How the Sloppy Joe Got Made

BBQ Sloppy Joes with Green Bean & Tomato Salad
Sweet, savory, and sloppy

The Origin of the Sloppy Joe

There’s nothing complicated about a Sloppy Joe.

At its most basic, the Joe is a sandwich made with ground beef and a tomato sauce. The Sloppy Joe’s history, however, is a bit more complex.

Some attribute the original Sloppy Joe to a cafe in Sioux City, Iowa, where, many years ago, in 1930 a cook named Joe added tomato sauce to his “loose meat” sandwiches. Voila: a new between-the-bread offering, and the sandwich’s official name. (Loose meat sandwiches continue to be a staple in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest.)

Chicken Sloppy Joe Sliders   with Kale Slaw & Homemade Pickles

Others say that the original sandwich was born at the iconic restaurant in Key West, Florida, Sloppy Joe’s Bar.

And then there are those who say that the concept of the sandwich was dreamt up in Havana of all places, at Sloppy Joe’s saloon, which recently re-opened after a half-century hiatus (!).

But while people may contest where the “official” Sloppy Joe was born, the concept of mixing meat, cheese, and bread is so simple that it’s no surprise that Sloppy Joe soon it became an American favorite.

Sloppy Joe Sandwich Ingredients
Sloppy joe ingredients

Loose meat sandwiches

Let’s start at the origin: the loose meat sandwich.

And the origin of that Midwestern delicacy? Well, as ground beef gained popularity in the 19th century, it became renowned as a nourishing and economical food option: it delivered lots of protein for your money. Fillers (like bread crumbs, ketchup, tomato paste, cheese, etc.) were often added to stretch the meat and the ground beef mixture was then turned into things like meatballs, meatloaves and stews. The loose meat sandwich was just another way of using that meat in a creative manner, one that stretched the meat even further because of the carb-filled bun.

While the name leaves something to be desired, in the Midwest loose meat sandwiches are very much a culinary tradition, particularly in Iowa. If you watched the sitcom Roseanne in the late 1980s and early 90s you may remember the loose meat sandwiches that were served up at the Lanford Lunchbox.

Tempo Turkey Sloppy Joes with Shishito Peppers & Carrot Fries
Turkey sloppy joes

Sloppy Joe’s: A Cuban Specialty?

If there’s one restaurant that has become synonymous with the sandwich, it’s Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida, which opened on December 5, 1933—the day Prohibition was repealed.

Originally launched under a different name, it was none other than Ernest Hemingway who encouraged rebranding the bar as Sloppy Joe’s. But it had nothing to do with a sandwich. Nope, the name was adopted from Jose Garcia Rios’ Havana Club, which sold liquor and iced seafood.

“Because the floor was always wet with melted ice, his patrons taunted this Spanish Joe with running a “sloppy” place,” said Donna Edwards, Sloppy Joe’s Brand Manager. “The name stuck.”

But why do so many people order Sloppy Joes at Sloppy Joe’s? While some say we have that chef back in Sioux City to thank for it, we can’t forget about the Cuban connection.

“A loose beef sandwich was on the menu at the original Sloppy Joe’s in Havana,” confirmed Edwards.

Either way, the Key West version of Sloppy Joe’s has been serving the sandwich since the beginning, Today, the joint sells more than 50,000 Sloppy Joes a year.

The Manwich

Manwich, slush burger, yum yums, dynamite, spoonburgers, tavern sandwich; a Sloppy Joe can be called by many other names. The most well-known however is Manwich. Much as we’d like this to constitute a reference to the SJ being a man’s favorite sandwich, this nickname derives from a brand of canned Sloppy Joe sauce that was launched by ConAgra Foods and Hunt’s in 1969.

Marketed with the slogan “A sandwich is a sandwich, but a manwich is a meal,” it’s no surprise that this one-pan meal became so popular during the 1970s and 80s, and for many years, Americans made their Sloppy Joes straight out of a can.

Sloppy Joe Goes to School

Just like people in the early 20th century saw cooking with ground beef as a smart economical choice when it came to nourishing food, school cafeterias embraced the Sloppy Joe even more firmly than the patrons in Key West. Why? A question of value and nutrition. And so, the messy sandwich got a bad reputation as cafeteria food.

“I think the origination of placing Sloppy Joes on school menus likely came from a need for a fulfilling a hearty meal with a minimal cost,” says Robert Jaber, Director of Office of Food and Nutrition Services for District of Columbia Public Schools. “The Sloppy Joe, if served properly, can be the perfect combination of economics, nutrition, heartiness, and student acceptance – it’s a perfect fit for a school menu.”

But as we all know, it’s rare that kids care about money and nutrition; they just want to eat, which means that ultimately, the popularity of Sloppy Joes is all about taste. “It’s funny—It must just be the mixture of spices and sauce which people love,” says Margo Livingston, Kitchen Manager of Stonepark Intermediate School in Charlottetown, Canada, adding that “with Sloppy Joes you can throw some veggies in there and they don’t know the difference.” As Jaber adds, they’re also “a comfort food, especially in the colder months,” which might be why so many of us have childhood memories of the sandwich.

Sloppy Joe Sandwich Filling

Sloppy Joe Variations to Make On Your Own

As a comfort food, Sloppy Joes are certainly a staple, and while we most often think of them as a cafeteria food, you can find upscale versions at restaurants across the country. From serving the sandwiches with aged cheddar to using challah buns, there’s a different variety depending on what you want. But why wait to go out? Using quality meat, or even chicken, making good Sloppy Joe’s at home is easy and a fun way to incorporate a classic comfort food into your weekly meal plan.

Sloppy Joe recipes

BBQ Sloppy Joes with Green Bean & Tomato Salad

BBQ Sloppy Joes with Green Bean & Tomato Salad

Chicken Sloppy Joe Sliders   with Kale Slaw & Homemade Pickles

Chicken Sloppy Joe Sliders with Kale Slaw & Homemade Pickles

Tempo Turkey Sloppy Joes with Shishito Peppers & Carrot Fries

Tempo Turkey Sloppy Joes with Shishito Peppers & Carrot Fries

Other Sloppy Joe Variations

Try these ideas for some fun twists on a classic sandwich.

Add vegetables. Chop up some carrots, dice a red bell pepper, sauté some mushrooms.

Use fresh herbs. A little thyme or oregano will liven up the dish.

Or all kinds of spices. You can change the flavor profile of your Sloppy Joes by adding different spices like cumin, curry powder, or chipotle. You can even try an Asian inspired Joe with Sambal Oelek and Hoisin sauce.

Embrace fusion. You might also want to give Sloppy Joe Tacos or Sloppy Joe Grilled Cheese a try.

Make the sauce with wine. Just like a good meat-based pasta sauce benefits from a red-wine base, so will your Sloppy Joes.

Mix in sun-dried tomatoes. You can change up the tomato flavor by using sundried tomatoes in addition to the tomato base in your recipe.

Go vegetarian. Switch out ground beef for a veggie protein.

This post was written by Anna Brones, a food and travel writer based in Paris, France who has a love for bikes, coffee and all things organic. 

Easy Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

thanksgiving wine pairing
These wine parings will make your turkey taste even better

As soon as you have your Thanksgiving menu figured out, it’s time to start thinking about the wine. Wether you’re planning to have one glass for a toast, or to fill the table with multiple bottles, this easy guide to Thanksgiving wine pairing will make your meal taste even better.

A Guide to Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

There are a lot of different flavors on a Thanksgiving table. There are rich and buttery mashed potatoes, tart cranberries, and sugary sweet potatoes. Finding one wine to go with all of those dishes can be complicated. The best place to start is by thinking about your (and your guests’) preferences. Depending on which element of the meal you’re focused on, there are multiple red and white wine pairing that could work. If you know what you like, you can narrow it down a bit.

If you want to take the work out of this process, Blue Apron has put together a bundle of our Holiday Feast Favorites.

white and red wine for thanksgiving

White Wines for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner is a very flavorful meal. That’s an important thing to keep in mind when picking your Thanksgiving wine pairing. Some white wines are very light and delicate. While they may pair nicely with fish and vegetables, they would be overpowered by the food on turkey day. Look for a rich and creamy white that will stand up to the flavors in those mashed potatoes. Here are a few wines to look for:

Best All Around White Wine for Thanksgiving: Chenin Blanc

Chenin blanc is an extremely versatile wine. Depending on how it’s made in can be sweet or dry, subtle or exploding with fruit. A dry Chenin Blanc will be at home on your Thanksgiving table if you’re a big fan of Turkey. The delicate fruit will complement light and dark meat perfectly.

Best White Wine for Mashed Potatoes: Chardonnay

If mashed potatoes are your favorite dish, consider pairing with Chardonnay. Chardonnay has a rich and buttery flavor of its own, and will play nicely with your creamy spuds.

Best White Wine for Vegetables: Sauvignon Blanc

A refreshing Sauvignon Blanc will enhance the bright herbaceous notes in roasted Brussels sprouts and other vegetable side dishes. 

Red Wines for Thanksgiving

Best All-Around Red Wine for Thanksgiving

A fruity, medium-bodied wine like Grenache is versatile and can stand up to a variety of flavors and spices without being too overpowering.

Best Red Wine for Turkey: Pinot Noir

If you like spooning cranberry sauce onto your turkey, this is for you. The ripe red fruit in a good pinot noir (like the one in the Blue Apron Holiday Favorites wine bundle) will add a little zing to your whole meal.

Best Red Wine for Sweet Potatoes: Zinfandel

A bottle of zinfandel has almost as many flavors as a Thanksgiving dinner. Drink this if you’re the type of diner who doesn’t really mind if your food touches. This big, luscious, fruit wine will stand up to just about anything on the table, and work especially well with sweet potatoes.