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The History of the Sloppy Joe Sandwich

The precursor to the Sloppy Joe is the loose meat sandwich. Ground beef gained popularity in the late-19th and early-20th century and was appreciated for being both economical and protein-rich. Fillers like breadcrumbs, ketchup, tomato paste, and cheese were often added to “stretch the meat” and then the mixture would be turned into meatballs, meatloaves, stews, and, of course, the loose meat sandwich that quickly became a delicacy in the Midwest. There are several versions of how the Sloppy Joe itself came to be. Some people credit a café in Sioux City, Iowa, where a cook named Joe added tomato sauce to his loose meat sandwiches in 1930 (hence, the name "Sloppy Joe"). Others credit the iconic Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida. Still others credit Sloppy Joe’s saloon in Havana, Cuba with creating the now-iconic sandwich. While we may never know for sure who first created the Sloppy Joe, we do know that the sandwich quickly gained popularity all across America. In 1969, ConAgra Foods and Hunt’s launched a canned Sloppy Joe sauce called Manwich, which gave rise to a popular one-pan meal option of the same name in the 1970s and 1980s (and which was just a Sloppy Joe by another name). School cafeterias also embraced the Sloppy Joe sandwich. Today, it remains a popular cafeteria option, comfort food choice, and Midwestern delicacy, though many restaurants have also created upscale versions that are available in various locations all across the country.

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