The Controversial Origins Of The Sloppy Joe

An American dinnertime staple, the Sloppy Joe has been an easy weeknight meal for decades. It's hard to mess up the recipe, whether at its very simplest with ground beef and tomato sauce to its more complicated version that contains onion, bell pepper, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Probably the easiest of all, is buying the canned Sloppy Joe sauce and adding it to the ground beef. No matter how you make it, Sloppy Joe is a kid-pleaser and an adult favorite that is suitable to feed one person or a crowd.

While the origin of the Sloppy Joe sandwich is debated, it has been around for decades, according to Blue Apron. The precursor to today's Sloppy Joe was the loose meat sandwich, which remains beloved in the Midwest. Blue Apron reports that ground beef became popular in the 1800s because it was economical and nutritious. It was also easy to incorporate into many recipes, such as spaghetti and meatballs and meatloaf. A loose meat sandwich, according to Dinner Then Dessert, is made by searing the ground beer with onions and seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. The traditional topping is pickles, but people can choose whatever toppings they want.

Multiple origin stories

One common origin story of the Sloppy Joe says it was invented in 1930 by a cook named Joe who worked at a restaurant in Sioux, City, Iowa, per Blue Apron. Joe reportedly took tomato sauce and added it to the loose meat sandwich (which has always been popular in Iowa) and created the Sloppy Joe that we know today. Others say that the sandwich was first served at Sloppy Joe's, a restaurant in Key West, Florida. To this day, the restaurant offers the "Original Sloppy Joe Sandwich." On its menu, the sandwich is described as being made from ground beef with a sweet and rich tomato sauce, onions, peppers, and spices. It sells for $10.99. 

Wide Open Eats offers a third origin story. The sandwich it says was made at a different Sloppy Joe's, this one a bar in Havana, Cuba. Bar owner José García would serve a handheld version of ropa vieja to his customers. Sloppy Joe, according to Wide Open Eats, was a nickname for García's bar because it was so messy. The name was then applied the sandwich as well, which found popularity in the United States thanks to author Ernest Hemingway who ate at García's bar in Havana and brought the sandwich to his favorite restaurant in Key West that was later named Sloppy Joe's. 

No matter which origin story is accurate, the Sloppy Joe sandwich will remain an American classic.