Original 1940’s Sloppy Joes

Original 1940s Sloppy Joes

I’ve never really been a fan of Sloppy Joe’s and after tasting this original recipe from the 1940’s — I understand why. This recipe that’s been handed down for generations makes a sloppy joe sandwich that’s scrumptious and you’ll want to come back for seconds (and leftovers). Now I love Sloppy Joes and try to work them into my menu plan at least once a month!

I’ll bet almost everyone in the US over the age of 30 remembers those Manwich commercials they used to run on TV. Boy, they made it sound like eating ground beef mixed with a can of Manwich was a party, didn’t they. A party you wanted to be invited to! What they didn’t mention was that a can of Manwich has enough high fructose corn syrup & other sugars in it to choke a horse.

Curious about the ingredients in a can of Manwich? Here’s the list in the order of volume: Tomato Puree, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Corn Syrup, Less than 2% of: Salt, Sugar, Dehydrated Onions, Dehydrated Red and Green Bell Peppers, Chile Pepper, Tomato Fiber, Spices, Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Dehydrated Garlic, Carob Bean Gum, Natural Flavors.

Oooooh yummy! NOT!

My personal opinion is that making your own Sloppy Joe sandwiches from scratch taste better and cost less than Manwich and I’ll bet you have all the ingredients on hand.

Originally, the sandwich was attributed to two different sources: a restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa whose chef added tomato sauce to his “loose meat” sandwiches back in the 1930’s. And it’s also been attributed to a bar in Key West, Florida where Hemingway used to drink and write. Funny enough, the bar in Key West was named Sloppy Joe’s not for any dish they served but because the floor was always wet and appeared “sloppy.” But I digress.

Where ever it originated from, the concept of a Sloppy Joe sandwich was a good one. During the WWII war years, meat (as well as other staples) were rationed and home cooks did whatever they could to stretch recipes so that rationed items would last longer & feed more people. Although it started out being called a Barbecue Sandwich, at some point the name changed to Sloppy Joe’s. However, the classic flavors remained the same.

This recipe ended up in a church community cookbook where I found it and ignored it for years. After getting a craving for Sloppy Joes awhile back, I pulled out my go-to selection of these community and church group cookbooks and found this recipe with a note as to how it had been handed down. I personally know the contributor and this is one of many incredible comfort food recipes she’s shared with friends and family.

Original 1940's Sloppy Joes
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: ground beef
Serves: Serves 4
  • 1 lb ground beef, up to 1-1/2 lb
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 1⁄2 cups Heinz Simply Ketchup (this label has no high fructose corn syrup)
  • 2 tablespoons prepared mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
  1. Brown ground beef in skillet. Drain grease.
  2. Add salt and onion to beef in skillet. Simmer for 10 minutes until onions are sweating and start to turn translucent.
  3. Add remaining ingredients to skillet. Mix well. Taste. Adjust as necessary for personal tastes.
  4. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes to meld flavors together. Stir occasionally.
  5. Serve on toasted bread or hamburger buns.

Original 1940s Sloppy Joes


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