sandwiches

Sloppy Joes Have Been Delighting Diners For Almost 100 Years

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Homemade Sloppy Joes look like this picture. You need this old recipe because it’s still the best one ever.

I grew up in the Ozzie and Harriet era. Moms cooked in kitchens with linoleum floors, metal cabinets, and Formica tables. There were no microwaves, immersion blenders, or crockpots, let alone any instant pots! But the food cranked out of those kitchens was amazing, the best ever.

When I was a kid, I lived for my dad’s company picnic every Fourth of July. I reveled in wearing my baggy old orange bathing suit from morning till bedtime.

The annual affair was held on a tiny sand bar island in the middle of the Platte River in south-central Nebraska. The day lazied along from late morning until the last s’mores were devoured, and the fireworks all faded away.

There was a pint-size cabin with electricity, and all the company wives brought food for a potluck. My mom always made her homemade cloverleaf rolls and brought them in a big printed cotton flour sack. Everyone was waiting to snatch one when she arrived.

There were all kinds of salads and pickles, potato chips, pies, and cakes to choose from, but my most favorite was the electric roaster full of Blanche Matthews’ sloppy joes! I’m sure she used the vegetables in them to stretch the hamburger, thrifty woman that she was.

But in all my years of eating sloppy joes, maid-rites, taverns, yum-yums, barbecues, Manwiches, and loose meat sandwiches-of-many-names, there has never been anything to compare to the way Blanche made them.

I still have the hand-written recipe card in my mom’s careful handwriting. You need this recipe, too.

The Fascinating History Of Sloppy Joes Goes Back To The Roaring 20s

Sloppy Joes have been around even longer than I have! They are an uncomplicated but iconic sandwich born in Sioux City, Iowa, way back in 1924. I was born in Iowa, too, but not quite that far back!

The story is told of a line cook named Joe, who created the first loose meat sandwich in the tavern where he worked. Instead of forming beef into a patty, he broke it up on the flat top grill and browned it. It was probably a faster way to cook the beef, so he gave the idea whirl.

Then, he scooped up the juicy (greasy) glob of crumbled meat and served it inside a hamburger bun. No sauce. People squirted mustard or ketchup on it and gobbled up the sandwiches. The creation became known as a “tavern,” a name still used in parts of the Midwest.

Later on, someone added tomato sauce to the ground beef, and that’s when it became a Sloppy Joe, an item on school lunch menus that students actually liked. Notorious for staining tee shirts, it’s still a beloved sandwich.

Clever mommas began to sneak vegetables into the meat mixture for two reasons. One, it got kids to eat vegetables without complaints, and two, it stretched a pound of hamburger into six sandwiches, making it very economical.

Finally, in 1969, Hunts (the ketchup people) and Conagra Foods introduced Manwich sauce in a can. The marketing slogan “A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal” gave the sandwich a whole new commonly used name. The product is still going strong, selling over 50 million cans a year.

Here Are 3 Reasons Why Homemade Sloppy Joes Are Better

  • Everything is made fresh by you.
  • You know everything that’s in it. No preservatives, additives, or artificial anything.
  • You can vary the ingredients to add or subtract what your family likes. (Add corn? No peppers?)

They are so easy to make! Begin by browning the ground beef and crumble it finely. Next, add onions, thinly sliced chopped celery, and peppers.

sloppy joe ingredients

Add the tomato soup, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Once the ground beef is browned, you can put them in a crockpot and let them simmer on low, great for all of us who eat in shifts!

sloppy joes cooking

Sloppy Joes are simple but incredibly tasty. They are ever so slightly sweet, and every time I serve them, I get rave reviews. This recipe has certainly stood the test of time.

If you want to push them right over the top, be sure to choose a high-quality bun and add a slice of cheese! Oh, and an ear of sweet corn and a pickle are always nice.

sloppy joe on a bun with an ear of corn

You know what? This yummy meat mixture does not always have to be a sandwich! Put it in a casserole dish, line the edges with canned biscuits, cut in half, and bake it until the biscuits are brown. You could also serve it inside of a taco shell for a lower-carb, gluten-free change!

Or, one clever cook added corn to the filling along with some taco seasoning, put it in a 9″ by 13″ baking pan, and topped it with tater tots and shredded cheese! Yum! I wish I could take credit for that idea! What will you do with your Sloppy Joe?

plated sloppy joe
Yield: 12 sandwiches

Homemade Sloppy Joes

homemade sloppy joe

A favorite old sloppy joe recipe from the early 1960s, chock full of veggies in a slightly sweet sauce. Kids and adults alike love them!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds good quality ground beef
  • 2 cups celery, sliced thin, use the leaves too, they're full of flavor.
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion, I prefer a sweet onion.
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped peppers, any color or combination of colors.
  • 1  10.5 ounce can of tomato soup
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 12 split hamburger buns

Instructions

  1. Break up and lightly brown ground beef in a skillet.
  2. Add the chopped vegetables and saute until they start to get soft and fragrant.
  3. Drain any excess fat.
  4. Mix in all the other ingredients and cook, covered, until celery is tender, about 20 minutes.
  5. Stir occasionally.
  6. Serve on split hamburger buns; add a slice of cheese if you like!
Homemade Sloppy Joes
Homemade Sloppy Joes

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