The Blue Mill Tavern Loosemeat Sandwich

Total Time
Prep 10 mins
Cook 20 mins

I've chosen to submit this recipe because the recipes found on this website for loosemeats, and on other websites, are not the original recipe. The loosemeat was created in 1924 at Ye Old Tavern-now Gus' Family Restaurant on 14th and Jackson St. in Sioux City, Iowa. Nowadays you will find the original sandwich served at Bob's Drive Inn on Hwy 75, LeMars, Iowa just a mile or so out of Sioux City, at The Tastee Inn and Out, on Gordon Drive and at Miles Inn on Leech Ave. among others. If you see a recipe for loosemeats that contains tomato juice-run! A loosemeat is a sloppy joe without the slop-so stay away from anything tomato-ey please! These little sandwiches are great for football parties, slumber parties, with a cold beer on a sunny summer day, or just anytime you want a real taste of Americana cooking that takes just a few minutes with very little cleanup. These are typical Iowa tavern fare. I loved these sandwiches so much when I was a kid and one day I ran into my Grandma's tavern and asked for my usual "tavern". They always came served with a thin sheet of restaurant paper under them. I was so eager I ate my sandwich half way gone before I realized I was eating the paper too:-) After cooking these in the kitchen they were transferred to a portable steamer. This is the original recipe for the little dudes that were served in the Midwest. I cannot account for changes or differences in flavor for other regions of the country, east or west. I learned to make my Grandma's version when I came to spend summers with her in Sioux City between 1958-65. She's the reason I've become a diehard foodie, a "from scratch" cook. My Grandma was a fearless woman who wasn't afraid to tread in unfamiliar waters. In so many ways food brings people together. I had no idea these little sandwiches would be so loved and bring such happiness to people. I've been so touched by the messages I've received from folks who've tried this recipe and then shared their memories w/me! Thanks!! And thank you Recipezaar for creating a place for us to come together and share with each other!

Ingredients Nutrition

  • 1 lb of real good ground chuck or 1 lb ground beef round or 1 lb ground sirloin
  • 1 tablespoon fat like lard (if meat is round or sirloin) or 1 tablespoon Crisco (if meat is round or sirloin)
  • 2 teaspoons salt, just enough to lightly cover bottom of your skillet
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • water, to cover
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Get out a cast iron skillet-they are the best for loosemeats-or other kind if you have no iron skillet.
  2. Melt fat over medium heat and lightly salt bottom of skillet.
  3. 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.
  4. Add chopped onion while browning meat.
  5. Keep working with the back of spoon to break up meat.
  6. When meat is browned, drain off any fat and return meat to skillet.
  7. Add mustard, vinegar, sugar, and just enough water to barely cover meat in the pan.
  8. Cook, at a simmer, till water is all cooked out-between 15-20 minutes.
  9. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Heat your hamburger buns-they're traditionally steamed for loosemeats-I like mine toasted lightly-do it the way you like it.
  11. When buns are warm, put yellow mustard on them and add some dill pickle slices-I put on lots!
  12. *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.
  13. Likewise, don't add any liquid smoke or Worcestershire sauce.
  14. Make them just like this the first time so you can sample the simplicity of this famous Midwestern treat.
  15. 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.
  16. Serve with homemade potato salad and chips or with my Easy Cheesy Potato recipe.


Most Helpful

YUMMM!! I don't remember how I came across this recipe but I am SO glad I did! Made as directed, including using the cast iron skillet, but didn't have any hamburger buns so I toasted some bread. I learned a little trick from Zaar Chef Evelyn/Athens about browning ground meat and it's the only way I do it now. When you think it's brown enough, cook another 5 minutes. When you think that's done, brown another 1-2 minutes. It gets the meat so carmelized and tastey, just like the crispy edges of a real diner burger. The combination of carmelized meat and the sauce was excellent topped with mustard and pickle. Can't wait to get some hamburger buns and do it again!!

SloppyJoe June 09, 2010

This is great! I am so over regular sloppy joe's and this is a totally new flavor for a change! I tasted this one from the time I added the water until it was simmered out and if you have a problem with your meat coming out flavorless it is because you need to simmer, simmer, then simmer some more until ALL of the water is gone and turned into a nice thick syrup coating over the meat. This is an "UN-sloppy joe" you should have NO water/liquid left! this is also the only way to make the meat soft and moist. The flavor truly does not show until the very last few minutes of simmering so keep going, it is worth the wait! sooooo goood!

Allie in Cali February 18, 2011

I've made this recipe several times over the years, and just wanted to say thanks!! I grew up in LeMars, the home of Bob's Drive Inn, where you can still get a tavern (as well as a cheese tavern with American cheese (yum!!) and hot dogs with tavern meat on them), and this recipe hits the mark. Good advice on breaking up the hamburger into really small pieces, which is absolutely key. And they taste the best when served with potato chips, no kidding! I've changed a couple of things on the recipe (don't drain the meat, as I use ground sirloin, don't use as much salt, and put in about a half tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce), but you should try the original recipe first and try not to add things that really change the taste, like garlic or liquid fire. Then you're turning a great American classic into something else! If you ever happen through LeMars, I would recommend stopping by at Bob's for a cheese tavern and hot dog "with and pickles". Hard to duplicate the magic they work there! :)

Gjoopiter June 09, 2011

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