Updated date:

Exploring Sloppy Joes: Classic Recipe and Creative Spin-Offs

Author:

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

So Many Names!

What do these things have in common?

  • Slush burger
  • Yum yum
  • Dynamite
  • Tavern
  • Steamer
  • Wimpie

They’re all regional names for the loose meat sandwich I grew up knowing as the Sloppy Joe. If you think the name is problematic, we can’t even agree on who first made it.

We'll assume his name was Joe; some accounts place him behind the counter at a café in Sioux City, Iowa in the 1930s. Others say it was Joe in Key West, Florida. That Joe opened his bar on December 5, 1933—one day after the end of Prohibition. As rumor has it, the floor was always wet with melted ice; some patrons called it sloppy. One dining guest in particular said the name of the establishment should be changed to Sloppy Joe’s. Joe listened, maybe because that guest was Ernest Hemingway. Yet another story places the Sloppy Joe’s in Havana (but without the Hemingway connection).

Did You Know?

The Key West Sloppy Joes holds a Hemingway Look-a-Like contest every year on July 21, the anniversary of his birth.

No matter its origins, the Sloppy Joe soon became a popular school lunchroom classic and a boon to harried parents scrambling to get a quick and inexpensive meal on the table. The basic recipe is pretty simple. Let's first look at the classic, then some variations, and we'll even explore a few innovative sloppy-joe-like spin-offs.

The Original Sloppy Joe

The Original Sloppy Joe

The Original Sloppy Joe

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef (80/20 ground chuck)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup catsup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons prepared (yellow) mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar

Instructions

  1. Place ground beef and onions in a large saute pan; cook over medium heat, breaking up beef into small pieces until no pink remains and the onions are softened. Drain grease from pan.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  3. Cover and simmer over low heat for 25-30 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings (unless you are feeding teenage boys)

Turkey Sloppy Joes

Turkey Sloppy Joes

Turkey Sloppy Joes

There's a healthier alternative to the original Joe made with ground beef. Chelsea makes a lean (85 percent) ground turkey Sloppy Joe and adds moisture with chopped mushrooms. Just for fun, I analyzed the nutritional results in her recipe (not counting bun and the suggested cheese) vs, the original. The ground beef sloppy clocks in at 253.6 calories and the one made with turkey is only 196.3 calories.

Crock-Pot Sloppy Joes

Crock-Pot Sloppy Joes

Crock-Pot Sloppy Joes

I didn't think that Sloppy Joes could get any easier, but then I found this recipe for Joes in the Crock-Pot. After browning the ground meat in a saute pan, add it plus all the other goodies to your slow cooker. In as little as four hours or up to eight hours, everything can just simmer together and get all flavorful and yummy.

Sloppy Joes for a Crowd

Sloppy Joes for a Crowd

Sloppy Joes for a Crowd

If you are facing the prospect of providing food for a church potluck, supplying a thank-you meal to folks helping you move, or simply feeding a pack of hungry teenagers, this is your salvation. Leah's Sloppy Joes for a crowd are also prepared in a crockpot, but this recipe makes enough for 20 servings.

Did You Know?

March 18 is National Sloppy Joe Day.

Lentil (Vegetarian) Sloppy Joes

Lentil (Vegetarian) Sloppy Joes

Lentil (Vegetarian) Sloppy Joe

Vegetarians and vegans rejoice—this one's for you. This lentil Sloppy Joe has all of the flavors you associate with the original with none of the guilt. Lentils are a protein-rich food, but also high in fiber and nutrients. The sauce is zesty, hearty, and filling and comes together in under an hour.

Sloppy Joe Stuffed Potatoes

Sloppy Joe Stuffed Potatoes

Sloppy Joe Stuffed Potatoes

I'm going to confess; I've never been much of a bread-lover so for me the best part of a Sloppy Joe is the meaty sauce. I'd rather do without the hamburger bun. That's why this Sloppy Joe stuffed potato makes so much sense. It's a perfect bowl of comfort food. You can use the recipe provided by Lori, or any of the other ideas posted above.

Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole

Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole

Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole

While we're on the topic of combining our sloppy sauce with potatoes, here's my all-time favorite. Tater tots are a genius invention (the originators at Ore-Ida have earned their angel wings in my humble opinion). This casserole of tater tots baked over Sloppy Joe sauce is rich and cheesy and serves eight.

Sloppy Joe Pasta Bake

Sloppy Joe Pasta Bake

Sloppy Joe Pasta Bake

I love pasta bakes. First, pick a fun shape; Siobhan uses penne but any non-strand/spaghetti type pasta will do. Next, grab your cheese. This recipe for Sloppy Joe Pasta Bake uses cheddar and mozzarella, but Monterey Jack or Asiago or Gouda would work just as well. Finally, stir in your Sloppy Joe mix. Again, Siobhan provides a recipe, but you could use any of the other variations shown above (original, turkey, lentil).

Did You Know?

The Key West Sloppy Joe's is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sloppy Joe Pizza

Sloppy Joe Pizza

Sloppy Joe Pizza

There are many recipes on the internet for sloppy pizza, but all of them rely on pre-made crusts and canned Manwich© filling . . . all of them, except this Chicago deep-dish Sloppy Joe pizza. It starts with a homemade Chicago style pizza crust underneath a layer of hearty beef tomato sauce. Generous portions of warm and bubbly cheddar and provolone cover the top and fresh green onions add the finishing touch.

Sloppy Joe Sour Cream Rice Bake

Sloppy Joe Sour Cream Rice Bake

Sloppy Joe Sour Cream Rice Bake

Let's be honest—sloppys have that name for a reason. They are a mess to eat. I always end up eating mine with a fork, so why not simply turn them into a casserole. This sour cream rice bake is creamy, rich, and satisfying and can be made ahead or even frozen.

Whole 30 Sloppy Joe Bowl

Whole 30 Sloppy Joe Bowl

Whole 30 Sloppy Joe Bowls

Feeling a little decadent? Here's a healthier approach. These Whole30 Sloppy Joe bowls replace the carbs with spaghetti squash and steam broccoli. It's a colorful bowl that's gluten-free, dairy-free, and kid-friendly.

Sloppy Joe Nachos

Sloppy Joe Nachos

Sloppy Joe Nachos

Savory, saucy, spicy meat? Of course, it belongs on top of tortilla chips and then topped with a flurry of grated cheese. And that's exactly what Erin did to make Sloppy Joe nachos. Genius.

Sources

© 2020 Linda Lum

Comments

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 27, 2020:

Today is "for a crowd".

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 26, 2020:

Thanks Eric. Which one first?

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 26, 2020:

These are fantastic. I like them all. Time to cook.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 21, 2020:

Yes, and they have "mittens."

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 21, 2020:

I didn't want to say anything, but since your daughter beat me to it, I'll confess I've never really liked them either. They're too sweet, in my opinion.

Hemingway was also famous for his cats. To this day, the estate has hundreds of them roaming the property.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 21, 2020:

Well Shauna, Hemingway was famous for two things--writing and drinking, so it figures. My daughter isn't a fan of the taste of sloppy joes (dang), but I've got a craving for those nachos. Let's make a batch, OK?

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 21, 2020:

I haven't had a sloppy Joe since I was a kid! Some of these casserole dishes look pretty good. So do the nachos.

I've been to Sloppy Joe's in Key West. I don't remember if I had food there or not. It's pretty much a place to hang out and drink. It's right down the street from Hemingway's house.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 21, 2020:

Hahaha. Oh Bill, you kill me. I don't do heat very well either. Spent the afternoon working under the cedars and mama deer walked right past me. Too cool.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 21, 2020:

I've been making a variation of this for a few weeks now. I can't get enough of them. Unlike when I was younger, I eat mine now with a fork. Saves on having to take a shower afterwards. lol

Stay cool! I hate the heat!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 21, 2020:

Pamela, yours is the first comment I have read today, and you've made me so happy. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful week.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2020:

What a great article with so many good recipes that look delicious. I think most everyone likes sloppy joe's. I have been to Key West but I don't remember that restaurant. I wish I had known to look for it.

Linda, I am marking this page so I can find some of these recipes at a later date. Thanks so much, Linda.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 20, 2020:

So happy!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 20, 2020:

Flourish, I almost ALWAYS go with a lightly buttered and toasted bun. How could you say no to "more butter"?

Abby Slutsky from LAFAYETTE HL on July 20, 2020:

I probably will. I have a bakery business, and I love food and cooking (well, more baking).

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 20, 2020:

You have really outdone yourself here with variety, something that can whet any appetite. My mom used to make sloppy joes with leftover meatloaf and I hated them, but I liked the ones that were intended to actually be sloppy joes. now the question: to toast, butter and lightly fry the bun, or leave it alone?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 20, 2020:

Abby, welcome to my kitchen. I share one topic every week and on Mondays a Q&A on cooking/foods/nutrition, etc. I hope you'll come back.

Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Abby Slutsky from LAFAYETTE HL on July 20, 2020:

I didn't know Sloppy Joe's were so versatile. The pictures looked yummy. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 20, 2020:

MizB I'm so very happy to help. My little brain always connects sloppy joes with going to school (they served them a LOT in my lunchroom), but they weren't very appetizing. When they started advertising Manwich on television, I remembered those awful hot sandwiches of my youth and wondered if I could somehow improve on them for my girls.

They didn't complain, so I guess I got it right.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on July 20, 2020:

Linda, take it from a real fan of Sloppy Joes, all the recipes look scrumptious...all that is except the pizza. But then I don't like nontraditional pizzas like pineapple or Mexican. I really would like to try the Whole 30 Sloppy Joe bowls, but I know that Larry probably wouldn't touch one. Too healthy! But I may make one for myself. I'm glad you posted some original recipes because I'd lost the one I used to make for my boys, and we've been resorting to Manwich. We will definitely try the pasta bake. Thanks for restoring homemade Sloppy Joes to our kitchen.