My first encounter with the Sloppy Joe was at my elementary school lunch counter where giant cans of sloppy joe mix were dumped into beat-up chafing dishes before being unceremoniously ladled into a crumpled hamburger bun. It may not sound like much of a lunch, but with other options like leathery turkey smothered in mucus-like gravy, and spaghetti with meat sauce that looked more like rusty dirt with soggy worms poking out of it, the days the lunch ladies were dishing out Sloppy Joes were culinary nirvana to my six year old self.
There are various creation myths around the Sloppy Joe, but all signs point to its creation sometime in the first half of the last century. Some theories posit it’s an evolution of the Maid-Rite loose meat sandwich. Others opine it’s a product of food rationing during the war, when meat had to be stretched as far as possible.
Whatever its origins, the Sloppy Joe is a delicious hot mess, and it’s a comfort food from my formative years that I sometimes crave. There’s something innocently marvelous about biting into an airy bun and having the sweet meaty filling spurt out of the corners of your mouth, leaving you with a saucy grin. But just like my office, there’s a difference between sloppy and slovenly, which is why I prefer making it with pulled beef rather than ground meat.
While this hot sandwich is never going to qualify as health food, by making it from scratch, you can sweeten it with carrots and unrefined sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup laden ketchup. It doesn’t take that much more work, and for your pittance of effort, you get a delicious wholesome meal without a lot of unnecessary additives.
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