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Easy 80-Year-Old Heirloom Spanish Hamburger Recipe

Kristin Kaldahl is an award-winning author, blogger and former journalist.

This Spanish hamburger recipe is absolutely delicious!

This Spanish hamburger recipe is absolutely delicious!

An Ancient Spanish Hamburger Recipe

This Spanish hamburger recipe handed down from my grandmother is at least 80 years old. My mother, who is in her mid-70s, remembers being fed these delicious and exceedingly simple Spanish hamburgers as a little girl. I also was fed these sloppy Joes as a child, and still make them to this day.

The ingredients for this surprisingly delicious recipe are found in almost every American home. That, combined with the fast prep and cook time, makes this recipe a fantastic "busy day" recipe. The cook of a family with a crowded schedule will appreciate the readily available ingredients and the "Under 30 Minutes" time frame for a hearty meal loved by adults and children alike.

Although the true name of this heirloom recipe is "Spanish hamburgers," other areas of the country may know them by the name "sloppy Joes." This recipe originates from my Grandma, who lived in Wisconsin. When I was a little girl, my mother told me Sloppy Joes were called Spanish Hamburgers in the North. I don't know if that's the case, but regardless of what you call this recipe, its everyday ingredients somehow transform into a delicious family meal.

Spanish hamburgers are also exceedingly kid-friendly. With ingredients that appeal to a child's more sensitive palate, Spanish hamburgers make the decision on what to cook to please all the family members a snap. This versatile dish can also be updated and changed to appeal to personal tastes.

With this recipe, your family will be eating history!

With this recipe, your family will be eating history!

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

10 min

20 min

30 min

5 servings

The simple ingredients of this 80-year-old recipe can be found in any fridge or pantry.

The simple ingredients of this 80-year-old recipe can be found in any fridge or pantry.

Ingredients for Spanish Hamburgers

  • 1 pound 85 percent or higher lean hamburger
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder, can add more or less to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • 3/4 cup water
  • Five or so hamburger buns or large crusty rolls

Photo Guide

Hamburger crumbled to a fine texture

Hamburger crumbled to a fine texture

Adding the chili powder and other ingredients

Adding the chili powder and other ingredients

Spanish hamburgers simmering to combine the flavors

Spanish hamburgers simmering to combine the flavors


  1. Put 1/4 cup of the water, chopped onion, and meat in a skillet. Cook mixture on high till brown working with a spoon or spatula to break hamburger apart till it has a fine crumbly texture. The finely crumbled hamburger is important to the recipe's success. (See photo above.)
  2. When the hamburger is very crumbled and cooked, add ketchup, mustard, chili powder, and the rest of the water (about 1/2 a cup) to the skillet. Let cook for a few minutes on high, and then lower the heat to medium or medium/low. Let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes, adding water if the mixture gets too dry. Stir occasionally. (See photo above.)
  3. Lightly toast hamburger buns if so desired.
  4. After 20 minutes, taste the meat mixture. Add in more chili powder and salt if needed.
  5. Spoon meat onto the hamburger bun and serve!
Ready for dinner?

Ready for dinner?

A Note on Nutrition

The below nutrition label was created using an online recipe calculator. The hamburger buns were included in the nutritional calculations.

The sodium content can be lowered by eliminating salt from the recipe and using low-salt ketchup.

Remember that any additions or subtractions to this basic recipe will change the nutritional information. If you wish to see the nutritional information for your variations to this Spanish Hamburger recipe, Google "recipe calculator," pick a website with a calculator, and insert the ingredients.

Change It Up!

This basic recipe is over 80 years old. It uses ingredients that were common in those days, but this recipe is also extremely versatile. You can update it to fit your taste by adding one or more "modern" ingredients.

Some ideas include adding peppers and chilies of any kind to give the recipe more of a peppery kick. I don't like eating a pepper, but I do love the flavor cooked peppers give to a dish. Often when cooking Sloppy Joes, I will add in huge chunks of Anaheim or jalapeno peppers and remove them after cooking. Then I get the delicious flavor the cooked pepper imparts to the meat without having to eat the peppers themselves.

Another option is to give more heat to the meat mixture by adding a very small amount of cayenne pepper spice or hot sauce. Beans can also be added to the meat mixture, although more ketchup, mustard, water, and chili powder will also need to be added for the extra mass.

For cheese lovers, the addition of cheese such as extra sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, plain old American, or even gourmet cheeses can add creamy goodness to your burger.

When my mother makes this recipe, she doesn't measure anything. It is all done to taste. Feel free to adjust this recipe to your tastes as well, adding more or less of any of the listed ingredients.

Do be careful of adding too much water. The final result should not be a watery, runny meat mixture, but a firm mixture that doesn't cause the hamburger bun to get soggy. If the mixture is too watery, just continue to simmer it till the water cooks off and the mixture reaches the desired consistency.

Aside from the above ideas, feel free to get creative with this dish by adding your own modern twist to this really old classic. Don't be scared. Experiment with your favorite ingredients!

Eating History

Take your family back in time with this almost century-old recipe. This kid-friendly meal is easy for the harried cook, and yet it also harkens back to a time before most of us can remember. With ingredients easily found in any pantry today, it will only take minutes to zoom back to the 1930s.

With this recipe, your family will be eating history!

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