Have you ever heard of loose meat sandwiches? This classic vintage dish is simple and flavorful. It is a perfect weeknight meal that will satisfy the whole family!
Loose Meat Sandwiches
So what exactly is a loose meat sandwich? I think the easiest way to describe a loose meat sandwich is to say that it is part hamburger and part sloppy Joe.
Loose meat sandwiches are very common in the midwest and have been gracing the tables of families for generations.
I recently was visiting with a friend about loose meat sandwiches. She said they were a meal that her mom made regularly for her family.
A fun story she shared is that her little brother did not realize they were called loose meat sandwiches and instead called them “moose meat sandwiches.” So her whole family ended up called them “moose meat sandwiches” too. I think that is such a cute story.
As my friend and I talked about the sandwiches she said it brought back a flood of memories to her. Isn’t it funny how there are certain foods that just make us so nostaligic for the past?
Let’s take a closer look at this vintage sandwich and its history.
Loose Meat Sandwich Origin
Loose meat sandwiches date back to the 1920s, and they have a particularly strong connection to Iowa. History traces the first loose meat sandwiches back to the Maid-Rite restaurant in Iowa.
Loose meat sandwiches are also known as tavern sandwiches due to their connection to the Iowa restaurant Ye Olde Tavern, which also served the sandwich in the 1920s.
As loose meat sandwiches gained popularity, they became quite common throughout the midwest. Aside from Maid-Rite and Ye Olde Tavern, other restaurants that have a connection to the sandwich include Tastee, Canteen, Nu Way, and Dairy Queen.
And apparantly there is a connection to loose meat sandwiches and the 90s television show Roseanne. I was never allowed to watch that show when I was growing up, nor do I have the slightest interest in watching it now. But in my research I did find that loose meat sandwiches were somehow a part of the show and have a bit of a cult following as a result of that connection.
What is Considered a Loose Meat Sandwich?
A loose meat sandwich must have dry and seasoned ground beef that is cooked with onion. It is served on a bun and topped with pickles, mustard, and ketchup.
Loose Meat Sandwich vs Sloppy Joes
So what is the difference between a loose meat sandwich and a sloppy Joe? The main difference is that sloppy Joes are cooked in a tomato based sauce, while loose meat sandwiches are a dry meat.
Sloppy Joes emerged in the 1930s and there are several theories for its origin. One of the theories actually points to the previously discussed Ye Olde Tavern in Iowa.
If you are curious to learn more about the history of sloppy Joes, or if you want to try my delicious vintage inspired sloppy Joes recipe, you can find it here: https://vintagehomesteadlife.com/sloppy-joes-vintage-inspired-recipe/
Real Food Loose Meat Sandwich
As always, I strive to create real food recipes here on the blog. It is pretty easy to make this a wholesome meal for your family.
If possible, I suggest using 100% grassfed ground beef. Also, using condiments with clean ingredients will make a big difference.
While there are a lot of great options out there, I like this brand of ketchup, this brand of mustard, and this brand of pickles.
Loose Meat Sandwich Recipe
Here is a delicious, vintage inspired loose meat sandwich recipe.
-2 tbsp butter
-2 lbs ground beef
-1 yellow onion, diced
-2 tsp garlic powder
-1 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp pepper
-2 tbsp mustard
-1/2 cup water
In a large pan, melt the butter on medium heat.
Once the butter is melted, add the ground beef and chopped onions. As the ground beef cooks, break it up into smaller pieces. Cook until the onions are softened and the beef is cooked through.
Next add the remaining ingredients in listed order and stir everything together.
Bring the mixture to a simmer and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the mixture has cooked down.
This recipe yields a ground beef that is just a little wet, but still puts it solidly in the dry loose meat sandwich qualification category.
Serve with ketchup, mustard, and pickles. I wholeheartedly endorse this brand of pickles! It is a great brand with super clean ingredients and very flavorful pickles.
Are you looking for a side dish to serve with these loose meat sandwiches? My Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad would be a great fit!
Loose Meat Sandwiches
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 2 tbsp mustard
- ½ cup water
- In a large pan, melt butter on medium heat.
- Once the butter is melted, place the ground beef and diced onions in the pot and break up the beef as it cooks.
- Once the onions are softened and the beef is cooked through, add the remaining ingredients in the order listed.
- Stir the ingredients together and bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the liquid has cooked down. Mixture should be slightly wet.
- Serve on hamburger buns with ketchup, mustard, and pickles.
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