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The Original Loose Meat Sandwich

Original Loose Meat Sandwiches

I was reading Sandi’s blog The Whistlestop Cafe and was reminded of something I knew all along, but sometimes forget, that my blog does not have to be all about cuisine that is new, different or gourmet. I do love to experiment but the original concept of MTBT was to share those comforting dishes with my family and friends also. Sandi’s niece was looking for a family favourite recipe for Chicken Casserole and Sandi realized she had never posted it…until now. I was also reminded that it is not quite summer and before barbecuing becomes a daily occurance I need to revisit some of my own comfort foods. It had me thinking that there are recipes I have never posted here on MTBT.  Food that I share with you is not always gourmet but what about those recipes that I find comforting.


Comfort foods like soup and stew are foods that nourish the soul as well as our bodies. They tend to be foods that remind us of simpler times. They are familiar, simple foods. When sick, or tired, or far from home, everyone seems to yearn for the gastronomic equivalent of a warm sweater, a kiss on the forehead, a favourite blanket. While homemade meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes, creamy and satisfying macaroni and cheese and shepherd’s pie have been staples for me, for some of us comfort food may include a delicious gooey lasagna, a curry, borscht or udon noodles.

But comfort food can also be a food that remind us of a special event or a time in our lives that holds a special place in our hearts. When I was 19, only a few short years ago, wink…wink….I spent a month travelling around the province of Newfoundland. I stopped in Cornerbrook for a while and found a little hole- in- the- wall where I ordered a cheeseburger and fries. The fries were the ultimate, but, the hamburger was a loose meat concoction a bun with all my favourite toppings. I thought about it a moment and realized I loved it more than the classic hamburger!! It was my first introduction to a loose meat sandwich and I didn’t even know it.

Growing up in Southern Ontario I had never heard of this iconic sandwich. I was reminded when Roseanne Connor (Barr) and her fictional sister Jackie Harris (Laurie Metcalf) during the 1992 season of her show Roseanne pooled their money together to open a coffee shop. The fictional restaurant was The Lanford Lunch Box that specialized in loose-meat sandwiches. It dawned on me like being hit by a mack truck that I had tried this simple dish before many years ago at the little hole-in-the-wall and could now put a name to it.

The loosemeat sandwich or sometimes called the Tavern Sandwich was created in 1924 at Ye Old Tavern in Sioux City, Iowa. But what sandwich doesn’t come with a little controversy because Mait Rite was making the same sandwich 8 years earlier on a steamed bun. From my research this is somewhat of an iconic recipe in the Midwestern United States. The sandwich is well known throughout the state, and is served not only at the local Tastee-in-and-Outs, but also at fast food restaurants like Dairy Queen and Dairy Dandy. One of the most famous would be the Maid Rite which has come to represent the loosemeat sandwich like Kleenex represents facial tissue.

 Similar to a hamburger (despite the consistency of the meat) or a sloppy joe (without the tomato sauce), the loosemeat sandwich is served throughout the Midwest, but specifically in the state of Iowa.  A loosemeat is a sloppy joe without the slop-so stay away from anything tomato-ey! These little sandwiches remind me of my early travels so brings back some wonderful memories so I have adopted them as a quick and easy weekday recipe.

This is the original recipe that I found on-line for loosemeat sandwiches that were served in the Midwest so start there. I cannot account for changes or differences in flavour from other regions of the country, east or west. Some people add beer, Worcestershire sauce, and spices to make them their own. I encourage you to try the original recipe at least once and then add your own flavour the next time you make it…and there will be a next time!!

 In so many ways comfort foods brings people together. As a teenager travelling in the maritime province of Canada I had no idea these little sandwiches I tried in a little unassuming take-out place were so loved and bring such happiness to people. I’ve been so touched by the messages I’ve read from folks who’ve tried this recipe and then shared their memories.

Try this original recipe as found exactly as is. They suggest to serve it with chips or potato salad but I served it with a broccoli salad. I have to get my bit of healthy in there:D

**The Original Loosemeat Sandwich**
1 lb  ground chuck, beef round or  sirloin
1 tablespoon fat like lard or Crisco (if meat is round or sirloin)
2 teaspoons salt, just enough to lightly cover bottom of your skillet
1 onion, chopped finely
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
water, to cover
salt and pepper, to taste
Your favourite hamburger toppings!

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Get out a cast iron skillet-they are the best for loosemeats-or other kind if you have no iron skillet.

Melt fat over medium heat and lightly salt bottom of skillet.

Break ground beef up in skillet and start crumbling it with the back of a wooden spoon-this is very important-the meat must end up being cooked up into small crumbles.

Add chopped onion while browning meat.

Keep working with the back of spoon to break up meat.

When meat is browned, drain off any fat and return meat to skillet.

7Add mustard, vinegar, sugar, and just enough water to barely cover meat in the pan.

Cook, at a simmer, till water is all cooked out-between 15-20 minutes.

Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Heat your hamburger buns-they’re traditionally steamed for loosemeats-I like mine toasted lightly-do it the way you like it.

When buns are warm, put yellow mustard on them and add some dill pickle slices-I put on lots! (Val’s note: I also add sliced onion, cheese, lettuce or spinach and sometimes ketchup)

*If you start changing this recipe and using things like olive oil for the fat and Dijon or honey mustard for the yellow mustard, you will not get the traditional yummy taste of a loosemeat sandwich.

Likewise, don’t add any liquid smoke or Worcestershire sauce.

Make them just like this the first time so you can sample the simplicity of this famous Midwestern treat.

If you want to start making changes after that by all means do so but I’d like you to taste the original recipe at least once.

Serve with homemade potato salad and chip

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