Loose Meat Sandwich (Maid-Rite Copycat)

The most popular item on the Maid-Rite menu, these Loose Meat Sandwiches taste as good as the real thing, straight from Iowa.  The recipe cooks up in only 10 minutes! So grab a bag of your favorite buns and find out for yourself why everyone loves this messy but delicious tavern sandwich.

A loose meat sandwich in a galvanized metal basket with a side of pickles.

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. This recipe is lightning fast (only 10 minutes) on the stovetop, but if you have the patience it makes an excellent slow cooker recipe, too. Instructions for both ways are below.

What’s in a Maid-Rite sandwich?

While no one knows the exact Rite-Maid loose meat sandwich secret recipe, the only ingredients everyone seems to agree on are: beef, salt, and pepper. Some cooks add Worcestershire sauce for a little extra flavor, as well as mustard, soy sauce, paprika, or even a little sugar.

Unlike a sloppy Joe, there is no actual sauciness to speak of, yet the beef is decidedly seasoned. I prefer a ground beef blend of 85% lean, 15% fat, for the best flavor.

How to make a real Loose Meat Sandwich:

  1. To start, cook the beef, water, sugar, and yellow mustard together in a skillet until the beef is cooked through. It doesn’t have to be browned–just cooked. The water will steam the beef and evaporate as it cooks.
  2. Drain off the fat, but only if you absolutely must. (I don’t.) Then add the chopped onions, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
    Cooked ground beef and onions in a skillet.
  3. And that, my ground beef-loving friends, is all there is to it. Spoon the beef mixture over the buns (toasted, if you please) and top with all the hamburger toppings you like: ketchup, BBQ sauce, mustard, mayo, pickles…the list goes on.

Loose Meat sandwiches in the slow cooker:

Who says the perfect party food doesn’t exist? Make a big batch of Maid-Rite and let everyone gussy up their own sammich just the way they like.

First, get the beef started in a skillet on the stove. Then add all the ingredients (sugar, water, mustard, salt, pepper, onions) to the crockpot and cook– covered– on LOW for 2 to 3 hours.

Some good tips for a Loose Meat Sandwich:

  • Seasonings. Some cooks swear by a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce to up the flavor. Or soy sauce. Go ahead and try it!
  • 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, so everyone can get a little of everything at the table without getting too full.
  • Onions. It’s really up to you as far as onions are concerned. I add them after the meat is cooked, so they’re still a bit raw in the beef. Brown them beforehand if you like to take the edge off of things.
  • Toppings. Go crazy with burger toppings! Dill pickle slices, red onion, a splash of BBQ sauce, tomato, mayo. Whatever you think sounds good WILL definitely be good.
  • Freezing. Sure, you can freeze the meat to have later on. Portion it up and freeze in zipper-top bags or freezer-safe containers. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and reheat on the stove or in the microwave.

Serve Maid-Rite Loose Meat Sandwiches with:

A loose meat sandwich in a galvanized metal basket with a side of pickles.

Loose Meat Sandwich (Maid-Rite Copycat)

Inspired by Maid-Rite in Iowa, Loose Meat Sandwiches are simple yet so very delicious. Make a batch in 10 minutes or less! Also slow cooker friendly.
5 from 38 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 302kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef (85/15 recommended)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 hamburger buns, split for serving
  • 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 1/2 teaspoon pepper).
  • Serve meat on buns with toppings on the side such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and pickles. 

Video

Notes

  1. Inspired by Maid-Rite. Adapted from Cook's Country Eats Local.
  2. To make Loose Meat Sandwiches in a slow cooker, brown beef and add to slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients except buns to slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 2 to 3 hours. Serve in buns.

Nutrition

Calories: 302kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 81mg | Sodium: 120mg | Potassium: 335mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 25mg | Iron: 2mg
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  1. Lynne Gordon

    This recipe is like the loose meat sandwich I got in Greenville, Ohio. Name of Restaurant, Maid Rite!
    No ketchup!5 stars

  2. Jack Shell

    Megan, you’re a doll, and I thank you for this recipe. I am a Central Illinois native, and these sandwiches were popular with the blue-collar crowd (like my father) as a kid. We’d eat them, and I’d usually wish we just went for an actual cheeseburger. I never understood the point of the loose meat, and saying “loose meat sandwich” made me want to go to confession or take a shower — not sure which. Why does the meat have to be loose? Why not an actual burger? It’s a mystery to this kid from Peoria. Anyway, when nostalgia hits me for those awkward days with Dad at his favorite lunch counter, the Maid-Rite, I’ll whip this recipe up, and toss a slice of American cheese on top, because it holds those ridiculous delicious and pointless crumbles together. Thank you.

    Bon appetit!5 stars

    1. Hi Jack, you really cracked me up. I think in older versions of this post, I mentioned my aversion to the term “loose meat sandwich.” But I looked and I didn’t see it there anymore, probably because so many readers complain about story-telling on food blogs. In any case, I know! Confession or shower, LOL. I first learned about loose meat sandwiches from my sister-in-law’s mother and I was just like… what is happening here? Is this food? What in the world? You take care, enjoy Illinois! -Meggan

  3. Shirley

    I only read the recipe, but I tend to disagree with part of the recipe. While I believe yours is tasty, I have eaten Maid-Rites all of my life. I even helped make them when my daughter worked at a Maid-Rite. The key to a Maid-Rite is low and slow with consistent stirring until a fairly large amount of water is mostly cooked away. This is what helps to insure tender, flavorful meat. Also, no spices are added. It is served with minced onions and mustard.
    Note: It is rumored that the original Maid-Rites were made with root beer. I have not found this to be factual however.

  4. Kelly

    The whole family loved it. Will make over and over. Just like the real thing back home! 5 stars

  5. Barbara Wangelid

    Perfect! Thanks for the recipe!!5 stars

  6. Don Frazier

    A true Maid Rite would not have Onions that size. More like onion Juice. No mustard in meat.. True is Salt, Pepper, onion juice and hamburger meat. Maybe some pickle juice

  7. Dave

    Interesting. What can go wrong?5 stars

  8. Judy

    I am another misplaced from Iowa person. Loved these growing up and my mom made them at home. We would ad a slice of American cheese when it was hot and it melted a little into the meat (made it not quite as messy). You just brought up great memories by posting this recipe! THANKS!5 stars

  9. JB

    I love this recipe! But instead of water I use pickle juice! It really ads a ton of flavor 😋

  10. Kim

    This looks amazing. Im on a low salt diet so how could I lower the sodium in the recipe?

    1. meggan

      Hi Kim, I changed the recipe to take the added salt out (basically just suggesting that people add salt and pepper to taste rather than dictating how the recipe is seasoned). I think that’s how it should be anyway. So, that will help you control the sodium a little better (the sodium in the nutrition label now shows how much sodium there is in the recipe without any added salt or pepper). The other biggest factor in the sodium here is the rolls that you eat the meat on. If you choose a low-sodium option, that will cut out a lot more (about 10% maybe, but it depends on which one you choose so I can’t say for sure). Those are my recommendations (although I should point out I’m not a registered dietician). If you have any other questions please let me know! Thanks. -Meggan

  11. Recarolyn

    I am from Iowa. We had an original Made-Rite
    on Main Street. Ate there often & I knew the people that worked there.
    I use a stainless steel saucepan. One lb. ground beef 80/20. A little water, sugar, or a little brown sugar, & mustard & about half a diced onion & a little
    garlic powder “opt”.
    I use a potato masher to get the meat to a fine consistency. Serve on a bun with whatever you like. YUMMO
    A GAL FROM WEBSTER CITY, IOWA5 stars

  12. Theresa

    Hello…I remember these from Jr high school back in the 70’s. ..I’m so wanting to try this recipe…Would you know how to figure the carb count without the bun.. I’m guessing only a few…I’m on a very strict low diet to control my T2 diabetes. .Thanks so much…5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Theresa, happy to help. If you remove the buns, the carbs are 3.5g per serving including 0.6g dietary fiber and 1.9g sugar. Since you are T2 I also grabbed the information without the added 1 teaspoon sugar (in case you want to leave it out). Then it is 2.5g total carbs with 0.6g dietary fiber and 0.9g sugar. If you want any other info, just let me know. I use a nutrition label calculator and I’m not a registered dietician so these numbers might not be perfect, but it’s the best I can do. Thank you! -Meggan

  13. Wendy

    Just to be clear… do you drain off the excess fat after browning the beef? I didn’t see that mentioned anywhere in the recipe.

    1. meggan

      Hi Wendy, no, I don’t drain off the excess fat here. However, you certainly could if that was your preference. I’ll update the recipe to explain this very clearly. Thanks! -Meggan

  14. Ness Bashara

    I grew up on Taverns or loose meats
    Have had everything from Tastes, Maid Rites & the like!

    Never put ketchup on a loose meats, just onions & mustered. I also use a little Lip tins Union Soup mix for flavor. Best ever

    1. Ciscomancer

      Yes on this. We no longer live in Iowa but my dad still stops in Marshalltown twice a year for these. I distinctly remember that asking for ketchup in a Maid-Rite establishment was a major faux paus.

  15. Cortney

    This was fantastic! I had a maid rite maybe 15 years ago, and don’t really remember it. I can’t say whether or not this recipe is accurate but I do know that it was delicious and we will definitely make it again. Thanks for sharing!5 stars

    1. Meggan

      Thanks so much Cortney! I’m glad you enjoyed it! -Meggan

  16. Mike verShaw

    My father ran the maid-rite in Kewanee Illinois for
    50 years starting with the opening in 1926 it was only boiled ground beef salt and pepper I worked there 8 years

  17. Josh

    Love in the area where maid-rite originated. My mother worked for the company that mixed their chain recipe together. She told me she couldn’t remember exactly what all was in it, but did say they used minced beef, and beef tongue…maybe that’s the secret thought I would let you know, maybe try that see if it gets closer.5 stars

  18. Suzy P

    The Minnesoda Fountain in Park Rapids, Minnesota has a similar sandwich called the Beefy Burger. Absolutely the best!

  19. Daniel

    I spoke with a Maid-Rite manager and even she was not allowed to know the original recipe. The meat gets delivered to the restaurants in clear plastic bags ready to be heated. While the mustard, chopped onions, etc. are probably on point, a friend once who had never had a Maid-Rite noted that there is clearly some vinegar involved in the recipe.

  20. Jerry

    This is incorrect. I know people that know the recipe so it’s not that no one knows,they’re just not going to tell. I lived right next door to the original owner of the very first Maid rite in Muscatine Iowa’s, Daughter. Saw the Owner often. I recently say the grandchildren (who know the recipe) but they wouldn’t tell me!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Sorry for the confusion, OBVIOUSLY somebody knows, yes. That isn’t what I meant, LOL. I meant no one who knows is telling. But yes, you’re technically right.

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