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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Potato chips.
- Easy Potato Salad.
- California Pasta Salad.
- Slow Cooker Baked Beans.
- Cowboy Caviar.
- Broccoli Salad with Bacon and Cheese (from Piggly Wiggly).
Loose Meat Sandwich (Maid-Rite Copycat)
- 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
- 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.
- Inspired by Maid-Rite. Adapted from Cook's Country Eats Local.
- 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.