With my pregnant wife’s ground beef cravings continuing unabated, I went to the well of the Western Dubuque Marching Band Cook Book to find a recipe for Made Rites, a classic Iowa take on the sloppy joe.
The first time I ate a Made Right was at my mother-in-law’s. She made the beefy, oniony, ketchupy meat mixture and kept it warm in a crock pot until it was time to eat. Like a chili, the mixture improves with time and low heat, So Made Rites, I soon found, make frequent appearances at childrren’s birthday parties and other large family gatherings. And this makes me happy.
At first, I couldn’t tell what really made Made Rites any different than a sloppy joe. And for the longest time, I thought that calling it a Made Rite was no more than a regional nomenclature quirk, like pop versus soda. But, after making these at home and really thinking about the flavors, it seems like Made Rites are much more straight forward with a heavy ketchup flavor. Sloppy Joe’s, particularly of the Manwich variety, seem to have additional seasonings (maybe cumin? and/or possibly chili powder?).
Some quick internet research by my wife seemed to indicate that the difference between a Made Rite and a Sloppy Joe is the ketchup. Made Rites started out about 85 years ago, and these “loose meat sandwiches” became the flagship entree at what would become a small Iowan empire of fast food franchises. And they never ever used ketchup.
But every single Made Rite that I have ever had, whether it was at a niece’s birthday party or at the New Vienna Picnic, was thickly enriched with ketchup. And I mean thickly enriched. So if Made Rites don’t have ketchup, then why did everyone call these ketchupy versions by the same name?
It seems unlikely that an entire community of Iowans would suddenly and uniformly switch the Made Rite recipe without some sort of precedence. Plus, the recipe that I used was pulled from the Western Dubuque Marching Band Cook Book. That means the recipe is at least twenty years old, and it features ketchup – and a lot of it: an entire cup! How did this much ketchup get in the recipe?
The wikipedia site my wife found then pointed to two additional Made Rite sites: one from the Made-Rite Corporation (founded and based in Iowa) and one from Taylor’s Made Rites (also founded and based in Iowa). On the Taylor’s Made Rites website, the photo shows a loose meat sandwich that does not have ketchup. In fact, their website boasts that they have only recently relented in the request to have ketchup available on the counter. (Maybe they harbored anti-ketchup sentiments like Chicagoans and their hot dogs.)
The Made Rite Corporation’s photo from the website, however, is less clear. Maybe it has ketchup, maybe it doesn’t. It’s still loose meat. And it’s still served on a cakey white hamburger bun. But if the Made Rite Corp doesn’t use ketchup, how did it get in the WDMB CB recipe?
Further research by my wife (more wikipedia) circled the Made Rite back where we started – the sloppy joe. There, wikipedia claims that the Sloppy Joe is of disputed provenance, with some people thinking that it came from a bar in Florida, while others claim it began at a cafe in Sioux City, Iowa as an alternative to – you guessed it – the ketchupless Made Rite. If that is true, Made Rites versus Sloppy Joes are less like soda/pop and more like Manhattan/New England Clam Chowder. It comes down to the tomatoes.
So it turns out that, what I have been eating all these years may not really Made Rites but may actually have been Sloppy Joes. Or maybe this is just how the Made Rites were always made in Eastern Iowa. But regardless, they are delicious, no matter what you call them. (And if you give me a couple of beers, I will probably end up calling it a Ready Made).
Made Rites Recipe:
1. Brown it: 2lb hamburger meat with 1 diced onion.
2. Sauce it: add 1C ketchup, 1t mustard, and 1t chili powder
3. Eat it: slap it on a cakey white hamburger bun and eat. It’s messy, so the easiest way to do it is to scoop up a bunch in a serving spoon and then quicly place the bottom of the hamburger bun on top, flip it over, and then top with the top half of the bun.
I like pickles on the side and sometimes some neon yellow mustard on top. My wife prefers hers with sweet midgets. But in no way should you ever, ever toast the bun.