Guinea Grinder: Iowa State Fair Food

While I’m from the midwest (Illinois and Wisconsin), a large majority of my husband’s family is from, and still lives in Iowa. Every year they go to the Iowa State Fair, and last year we finally had the chance to join them. While there, my husband ate a sandwich from one of those fair carts called a “Guinea Grinder”.

Some Italians aren’t happy with the name as its origins date back to when Italian immigrants were called “guineas”. It’s considered a racial slur and some restaurants in Iowa have even changed the name of this sandwich to plain old “grinder”. I read somewhere that the word grinder refers to the act of grinding your teeth back and fourth to bite through the tough bread in the sandwich, which would also indicate they didn’t toast them early on. No matter what you call it, it’s really delicious and freezes well too!

Finding a recipe for Guinea Grinders on the internet wasn’t as easy as searching for something more widely known. Because this sandwich is really only found in Iowa, there aren’t a lot of search results for the recipe. There were a few different versions, but the one I chose was closest to the one my husband enjoyed at the fair. They offer it with or without Mozzarella cheese and sometimes with banana peppers. I opted for the cheese but left off the peppers to keep it family friendly for the kids. The recipe I found called for a French loaf, which is what I used here, but at the fair they used more of an bomber type bun.

ANOTHER DELICIOUS IDEA >>  Individual Tamale Pies

These were really good, easy to make, and as I mentioned, can be easily frozen. I did find that the reheated meat mixture seemed saltier after being frozen, so I would suggest adding a bit of water when warming it up the second time around. I also used shredded Mozzarella instead of sliced, which the original recipe calls for.

Guinea Grinders
Recipe from 30 Day Gourmet
printable version

This recipe makes 12 sandwiches. I made 6 and froze the other half for another meal. You could just cut this in half as well.

1 lb Italian sausage
1 lb ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
30 oz homemade pizza sauce (or jar pizza sauce)
4 loaves French bread, sliced in half horizontally
Mozzarella cheese, shredded

If sausage has casings remove them and crumble into pan with the ground beef. Brown both meats together until no longer pink. Drain fat.

ANOTHER DELICIOUS IDEA >>  Hot Hamburger Sandwiches

Mix the salt, pepper, garlic powder and pepper flakes into the pizza sauce.

Put the browned meat and the seasoned sauce into the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or on high for 1-2 hours, stir once or twice during cooking.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut the split French loaf into 3 separate sandwiches. Repeat with second loaf. If making all 12 servings, repeat with 3rd and 4th loaf.

Pull a small amount of bread out of the bottom of the loaf to make a bowl for the meat.

Fill the bowl with meat mixture.

Cover the meat mixture with shredded Mozzarella cheese.

Place the top of loaf onto the sandwich and wrap the entire thing in foil. Bake for 15 minutes in the oven and serve.

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  1. says

    Oh, I am drooling looking at your photo–I just want to take a big bite out of the sandwich! My three "kids" are home from college, so it's the perfect time to make this indulgent meal. (And I'll skip counting calories that day when I make it.) Your posting reminds me that I need to get my mom's meatballs posted on my site–already have the sauce and bread crumb components up there. I'm fairly new to the blogosphere–when I get my 60 recipes posted, count me in for the secret recipe club! I'm getting close. :-)

  2. Amber says

    Hi there!! Made these lastnight with a dinner roll type bun, came out very delish!! I didn't roll them individually with the foil, so the first batch had a harder bun, but the second batch was soft and good, the kiddo's enjoyed them alot!! Thanks!!

  3. andie jaye says

    now that's some real fair food right there!!! can't wait until we make the trip in a few weeks!! you've got some super yummy recipes on here! movin' on to the pizza on the grill next! yummy!

  4. Loy says

    These look wonderful. Do you think that if the bread was buttered first, that these could be put together and heated individually from the frozen state? I am including them in my Friday Finds this week. Thanks for posting.

  5. Heather says

    Love it. Being from the midwest too and we adore grinders. Will have to try this recipe out with your pizza sauce recipe.

  6. Jen H says

    Hello Amanda! I love this recipe! My ex husband is from Iowa and many years ago they put together one of those family cookbooks. After we divorced, I asked if he wanted this cookbook back and he said no. There is a recipe in there called "Hot Italian Sandwiches" and it is very, very similar to the one you posted. The only difference is they used all italian sausage and added basil!

    Still a delicious sandwich either way! Thanks for sharing so many great recipes!

  7. Lizzy says

    Your hubby's family is from Iowa???? I grew up in Ames and went to the U of IA in Iowa City. Where is he from? Great sandwich!

  8. Loy says

    I am back to say that I made these and found them very good. My husband approved. I have adapted the method to Taco and Sloppy Joe fillings and am posting about that on my blog on Sunday. I have 3 of the Guinea Grinders in my freezer to test out freezing them and reheating. Thanks for a great idea.

  9. Amanda says

    h yes, lots of Formaro's in Iowa! :)

    @Loy – so glad you liked them! I agree, a nice alternative for sloppy joes too!

  10. DeedlesDish says

    LOVE this post! As an Iowa native, you officially made me hungry for home! Can't wait to try and thanks for sharing.

  11. Kirstie says

    I am so shocked to find this recipe on this blog! Idk why, but I thought mine was the only family to make these anymore(;
    My mom used to make these for me(she's from Iowa) and we all loved them, now I make them for my husband and I and it's one of our favorite meals!
    so glad to see this on here!

  12. Anonymous says

    I originally from Des Moines and grew up with these sandwiches. In fact a family I grew up with owns the stand at the Iowa State Fair. It is impossible to find one of these sandwiches in Chicago. They have never heard of a guinea grinder sandwich. I haven't found a good recipe yet, but yours seems to have the right ingredients, so I will try it. There are still some good places in Des Moines that you can get them. Chucks on 6th Ave, The La Pizza House on SE 14th, but the best I've had is at The Tavern on 5th St. in West Des Moines.

  13. Amanda says

    Oh thanks for that info on the restaurants! I'm in southeast WI and they certainly don't have them here either. of course you can't find a good Italian Beef in New York either, they don't even know what it is! LOL Regional food, gotta love it!

  14. Anonymous says

    I also use the meat&sauce, add onions and jalapeno slices, and use it on pizza. Add mozz. and it is amazing!!!

  15. Clark Cook says

    I have been making these for years.I grew up in clear lake Iowa. I moved out east 10 years ago and have been bringing these to work now and then. People even love them out here.I work with a few Italians.I get to poke a little fun with them every time i make them and they snag a tooth on one. Best eats out there :-)

  16. Nadine says

    I’m from Iowa! Another basic, easy way to make these is with straight Italian sausage (Graziano’s if you’re on the south side of Des Moines) mixed with velveeta cheese and pizza sauce. No need to dig out the bread, we like em as messy as we can get em!!! Place that mozza cheese on the top, wrap in foil and kick em in the oven (or grill) 20 minutes or so. I prefer mine with a generous amount of jalapenos! So many ways to make a Guinea Grinder. The State Fair calls them Jenny Grinders too!

  17. Paul Isham says

    A real grinder has cooked sweet bell peppers, salami, ham, lettuce,
    oil, vinegar on a french roll! NO ground beef!

  18. Craig says

    Paul must be from out East…

    Ground Italian sausage (Graziano’s) is the way it’s done around here … thus the ‘Grinder’ label … Los Compadres had the best and biggest around … Anyone who hasn’t had Graziano’s Italian Sausage is really missing out.

    The Iowa State Fair just happens to be going on right now … I’m hungry and may have to go tonight and get this grinder and one from the booth right across from it to take home … Both booths have been right across from each other for years.

    Thanks for making me hungry Amanda

    BTW, I know a lot of Formaro’s … are you related to the chef by any chance?

    • says

      Hi Craig! Hope you made it over to the fair, I wasn’t able to attend this year and miss it! I’m not sure if we are related to George Formaro or not. I would imagine that the Formaro’s all stem back from the same immigrants and I definitely have relatives in the Des Moine area (my mother in law and her family all live there and several people from my FIL’s side as well). I am Facebook friends with Chef George, but we don’t know each other and don’t talk on FB, it’s just kind of “there”. I would love to not only meet him, but actually have a chance to sit and talk food with him. I’ve found such a connection with other foodies! I’m sure George gets plenty of fan mail and tons of Formaro’s claiming to be relatives and maybe hoping to cash in on his success. I don’t ever want him to view me that way, so I pretty much keep my distance. There’s a black sheep side of the Formaro family, some of which my husband was definitely related to LOL so I’m sure that George is cautious about who he talks to or gets to know. Maybe someday I’ll have the opportunity!

  19. hawkeyeui93 says

    Amanda: For what it is worth, Chef Formaro seems pretty accessible and if you ever get a chance to try your recipe with Graziano’s Hot Sausage, you will see why others have made mention of it. Now, you need to teach everyone how to make another Iowa/Illinois/Indiana favorite: The Pork Tenderloin Sandwich.

      • hawkeyeui93 says

        Amanda: Oops, I didn’t see it! I moved back to Iowa about six years ago after more than a decade in Texas and you don’t realize all of the local variations of foods you once enjoyed can be locked into the small geographical area where you grew up. When I made Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches for my friends in Texas they thought it was a crazy concept … that is, until they actually tried it!

        • says

          I totally agree with you! When I moved to Vegas I missed so many things. Like here we have the Italian Beef and Bratwursts. Finally places started popping up to fill the need from restaurants entrepreneurs that used to live out here and had moved there. It’s funny though. I had a friend out there that was from New York. She had no idea what an Italian Beef was, and she would tell me how she would get a buttered roll for breakfast from the bakery every morning. I was clueless. LOL!

  20. says

    Thank you sooooo much for posting this recipe. I have been looking and keeping my eyes out for a real grinder recipe like they make em at the Iowa State Fair. I am an ex carnie … and besides the nightly fireworks, the awesome steak dinner vendor and grinders… thats just a whirlwind of awesome memories!! Thank you and God Bless I am so happy to be able to share these with my family now!!

  21. Shawn says

    I’m an Iowa girl and I love grinders and tenderloins and both are extremely easy to make. The grinders here are in keeping with the state fair ones but if you want a traditional, true to the past “guinea” grinder you need both Italian sweet and hot green peppers, sweet onion, and roasted garlic all chopped and added to the meat when cooked. Don’t forget to top with Provolone and Parmesan, then wrap and bake. YUM.. they are a whole new world of flavor.
    Tenderloins are too easy too. Take a boneless loin from your meat department and have them cut it into 3/4 inch thick “chops”, you’ll get between 12 to 16 depending on how big your loin is. Place your chop on a cutting board or a surface that you can pound it on without damaging your counter. Pound it out to the size of a tea saucer or a bit bigger, I use my iron skillet but mom uses a meat tenderizer mallet. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside. Meanwhile grind saltine crackers to almost powdery consistency, add pepper to taste to your crackers. Beat 2 eggs for every four loin slices and dip each loin in the egg, being sure to cover both sides well, then press into the crackers until well covered. Fry in vegetable oil that is preheated to 350 or until a cracker crumb bubbles when dropped in the oil. Brown on both sides until juices run clear, add your choice of toppings and bun.

  22. Annunziata says

    Just found your “Amanda’s Cookin’ site while looking for info on Guinea Grinders. You state that “because this sandwich is really only found in Iowa…” That’s not true. I’m Italian and grew up in Hartford, Connecticut where we ate “Guinea Grinders” all the time. This was back in the ’50’s. These absolutely wonderful sandwiches were made up, pretty much, of anything Italian, i.e.: Ham, salami, mozzarella, provolone, sweet red peppers, tomatoes, you name it. Never knew why they were called Guinea Grinders. I knew the “Guinea” part had to do with Italians, but that was all I knew. Don’t know the origin of “Guinea”. Now I know the “grinder” part. Makes sense.

  23. Tom Sacco says

    It’s not so much State Fair Food as it is Italian food sold at the state fair.

    When was this article written? I ask because I’m pretty sure the word Guinea vanished from food stands at the
    Iowa State Fair in the 1990’s. Calling it a grinder is fine; it’s Guinea that makes it an insult.
    With the last name of Formaro, I would think you’d be more enlightened about this.

    Check out urban for more – -as they define Guinea, “The most vile racial slur that can be used against an Italian-American.”

    PS: I feel sorry for “white people” who can’t whip up stuff like this w/out a recipe. I guess it’s just in my Guinea blood!

    • says

      Hi Tom, the article was written in 2011. When I visited the state fair in 2010 there was a stand there calling them Guinea Grinders. I know this, because I had never heard of them before that moment. And yes, I have the last name of Formaro, but only by marriage. I am not Italian by blood, I am British. Thanks for your comments.

  24. Christine says

    I am from Des Moines the grinder place at the fair is called Jenny’s grinders. They now have a little place open on Hubbell. She uses graziano sausage and rotella’s hoagies. This recipe sounds really good cant wait to try it out. Thanks

  25. Sally Knox says

    Hi Amanda and thanks for the recipe and all the interesting comments. I have known these sandwiches as Guinea Grinders. As a simple Iowa girl, I truely didn’t know that Guinea referred negatively to Italians. The only Guinea I knew was the country and the noisy birds that live down the road from us! Ha. I’ve lived in the Des Moines, Iowa area for 33 years and my original Guinea Grinder recipe came from an elderly Italian woman I cared for… and she called them Guinea Grinders. It’s a wonderful sandwich and I’m making them this weekend for the family. Always a big hit. (ps… she chopped the peppers and onions fine and added them to the meat mixture) Sally

  26. Tom Day says

    My Italian barber out here in Massachusetts just mentioned “guinea grinders” to me yesterday. While the name “guinea” is a slur, I think there are a lot of Italians who jokingly use it themselves and don’t consider it particularly vile. Out here, a grinder is any sandwich made on a long loaf of bread, what is known elsewhere as a sub or hoagie. So, calling it simply a “grinder” would give no info as to what’s in the sandwich.
    What my barber described was a long loaf of Italian bread stuffed with salami, prosciutto, other Italian cold cuts, provolone cheese, and olive oil. Basically what I have always called an “Italian Grinder”. Anyhow, just thought I’d chime in with this regional variation on the “guinea grinder”. The above recipe sounds delicious.

    • says

      Thanks Tom! I think that slang changes over the years and racial slurs turn into slang. I think there are still some of the old school generation that are offended by it, but my husband is Italian and it doesn’t bother him one bit. I appreciate you stopping by!

  27. brett west says

    Amanda,I grew up in the central Iowa area,and absolutely love guinea grinders.Iowa is a pork state,they also make great tenderloins.I never had any idea what guinea meant in the name of the sandwich,so to me it is not a racial slur,some people need to not be so sensitive.Anyway thanks for the recipe,im not sure it will be the same without good Iowa Italian sausage but Im definately going to make some.

  28. Hollie says

    These are sooo good! Loved them. My boyfriend has been talking about Guinea Grinders since we met 2 years ago, and I finally made these to try them–will definitely be added to my recipe box! Thanks!

  29. Chris Thomas says

    I remember these from when I was a child in New York City. There was a an old guy on the boardwalk at Coney Island that used to sell the best Guinea Grinders in Brooklyn; well seasoned, sauced and smothered with fresh mozzarella, all on a fresh Italian sub roll, and then popped under the salamander until melted and bubbly.
    I made these the other night for my wife and I. I made my own Italian bread as well. It’s apparent that no one in SC knows how to make anything other then this soft, mushy, no body, tasteless concoction that they call bread; and they can’t make a crispy crust either: Same with bagels. Yuch!
    Shame on you, French bread for Guinea Grinders? You’ll have to go to Confession for that.
    God bless.

    • says

      Ha ha Chris, well you use what’s available to you. Italian bread at the stores here is really too wide for a sandwich. The french bread is narrow and the perfect size. :) Stores here have mastered the crispy crust though, I have to give them that! ;-)

      • Chris Thomas says

        Have you ever had a “Spiedie?” Spiedies are indigenous to the Binghamton, NY, area; heavy Italian influence up there. It’s really old world Italian and was introduced to the US around the very early 1900’s.
        It’s usually cubed beef or lamb that is marinated for a long time in a special marinade; the pro’s marinate it for up to 2 weeks. Then it’s skewered and cooked over a charcoal fire. Some of the vendors cover the meat with smoked Provolone for the last minute. Then take a split 6”-8” Italian sub roll and use it to pull the meat off the skewers and onto the roll. Sprinkle it with some fresh marinade or Italian dressing, some Italian herbs, and you have a Spiedie.
        In the 70’s a guy named Salamida introduced Spiedies and his sauce at the NY State Fair. It’s been popular ever since, and he’s even bottled the stuff, “Salamida Original State Fair Spiedie Sauce.”
        I use the sauce to marinate a lot of stuff; chicken and veggies for the grill are our favorites. We’ve found it down here, in SC, in Piggly-Wiggly, Publix and Bi-Lo.

  30. Deborah Lake says

    Tried this recipe and it was wonderful. I made my own pizza sauce using the same spices plus fennel seed and a little sugar. The only problem I encountered was removing the sandwich from the tin foil. I might try a little Pam to counter act that. But over all, a great guinea grinder.

  31. Steve DePhillips says

    Story goes people complained about the guinea and they changed to Jennie Grinder after my Grandma Jennie DePhillips who had been making them for years and actually put a patent on Guinea Grinder name back in the 40s
    The drive in on Hubbell in Des Moines is now called Jennie’s original Guinea Grinder now. It’s a long family recipie and I’ve been eating them for as long as I can remember but just isn’t the same as Grandmas. Love and miss you.
    And Amanda we may be distant cousins.
    But then all of us Italians are related aren’t we.

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