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Maid-Rite Loose Meat Sandwich

By Todd Wilbur

Score: 4.38. Votes: 53
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It's been an Iowa tradition since 1926, and today this sandwich has a huge cult following. It's similar to a traditional hamburger, but the ground beef is not formed into a patty. Instead, the lightly seasoned meat lies uncompressed on a white bun, dressed with mustard, minced onion, and dill pickles. Since the meat is loose, the sandwich is always served with a spoon for scooping up the ground beef that will inevitably fall out.

When this clone recipe for Maid-Rite was originally posted on our Web site several years ago, it elicited more e-mail than any recipe in the site's history. Numerous Midwesterners were keyboard-ready to insist that the clone was far from accurate without the inclusion of a few bizarre ingredients, the most common of which was Coca-Cola. One letter states: "You evidently have not ever had a Maid-Rite. The secret to the Maid-Rite is coke syrup. Without it you cannot come close to the taste." Another e-mail reads: "Having lived in the Midwest all of my life and knowing not only the owners of a Maid-Rite restaurant but also many people who worked there, I can tell you that one of the things you left out of your recipe is Coca-Cola. Not a lot, just enough to keep the meat moist."

On the flip side, I received comments such as this one from an Iowa fan who lived near Don Taylor's original Maid-Rite franchise: "The secret to the best Maid-Rite is the whole beef. Don had a butcher shop in his basement where he cut and ground all his beef. Some people still swear they added seasoning, but that is just not true. Not even pepper."

Back in my lab, no matter how hard I examined the meat in the original product—which was shipped to me in dry ice directly from Don Taylor's original store in Marshalltown, Iowa—I could not detect Coca-Cola. there's no sweetness to the meat at all, although the buns themselves seem to include some sugar. When the buns are chewed with the meat, the sandwich does taste mildly sweet. I finally decided that Coca-Cola syrup is not part of the recipe. If it is added to the meat in the Maid-Rite stores, it's an insignificant amount that does not have any noticeable effect on the flavor.

Also, the texture is important, so adding plenty of liquid to the simmering meat is crucial. This clone recipe requires 1 cup of water in addition to 1/4 cup of beef broth. By simmering the ground beef in this liquid for a couple hours the meat will tenderize and become infused with a little flavor, just like the real thing.

When the liquid is gone, form the ground beef into a 1/2 cup measuring scoop, dump it onto the bottom of a plain hamburger bun, then add your choice of mustard, onions, and pickles. Adding ketchup is up to you, although it's not an ingredient found in Maid-Rite stores. Many say that back in the early days "hobos" would swipe the ketchup and mix it with water to make tomato soup. Free ketchup was nixed from the restaurants way back then, and the custom has been in place ever since.

Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • 1 pound lean ground beef (15% fat is best)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 plain hamburger buns
  • Yellow mustard
  • Minced white onion
  • Dill pickle slices
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    • Instructions

      1. Brown the ground beef in a large skillet with a lid over medium/low heat. Use a potato masher to help get the ground beef into small pieces. Drain any excess fat. If you use lean meat (15% fat or less) you won't need to drain the fat. As soon as all the pink in the meat is gone, add the water, beef broth, and salt. Cover the meat and simmer for 2 hours, or until all the liquid is gone, stirring every 10 minutes or so. If the liquid is not gone after 2 hours, continue cooking the meat uncovered until the liquid is gone.
      2. Build each sandwich by pressing the hot ground beef into a 1/2 cup measuring cup. Dump the meat onto the bottom of a plain hamburger bun. Add mustard to the top half of the bun, along with minced onion and pickles if desired. Put the sandwich together, and heat it up in your microwave oven for 10 to 15 seconds to warm the buns. Serve with a spoon as they do in the restaurants.
      Makes 4 sandwiches.

Average rating:

Score: 4.38. Votes: 53
Rating of votes (53)
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Lori Oostendorp
Jun 26, 2019, 11:04

I worked at a Maid Rite shop for a few months as a cook years back. They used really good ground beef and only added salt, half as much celery salt, and pepper to the meat as it cooked, being squashed and manipulated between two large spatulas to break it up. No broth, no sugar, no coke syrup, nothing but the salts and pepper.

Steve Wald
Jun 25, 2019, 18:18

Like you, I have never tasted any hint of sweetness or many of these ingredients. I actually was at their corporate store in Des Moines several years ago watching them prepare it. I know for a fact that they have a proprietary seasoning blend packaged for them. I haven't seen the entire cooking process, but they cooked their product in was appeared to be a large wok-style piece of equipment (but not a steam table like I have seen) and as the meat was browning, they used an actual hand mixer to separate the pieces. Anyway, I think your recipe will hit the nail on the head when people try it. I think that I'll try it in a slow cooker to help break apart any remaining sinew and the connective tissue, which really helps it get to the small pieces that most people like. Anyway, great recipe!!

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