It’s been a few years now since it occurred to me that fulfilling my craving for a good, old-fashioned Sloppy Joes sandwich doesn’t necessarily involve opening a jar of premade sauce. I mean, what’s a Sloppy Joe but a sandwich with cooked ground beef (or other meat), plus some seasoned tomato sauce?
But it did get me thinking a little about the origin of this childhood favorite (I’m kinda weird like this). A little research has informed me that it likely originated in the early 20th century – maybe the 1920s or 1930s (but the jarred stuff has been around since the 1960s). It’s possibly a version of the midwestern loose meat sandwich or otherwise originated at Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West (aside: I’ve been there many times, but never even made that connection!), or at the other Sloppy Joe’s bar in Havana, Cuba. Who knew.
Anyway, this sandwich with its sketchy origins has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. And kids and adults alike tend to love it. I’ve made my homemade version with a tangy tomato sauce that has a hint of sweetness, plus a few spices. It’s super-simple to make and definitely feeds the comfort food cravings.
And don’t feel you have to use ground beef here. I’ve used ground turkey successfully, and you can make a darn good vegetarian version by substituting a combination of cooked lentils and chopped mushrooms for the ground beef. You can even lighten up the calories a bit by using a lettuce wrap instead of a bun.
I hope you try my version of Old-Fashioned Sloppy Joes, and I hope you love it. Let me know in the comments.
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- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 ¼ pound lean ground beef or turkey
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
- ½ cup ketchup
- ½ cup water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon celery seed
- Pinch ground cloves
- Salt and pepper
- Rolls or Hamburger buns
- Add oil to large skillet, and heat over medium-high heat. Crumble in ground beef and cook while breaking up meat with a spatula. Season with salt and pepper.
- When meat is almost cooked through and beginning to brown, add in onion and bell pepper. Cook until beef is nicely browned and vegetables are beginning to soften. Drain off any grease.
- Add tomatoes, ketchup, water, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, cinnamon, celery seed, and ground cloves to the meat and vegetables. Stir to combine.
- Cover with lid, leaving lid slightly ajar. Turn heat to medium-low and allow mixture to simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and add extra water if needed.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot on buns, or try lettuce wraps for a lighter version.