Iowa Loosemeat Sandwiches

Iowa Loosemeat Sandwiches are a  Midwest favorite, not quite burger, not quite Sloppy Joe made in the style of a Maid-Rite sandwich.
Iowa Loosemeat Sandwiches

Iowa  Loosemeat Sandwiches

Sue Lau | Palatable Pastime

First off, I can’t get into a discussion about whether these are clones of Maid-Rite sandwiches or the ones from the Blue Mill Tavern. I have only been to Maid-Rite once, never to the Blue Mill, and while these fit the memory I have of those, without having a side-by-side comparison, I don’t want to get into it. But I do like the flavor of these. As to any authenticity, you’ll just have to decide for yourself, as I have heard Maid-Rites vary from place to place (why I didn’t bother fetching a sandwich to compare while developing this as I sometimes do when I make clones) and as far as recipes on the internet go, good luck. I can’t really tell you anything about the Blue Mill Tavern, except they are supposed to be the same thing, or so I heard (maybe you disagree). There are as many internet recipes as the stars in the sky. I’ll be making this recipe whenever I have these. Maybe you will like it too, maybe you won’t. Feel free to leave your comments below.

The sandwiches themselves are a Heartland classic, possibly being adored most by farm workers in the Iowa Beef Belt. Fondly called loosemeat sandwiches, after the Maid-Rite restaurants, and then later the Tavern sandwich, as made popular by the Blue Mill tavern, these have been around since the 1920’s when many famous sandwich shops started getting a foothold in American food culture. They are a crumbled beef mixture, dressed simply with mustard, onion and dill pickle on a steamed bun. SOmetimes with cheese. Steaming seems to have been a big thing back then, as White Castle hamburgers is also famous for steam-cooking their meat, with the bun being placed on top while it cooks to steam the bun as well (and they got their start in the 1920’s if I recall correctly).

The loosemeat sandwich is one of Roseanne Barr Arnold’s favorite foods and seems to have had a peak in popularity around when she was discussing it, or so I thought.

It is really not quite like a burger or a sloppy joe. You might  notice one of the things I do in my sandwich is to add a touch of flour to bind the meat. These helps keep the sandwich less messy, but I don’t think it is authentic in any way. I also don’t think it detracts from the taste so I am keeping that as part of my recipe, even though I don’t think the “official” loosemeat sandwiches use it.

I find that the easiest way to get a steamed bun effect (besides actually steaming the buns) is to place the sandwiches on a microwave safe plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap and nuke for 30-45 seconds to let the bun get soft and warm. It is my preferred method.

And as with all my recipes, I hope you enjoy. Not exactly “Meatless Monday” today, but I did post about a vegetarian chili on Saturday, so don’t really follow that too much with my blog.

Iowa Loosemeat Sandwiches

Iowa Loosemeat Sandwiches

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Iowa Loosemeat Sandwiches

  • 1 pound ground beef chuck
  • 1/4 cup packaged onion soup mix
  • 1  teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Other ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour (optional)
  • hamburger buns
  • yellow mustard (optional)
  • dill pickle slices (optional)
  • minced onion  (optional)
  • American cheese slices (optional)


  1. Grind soup mix in a spice mill or pulverize in a mortar and pestle until powdered; set aside.
  2. Brown meat in a skillet, breaking up any lumps.
  3. Add spices and broth and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for one hour.
  4. Uncover, raise heat to medium and cook until liquid dissipates, about 30-40 minutes more.
  5. Add flour and stir in, cooking just until meat clings together.
  6. Serve meat on buns with mustard, pickle, minced onion and cheese if desired.
  7. To soften buns, cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave about half a minute.

From the kitchen of

Iowa Loosemeat Sandwiches

You might also like:

Pizza Joes

Delicious Sloppy Joes

Reuben Sandwich

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2 responses

  1. I don’t think plastic wrap in the microwave is a good idea. The same result can be had with paper towels.

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