfully sloppy sandwiches.
  5. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  6. Make ahead: Feel free to make the meat up to 3 days in advance, then store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Reheat on the stove or in the microwave until warm, then pile inside hamburger buns.
  7. Freezer: Make the loose meat portion, then divvy it up in single-size or family-size servings in freezer-safe containers or zip-top bags. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and reheat on the stove or in the microwave.
  8. Slow cooker: To make Loose Meat Sandwiches in a slow cooker, brown ground beef in a skillet, then add to a slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients except buns to slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 2 to 3 hours. Serve in buns.
  9. Optional seasonings: Some cooks swear by a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce to amp up the flavor.
  10. Take your Maid-Rite over the top: Any burger toppings you like will be a hit atop a Loose Meat Sandwich, too. Try dill pickle slices, red onion, tomato slices, a splash of barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, ketchup, and/or mustard.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sandwichCalories: 302kcalCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 20gFat: 23gSaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 81mgSodium: 120mgPotassium: 335mgFiber: 1gSugar: 2gVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 25mgIron: 2mg
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Comments

  1. I’m jealous.  I live in the Caribbean and that doesn’t make it here.  I really wanted to bring some back here, but wouldn’t you know, the places I saw it were all out of it the night before I left.  Bison is much healthier!5 stars

    1. I live in a “one horse town” and I can get Bison in one pound packages at Walmart!  It costs me $9.00 but it is worth it!

  2. Because I am in a squabble with ground beef…I am subbing in Bison!  I may never go back to ground beef!!5 stars

  3. It says at the very beginning…..”inspired by”……it’s not even claiming to be a copykat recipe….get a grip people!5 stars

  4. True maid rites are not made with mustard or any sauce at all. Please do not compare this recipe to “iowa maid rite”.

    1. I worked at the maid when I was in high school, my uncle Joe Vershaw ran the business for years, we never used any sauce , only salt pepper The hamburger was was boiled slowly in a huge kettle and ocassionly we would stir it. That was it, delicious!!!!

    2. There is no sauce in this recipe. Just a little mustard. Not sure what sauce you are referring to?5 stars

    1. We LIVE in Iowa and have a Maid Rite near us. Originally they weren’t served with ketchup but they do now. I just ask them to not put it on ours.

    1. Thank you so much Jean! I completely agree… I could just eat the meat plain out of the pot! :D Take care and thanks again!

  5. I loved reading this.  I am from Iowa and familiar with Maid Riite, but being from Ottumwa, there is a small place called the Canteen.  They make a similar type sandwich and homemade pies.  I love to go there when I get back,  it I’m so far away now, not sure it will happen, so this is a very bitter sweet memory.5 stars

    1. Hi Cathy, thank you so much for the comment with your story. I love how food is always tied to our most important memories… bittersweet or otherwise. I appreciate your support so much. Thanks again and I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

  6. I make these for our Youth Group at church. I simmer the crumbled beef in beef broth, it adds a nice richness to the meat. We use Pita pockets instead of buns, it cuts down on spillage with the kids!

    My husband is from Iowa and whenever we go back to visit family, I have to get Maid-Rites multiple times.5 stars

    1. I love the idea of pita pockets, Tracy! That’s genius. I’m such a sloppy eater, I need that for ME, not even just my kids! Ha ha. I will definitely try your beef broth tip next time too. Great idea. Thanks for the comment and take care!

  7. I’m pretty excited about this recipe.  Maid-Rites are a fond childhood memory. It was a special treat to have a Maid-Rite when we “went into town”!  Can’t wait to try it.  Thanks!5 stars

  8. I didn’t realize that Maid-Rite is a chain. I know Maid-Rite from their location in Greenville, OH. They are famous for their alley wall of bubble gum. Gross, but hey. People talk about it :) I had heard that another ingredient is beer. I’m excited to try your recipe, though, and see how it stands up to what I remember. :)5 stars

    1. Sarah… I only knew them from Greenville Ohio too since I lived in Englewood! When I had to work on Saturdays I got off work around noon and my husband would take me to the Maid-Rite In Greenville. I was from out of state so it was a huge treat for me! This recipe is awesome thanks so much for sharing! Pickles and onion only! Although the one in Greenville also started serving them with cheese if desired.5 stars

    2. Hi Sarah! I’m from Greenville originally, and love my Maid Rites!!! I was just driving through Iowa last week and drove past a sign that I swore said “Maid Rite”! I almost slammed on my brakes, highway and all!!! I thought I would turn around on the next exit, but there it was!! It was in a truck stop (very nice and very expensive). The truck stop was called Wings America Travel Centre in Avoca, IA. Maid Rite was just one of about 6 eating places to choose from. First, I almost fainted when I saw the price. One sandwich was $4.30 plus tax…$4.70!!! But I had always read about the rivalry between Greenville, OH and Iowa Maid Rites…which tasted better!! I never thought I would EVER say this, but it was very, very similar (without Iowa’s ketsup). And in the end, I gotta say that I liked Iowa’s version better! The sandwich was huge, so it made the $4.70 a little more palatable! So no, the Maid Rite in Greenville is stand alone, and the Iowa version is a chain! And yea, I get it. Maid Rites are just a sandwich, but a great sandwich it is!