Rochester-Style Garbage Plate Recipe

Step into Rochester, New York, and you'll discover a dish that embodies the spirit of this unique city like no other: the Rochester-style garbage plate, brought to us now by recipe developer Patterson Watkins. A beloved local treasure, the garbage plate is a comforting and indulgent medley of flavors and textures that has been satisfying appetites and bringing communities together for generations. As Watkins describes, it's "the ultimate drunk food fodder for when bad decisions seem good."

But don't let the name fool you; this dish is far from "garbage." On the contrary, it's a masterpiece of seemingly clashing elements, harmoniously combined on a single plate. Whether you're a lifelong resident of the Flour City or just passing through, preparing and savoring a garbage plate is a rite of passage and a delicious initiation into Rochester's culinary heritage. From perfectly seasoned ground meat and golden fries to creamy macaroni salad and a dollop of zesty "hot sauce," get ready to embark on a flavorful journey that pays homage to this iconic dish and the city that holds it dear.

Gather your Rochester-style garbage plate ingredients

To make this dish, you can start by gathering your ingredients. You'll need quite a few things for the classic Rochester "hot sauce," including olive oil, ground beef, yellow onion, garlic, chili powder, ground cumin, light beer, canned crushed tomatoes, yellow mustard, baked beans (stay with us here), salt, and pepper. For topping and pairing, you'll need ketchup, butter, and white bread. 

You'll also want to grab some french fries, as well as pre-prepared macaroni salad, cheeseburger patties, and hot dogs — Watkins says the drive-thru is perfectly acceptable for those last few items. Or, if you're making your garbage plate at a house party, we'd recommend doing what the locals do and ordering these ingredients by delivery.

Make the Rochester hot sauce

While the name may conjure up images of Tabasco and Frank's Red Hot, this hot sauce is something else entirely. Watkins describes the condiment as "not spicy, but more of a sweet-savory, beer-soaked, beef-bean-chili concoction — almost like a souped-up chili dog topping."

To make this chili, brown the ground beef in a saucepan with olive oil before adding the onion, garlic, chili powder, and cumin. Saute these ingredients for about 1 minute, then add the beer and simmer everything for 10 minutes. Once the sauce has reduced, add the tomato sauce, mustard, and baked beans. Bring this mixture to a simmer and continue to cook until the mixture has thickened, stirring frequently, which takes about 10 more minutes. Make sure to season to taste with salt and pepper.

Beans, while included by Rochester's official tourism agency in its breakdown of the city's famed garbage plate, is not a frequent inclusion, and may raise the eyebrows of some locals. But Watkins grabs the can not just for the beans, but also for the seasoning that comes with them. Rochester hot sauce's sweet-savory appeal is accented by warm spices like cinnamon, clove, and allspice — all of which are flavor notes you'll find in baked beans. "I wanted to lean into those sweeter, 'baking spicy' flavors canned baked beans provide without expanding the already expansive ingredient list," Watkins explains. "A semi-homemade shortcut, if you will."

Top the fries with macaroni salad, cheeseburgers, and hot dogs

Now, you can begin to assemble the garbage plate. If your fries aren't fresh from the drive-thru, bake your frozen ones according to package directions. Then, lay out the fries on a large platter and top them with dollops of macaroni salad. And because this dish is all about indulgence, add the cheeseburgers and hot dogs — yes, whole — on top of the macaroni salad.

In Rochester, you may find hot dogs distinguished as either red hots or white hots. White hots, according to the region's reigning meat purveyor Zweigle's, are a combination of pork, beef, and veal. Unlike the franks you see most anywhere else in the United States, white hots aren't smoked or cured, so they take on a white hue (as the name suggests) instead of the pinkish red you might be thinking of. Outside of Rochester, white hots can be tricky to find, so we settled on red hots — aka the hot dogs you'll find in more grocery stores. 

Finish off the dish

Now, it's time to crown this tray of Rochester royalty. Spoon the "hot sauce" over the entire dish as best you can, then drizzle ketchup and mustard over the top. Make sure you have a crowd ready to help you finish the masterpiece, as an assembled garbage plate doesn't make great leftovers. When you're ready to feast, Watkins recommends serving this dish with the classic accompaniment: white bread and butter. Why? As Watkins posits, "It is much tastier than a napkin."

Rochester-Style Garbage Plate Recipe
4.8 from 101 ratings
This classic Rochester creation combines classic drinking foods, from burgers and hot dogs to fries and chili, into one tasty mess.
Prep Time
Cook Time
Rochester-style garbage plate
Total time: 40 minutes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces ground beef
  • ¼ cup minced yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup light beer
  • ⅔ cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 (15 ounce) can baked beans
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 (28-ounce) bag frozen hand cut-style or classic cut french fries
  • 12 ounces prepared macaroni salad
  • 4 cooked cheeseburger patties
  • 4 cooked hot dogs (red hots and/or white hots), whole or sliced
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 4 slices white bread
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  1. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the ground beef and cook until browned, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, chili powder, and cumin to the pan. Cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
  3. Add beer to the pan, stir to combine, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the beer has reduced by half.
  4. Add the tomatoes, mustard, and baked beans, bring back to a simmer, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Once the sauce has thickened, season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm until you're ready to assemble your garbage plates.
  6. Meanwhile, cook fries according to package instructions. Once cooked, transfer to a large serving platter.
  7. Top fries with macaroni salad, then nestle the cheeseburgers and hot dogs into the macaroni salad and fries, spacing them out as evenly as possible.
  8. Spoon the warm hot sauce evenly over the garbage plate, drizzle with ketchup and mustard, and serve right away with white bread and pats of butter on the side.
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