How to Make a Great Sloppy Joe Sandwich
I purchased some grass fed, organic ground beef from Whole Foods and was going to grill some hamburgers for dinner when my wife said she was in the mood for comfort food and would I make Sloppy Joe’s instead. I haven’t made Sloppy Joe’s in years so I did a little research online, found I had the ingredients I needed in the pantry and voila!
Sloppy Joe or Maid Rite Sandwich?
While I was doing my research for Sloppy Joe ingredients I came across what just may be the predecessor of the Sloppy Joe called a loose meat sandwich, a favorite in the Midwest.
The loose meat sandwich became popular in the 19th century as a way to stretch a buck by adding fillers like bread crumbs, rice, cheese and ketchup to ground beef, then spooning this mixture on a hamburger bun for a tasty, fulfilling meal.
In 1926, butcher Fred Angell combined “just the right combination of a special cut and grind of meat and a selected blend of spices. When a deliveryman tasted Fred’s new creation, he said, “This sandwich is made right” and that was the beginning of the Maid-Rite family of franchises throughout Iowa serving loose meat sandwiches.
The big difference between a Sloppy Joe and a Maid Rite sandwich is a Sloppy Joe is made with some sort of sauce where a Maid Rite uses just dry crumpled ground beef.
Sloppy Joe Origin
Again my research on Sloppy Joe’s shows there is some controversy over where the original Sloppy Joe comes from. One version describes a cafe in Sioux City, Iowa where a cook back in 1930 added some tomato sauce to his loose meat sandwich to come up with a Sloppy Joe.
Sounds good, but a little too convenient for my thinking.
Another version of the story says it started in a Key West, Florida restaurant called Sloppy Joe’s Bar. I like where this is going.
And then the New York Daily News wrote a story back in 2013 about the original Sloppy Joe’s saloon in Havana, Cuba, a frequent hangout of Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Nate King Cole, where some say the Sloppy Joe sandwich originated. The saloon was recently reopened after being closed by Fidel Castro in 1965.
My personal memories of Sloppy Joe’s take me back to the 1970’s when my mom would brown ground beef and add a can of Hunt’s Mandwich Sloppy Joe sauce and serve it to us on a bun. We thought it was the greatest meal ever.
Thousands Of Sloppy Joe Sandwich Recipes
There are literally thousands of recipes on the Internet for making Sloppy Joe’s. The two most important ingredients are the ground beef and the ketchup.
What vegetables, spices or other ingredients you add are up to you so be as creative as you like. I have noticed most of the recipes include a dash of Worcestershire sauce but not all of them.
I’m using onion, bell pepper and garlic but you can substitute or add carrots, mushrooms, celery or whatever other vegetables you may have in your refrigerator. Just be sure to keep the ratio of veggies to ground beef close to what I have here.
Below is my basic recipe for Sloppy Joe sandwiches that we like in our house but please play around with the ingredients to come up with one that you and your family will enjoy.
Best Sloppy Joe Recipe
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion diced
- ½ green bell pepper diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1½ pounds ground beef
- ¾ cup ketchup
- 15 ounces tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
- 1 pinch of cayenne pepper
- pepper flakes to taste (optional)
- 6 hamburger buns
- Heat up a large fry pan over medium heat until hot. Add the oil and let it heat up.
- Add the onion and pepper and cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften.
- Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds.
- Remove the sauteed vegetables to a bowl and reserve.
- Add the ground beef back to the frying pan by breaking it up to small pieces. You don't want to crowd the pan with meat or it will steam rather than fry. If your frying pan isn't big enough, brown the beef in two batches.
- When the beef is all browned, add the ketchup, tomato sauce, brown sugar, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, salt & pepper and the dash of Worcestershire sauce. Give everything a good stir to combine the meat with the spices and sauces.
- Add the sauteed vegetables back into the pan and again give everything a good stir to combine all the ingredients.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the beef mixture for about 15 - 20 minutes until the sauce thickens up enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Taste and adjust seasonings with salt, pepper, or cayenne.
- If you are using optional pepper flakes, add them to taste now or just put the shaker on the table for your family to decide.
- Toast the hamburger buns, spoon the Sloppy Joe mixture onto the buns and serve.