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Culinary Misadventures with Brian-The Loose Meat Sandwich

What the hell are y’all doing?

Iowa Loose Meat Sandwiches Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Hello, and welcome to Culinary Misadventures with me, Brian, where we tackle the age old question of, what the hell is Midwestern cuisine and how on earth do those crazy discount Canadians enjoy it? In this first installment of Culinary Misadventures (and likely the last, because I am not putting myself through this again) our dark path to enlightenment brings us to the loose meat sandwich. The loose meat sandwich is apparently popular in a region the locals there refer to as “Iowa”, and is perhaps most associated with a chain of diners there called “Maid-Rite”. (More like Maid-Wrong! ZING!)

The loose meat sandwich, on paper, appears to be an abomination brought upon this earth by Mesperyian herself to torture our naturally pure souls.

Now, I could sit back in awe and disgust, trying to understand why mid-westerners seemingly enjoy such a thing, but nay, it is about time I put my sandwich (?) where my mouth is, because, you know, that is where one generally puts sandwiches.

Some of you may be asking what a loose meat sandwich is, more on that later. For all intents and purposes, it is a ground beef sandwich on a bun, but fear not, the rabbit hole goes much deeper and becomes much more nightmarish than that.

Three bunnies
Wait, whats this about a rabbit hole sandwich?

What’s in a Name?:

In this case, everything. I know one shouldn’t judge a sandwich by its cover, but what the hell appetite am I supposed to conjure when the terms “loose” and “meat” are thrown in my face. Why didn’t they, whoever “they” are, just go all the way and call is a loose meaty moist boi. What is the origin of said meat? Why is it loose? Who let it out? The Baha Men? Oh god, is “loose” meat another term for “dog” meat. The mind races. (I know, I know, it is also referred to as a tavern sandwich, but for my purposes it isn’t, so shut up).

Suggested Alternatives:

  • Not-so-Sloppy Joe
  • Soggy McCrumbly Burger, Hold the Cheese
  • Ned’s Blanders
  • Please Dill Me
  • Additional Assembly Required

The Inspiration:

You see, I am an esteemed member of the private and official Hamms Beer and Pabst Blue Ribbon Facebook groups, because of course I am. These elite cultural ensembles are primarily populated by, what I would assume to be, people that pronounce “soda” and/or “coke” as “pop”. Here, people are free to share all of their thoughts on all things PBR and all things Hamms...which generally boils down to one of four things:

  1. The “Hey! look how cheap the Hamms is at the Meijer in Muskegon” posts.
  2. The “Hey! look how much Hamms I bought at the Meijer in Muskegon!” posts.
  3. The “Hey! look how much Hamms I drank when I got home from the Meijer in Muskegon!” posts.
  4. And the “Look at this delicious dinner I prepared to pair with my Hamms” posts.

Today, we are only concerned with the latterest of the latters. Generally, posts of this nature are filled with pictures of over grilled meats, paired with poorly chopped potatoes, or perhaps various tubed meats boiled in beer. Things no self respecting person would eat, but at least, foods that are mildly recognizable and familiar. That was until one evening I stumbled upon this...

Captioned, “Open faced loose meat sandwich and Hamms”

“What the fuck is that!?” I screamed aloud. Before this moment, I had never even heard the words “loose” and “meat” used in the same sentence. What is this culinary monstrosity? What is this man eating it off of, an old hub cap? Is it at all possible that it tastes good? Knowing it had to be of mid-western origin, I went to my friends at OTE to seek answers.

Stew: They’re awful and I hate that they’re associated. It’s not forgettable in how very forgettable it is.

MCClap: I realize these ingredients combined do not gross me out. But this grosses me out.

Beez: So it’s an open face ground beef sandwich?

BenD: [Everything] is wrong about mid-westerners.

Bman31: Never go full Iowa.

With these reactions in tow, I knew I had to try one for myself, and without any Maid-Rites within a 10 hour radius, I would have to create the loose meat sandwich in my own kitchen. And thus, our adventure begins.

The Journey:

First, and foremost, I poured myself a tall, strong beer in the most annoying glass I could find, because if I was going to eat like a mid-westerner, than I had to be as drunk as one. I chose a beer from New York because I don’t like to cooperate with themes.

Pray for me Squirtle Jesus

Well, actually, the first thing I did was go to the store, to acquire certain additional ingredients I would need to put together an authentic product. You see, I don’t keep things like yellow mustard in my house, because I am an adult. I did consider, for a time, actually getting intoxicated first, then heading to the store to jovially invite all passers by to my “Loose Meat Coming Out Party”, but I thought better of it.

This sandwich is as ugly as my backsplash.

I could go in to great detail about how I prepared my loose meat sandwich, but my goodness, I inexplicably browned some ground beef in water, and added mustard, onions, and brown sugar...that is pretty much all there is to it. I kept my sandwich close faced, unlike my inspiration, because I am f’kin civilized. You think I would eat a friggin’ heaping plate of bread and ground beef...okay, maybe I would.

Any additional detail and I risk becoming a food blogger, and I am just not quite ready to hit rock bottom yet. You see, there exist five tiers of amateur internet writing.

  1. 404
  2. Vampire-Based Fan Fiction Writers
  3. Sports Bloggers
  4. Anyone who has ever participated in a Reddit thread
  5. Food Bloggers

So yea, if you want to read about how Francis found his inspiration to create a pumpkin chowder on a brisk December morn while vacationing at Jackson Hole, you can go elsewhere.

In general I followed this recipe:

You can all tell me in the comments about how this is the worst recipe for a loose meat sandwich you’ve ever seen, and how I did everything all wrong.

Result A: Authentic Mid-Western Poop

I should be a food stylist y’all.

Method: I used Maid-Rites website in an effort to keep things as authentic as possible. I left the bun untoasted, as it does not appear toasted in the images on their site.

Sadly my milk-shake machine was broken.

Toppings: Again, using Maid Rites website as a guide, I kept the toppings traditional. Yellow mustard, ketchup, and dill pickles.

Serving Style: On a cheap paper plate, garnished with an old Chipotle napkin. It is my assumption that all mid-westerners eat their meals this way. Unfortunately I could not find Hamms at my local beer store. Double unfortunately they only sold PBR in cases of thirty. Triple unfortunately I was not about to work my way through thirty PBRs. So I simply had to chug a Mountain Dew after I finished eating, because it is my assumption that all mid-westerners end their meals this way.

Verdict: Is it terrible? No. Is it good? Definitely not. It’s just a bland goopy mess. I don’t, at all, understand the addition of water to the pan as ground beef is generally quite fatty. I was worried that cooking beef with yellow mustard and brown sugar would create a funky taste, but you really don’t notice it. I don’t generally like dill pickles all that much, but they were welcome here, as it was the only textured/flavorful thing involved in this experiment.

I probably should have made it open-faced, as it pretty much falls apart in your hands anyway. The bottom bun immediately loses all integrity and you’re just stuck with a soggy bread, tasteless ground beef mess on your plate that you have to scrounge around in with your fingers like a desperate idiot.

This has to be generally favored by the very young and the very elderly, right? No one between the ages of 14-75 actually eats these on a regular basis, right? I digress... generally I would make some sort of joke here, but eating this sandwich has drained me of all motivation, and most of my humanity.

Overall: 5/10, it won’t kill you, but there are an infinite number of better uses for a pound of ground beef.

Result B: Salvage-Me Sandwich

In an effort to not waste an entire pound of ground beef, I decided to spruce things up a bit.

Method: First, this time I lightly toasted the bun, in an effort to provide some stability. Then I mixed the ground beef with a bit of Old Bay hot sauce. I would have used a different hot sauce, but:

  • I am not too well versed at gussying up loose meat sandwiches. I am not even sure if hot sauce is the right answer, but it certainly isn’t the wrong answer.
  • This is OTE so I have to be needlessly contrary and mention Old Bay at all costs.

Toppings: Swapped out the ketchup and yellow mustard for some mayo on the bottom bun and some spicy brown on top. Then I melted a slice of American Cheese on it all, because...ummm, I am not wasting real cheese on this. I actually left the pickle element, but opted to chop them up a bit to better incorporate it into the ground beef slop.

Serving Style: Inside an Old Bay Hot Sauce lined martini glass, perched atop an Old Bay seasoned plate, because that is how all Marylanders eat all of their meals (The plate is for dessert!)

Verdict: Is it better? Well, yes. Do I want to try this again? Not really. The hot sauce is lost, the cheese and real mustard is a notable upgrade. Toasting the bun helped slightly, but this is still not a meal that can be consumed with any iota of class. At the end of the day you’re still left with a meal the consists primarily of ground beef and bread. Some people may enjoy such simple pleasures, but those people are wrong.

Anyway, join us next week, where I tackle “Midwestern drunk Ramen”

On second thought, HELL NO.

Oh Yeah, This is an Iowa Hate Piece:

  • Uh, your Steelers rip-off jerseys are dumb
  • I’ve never been to Iowa, so take that!
  • Fran McCaffery is angry
  • Kirk Ferentz is not so surprisingly racist
  • You eat f’king loose meat sandwiches

God Dammit, this makes me a food blogger now, doesn’t it.