Thursday, November 06, 2008

Navy minced beef

I received this email from a disabled Navy veteran the other day:
I would like the recipe for mince beef on toast for a family of 4. I loved that when I was in the Navy. I am now a disabled vet.

Thank you,
Billy G. Reeder
Before I print my scaled-down recipe, here's a bit of history on Navy minced beef. I last wrote on the topic two and one-half years ago here.

According to retired chief commissarymam Tom Selland, his ship only served chipped beef one time each year.

"The crew went up in arms," said Selland. Minced beef on toast was the SOS of choice for sailors.

"Minced beef was highly acceptable," said Selland. "They liked it a lot better than spinach quiche."

As you may guess, Selland said this with a smile on his face. To paraphrase a popular cliche from the 1970s: Real sailors didn't eat quiche in those days.

Minced beef is uniquely Navy. It was found in every Navy cookbook until the inception of the Armed Forces Recipe Service in 1969. In fact, the recipe for creamed beef doesn't appear in any Navy cookbook between 1940 and 1962.

Minced beef is prepared by adding ground beef to a tomato sauce, according to Selland. It’s cooked much like Army cooks prepared creamed beef. But it’s the of mace or nutmeg that made minced beef unique.

According the Navy’s 1962 recipe, the commissaryman braised ground beef and chopped onions in a copper -- that’s what commissarymen have called steam-jacketed kettles since the day’s of sail.

He then added flour to the meat and cooked the mixture until it browned. (Commissarymen stirred the meat mixture with large flat paddles called copper paddles.) He finished the dish by adding water, nutmeg or mace, salt and ground black pepper.

Like chipped beef or creamed beef, minced beef was served over toast points.

Selland learned to cook minced beef on his first ship, the USS Polaris (AF 11), as a seaman and commissaryman third class. He said that the chief commissaryman on the Polaris -- he couldn't remember his name -- taught the cooks to thicken the tomato sauce for the minced beef with cornstarch.

Instead of adding flour to the beef as it braised in the copper, the commissarymen on the Polaris added tomatoes, water, nutmeg or mace, salt and pepper to the copper. They thickened it with a cornstarch slurry. Selland continued to use this recipe throughout his career.


I scaled Armed Forces Recipe Service recipe No. 36 from 100 portions down to 5. It's the recipe I used on the USS Cocopa and USS Stein in the late 1970s.

On board ship, we would cooked the beef in a steam-jacketed kettle with the drain open. The fat drained off as we stirred the meat and onions. Cook beef with onions in its own fat until beef loses its pink color, stirring to break apart. Drain or skim off excess fat.

1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onions
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (15-ounce) can tomatoes, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground mace (or ground nutmeg)
1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 tablespoons water

Braise beef in its own fat with onions. Sprinkle flour over beef and continue cooking until flour is absorbed. Add tomatoes, spices and water. Stir to mix well. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Makes 5 (1-cup) or 10 (1/2-cup) portions.


  1. Hi Steve
    Thanks for the story on Navy Minced Beef. The first time I had Red SOS (That is what I called it) It was on a navy ship coming home Germany (I was in the Army 1959 to 1960) It was so good. I make the Army SOS (white) once in a while and I still enjoy it. Will try the Navy recipe. Thanks for bring back some great memories. Don Mason

  2. Just made creamed beef today. Thinking about making minced beef tomorrow. Forgot how good these recipes really are.

    1. Thanks William. I made creamed ground beef past week and served it over baked potatoes. It's still a favorite of mine as well. However, I never had much love for minced beef, nor did I like to prepare it on the ship.

  3. I loved the minced beer. I would cover my mess tray with it and used almost a whole loaf of bread.

    Uss SangrI La
    Uss Intrepid
    Uss Saratoga.