Sloppy Joe

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Sloppy Joe sandwich

Sloppy Joe refers to a sandwich made from ground beef mixed into a tomato-based sauce. A popular sandwich meant to be a mess, it has an uncertain history, with the sandwich created in the mid-1930s either in Havana, Cuba, or in Sioux City, Iowa.


The Sloppy Joe is a loose-meat sandwich, with the main ingredient ground beef simmered in onions; other variations may have beef scrap chunks or ground turkey. The meat is then mixed in with a tomato sauce mixture of Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, black pepper, garlic, bell pepper, with the recipes varying slightly according to region or person[1][2]. When done, the mixture is scooped onto a hamburger bun and served. The appearance of the Sloppy Joe is as the name implies, making it a favorite sandwich among consumers.


The most popular legend regarding the creation of the Sloppy Joe involves a cook actually named Joe, who allegedly created the sandwich in 1936. Loose-meat, or tavern, sandwiches were popular in the American Midwest during the early 20th century, in part as an economical way to use up edible scrap meats, with the trick being to find the means to keep the meat together prior to consuming. Floyd Angell's café in Sioux City, Iowa was one place which served these sandwiches; from that beginning Angell would go on to create the Maid-Rite restaurant chain[3], which was based upon the 1930s sandwich of the same name, an instant hit created by his chef Joe. This original Sloppy Joe is still on the menu today[4]. A competing claim has David Heglin inventing the sandwich in his Sioux City "Ye Old Tavern" in 1924[5].

The second main variation of the sandwich's history has to do with American writer Ernest Hemingway. During the 1920-30s, Hemingway lived in Key West, Florida, and in between writing and fishing he would spend time in a favorite bar called the "Silver Slipper", owned by a friend of his named Joe Russell. More often than not Hemingway would also spend time in Havana, Cuba, where his favorite bar there was named "Sloppy Joe's", after the owner José Abeal y Otero. According to the stories, Otero kept himself and his bar a mess, hence the name[6]. But one of the popular dishes that he served was a simple sandwich made from ground beef in tomato sauce, a dish influenced by what was called the ropa vieja and the picadillo[7], both Cuban comfort foods made from shredded or ground beef mixed with other ingredients. Hemingway liked this sandwich, and in Key West he convinced Russell to not only serve the same sandwich in his bar, but also to change the name of the place to the "Sloppy Joe's Bar", which is still opened today[8]. The Cuban bar would close down as a result of the communist takeover of the country in 1959, and would only be reopened in 2015[9].