Iowa Loosemeats

4 STOPS | 258 MILES | 4 hr 5 min

Loosemeats, the Iowa treat, has all kinds of aliases, including tavern, tastee, Big T, and Charlie Boy. Years ago when sit-com comedienne Roseanne Arnold opened her Big Food Diner over in Eldon out Ottumwa way, journalists unfamiliar with Iowa cuisine made a fuss over the fact that her menu did list loosemeats, a name that to outsiders sounds vaguely taboo. According to Marcia Poole, food writer at the Sioux City Journal, folks in Siouxland were righteously angry about Roseanne calling it that. “The other side of Des Moines, it should be called a Maid-Rite,” Marcia told us, referring to the eponymous name for the similar sandwich and the chain of restaurants that serves it, mostly between Des Moines and Dubuque. “Loosemeats are ours alone.” Whatever you call it, loosemeats is similar to sloppy Joe: ground beef that is cooked loose – unpattied – and seasoned and drained but sauceless. Compared to a hamburger it does have a scattered character, and yet the pebbly beef can hold together nearly as well as sticky rice when gathered up with an ice cream scoop and positioned on the bottom half of a burger bun. It is customarily dressed with pickle, mustard, and a slice of cheese – a remix of the cheeseburger with fragmented harmony. It is a food spoken of with singular/plural ambivalence. Usually one sandwich is a loosemeats; a batch in the kitchen or a bowlful without the bun are loosemeats.


Bob’s Drive-Inn

Bob’s superb Iowa loosemeats are browned ground beef, strained of fat, then pressure-cooked with sauce and spice, piled into a bun with pickles and cheese.


Miles Inn

In Northwest Iowa, taverns (loosemeats) are more popular than burgers. They're at their best at the Miles Inn, which calls them Charlie Boys.


Tastee Inn & Out

Tastee Inn & Out is a drive-in serving the northwest Iowa beef sandwich known as a loosemeats, plus delicious fried onion chips with creamy dipping sauce.



Maid-Rite sandwich shops throughout Iowa serve the unglamorous but addictive version of the ground-beef sandwich Midlands folk know as a loosemeats.