What is a Sloppy Joe?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Sloppy Joes are an American variation on a loose meat sandwich. In the most common version of the Sloppy Joe, ground beef is crumbled and browned as the basic ingredient. A sauce made with ketchup, onions, and various other spices is combined with the browned meat and allowed to simmer briefly. The final result is easily spooned onto hamburger buns and topped with a couple of dill pickle slices.

The colorful name for sandwiches of this type has a lot to do with the fact that consuming a Sloppy Joe can be a messy experience. Generally, the bun is heaped with the loose meat concoction, making it possible for the contents to drip out of the bun during consumption. However, some people get around this problem by laying the two bun halves side by side on a plate, topping them with the Sloppy Joe, and consuming the open face sandwich using a fork.


There is some difference of opinion on the exact origin of the Sloppy Joe. Some evidence supports the idea that the core recipe can be traced back to 18th century America, although many people believe that a true Sloppy Joe did not come into being until the first half of the 20th century. Purists state that it was impossible for a Sloppy Joe to be invented until after the modern hamburger bun came into existence in the latter 19th century. Others would classify any loose meat recipe that was served on one or more slabs of bread as a variant of the Sloppy Joe.

While Sloppy Joe recipes vary, just about all of them make use of ground beef that is rumbled and browned in a frying pan. The browned meat is drained of excess grease and placed back on the stove under low heat. Onions are diced and added to the meat and allowed to soften. A sauce created with a mixture of ketchup, water, dried bell pepper, salt, pepper and oregano is added to the ground beef and onions. After mixing all the ingredients thoroughly, the Sloppy Joe is allowed to simmer for several minutes, allowing the flavors of the sauce to mingle with the meat.

Part of the charm of the Sloppy Joe is that it is possible to adapt this basic recipe to suit individual tastes. For example, garlic lovers can feel free to add garlic to the sauce. If onions are not desired, they can be omitted. The sauce can be made hotter with the introduction of hot peppers or cayenne powder, or rendered relatively bland for people who cannot tolerate a lot of herbs and spices.

Choosing an accompaniment to a Sloppy Joe is relatively simple. Potato chips are a popular choice, but it is also common for cole slaw or baked beans to be served with Sloppy Joes. The decision on side dishes, like the preparation of the sauce, will depend on the dietary needs of the people who will consume the meal.

While making Sloppy Joe sauce is an easy task, a number of commercial versions are available in grocery stores today. With most of them, all that is required to prepare Sloppy Joes is to brown and drain the meat, open the can of sauce, and dump the contents onto the meat. After simmering for a short time, the Sloppy Joe mixture is ready for serving.


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