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 66 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Servings 4 servings
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 302


  • 1 pound ground beef (85/15 recommended)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup onion finely chopped, plus more for topping
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 hamburger buns split, for serving
  • Toppings such as 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 ½ teaspoon pepper).
  • Serve meat on buns with toppings on the side such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and pickles. 

Recipe Video


  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.


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

I’m the Executive Chef and head of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen. Every recipe is developed, tested, and approved just for you.

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  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