A sloppy joe is a sandwich consisting of ground beef or pork, onions, tomato sauce or ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and other seasonings, served on a hamburger bun. The dish originated in the United States during the early 20th century.
Early and mid-20th century American cookbooks offer plenty of sloppy joe-type recipes, though they go by different names: Toasted Deviled Hamburgers, Chopped Meat Sandwiches, Spanish Hamburgers, Hamburg a la Creole, Beef Mironton, and Minced Beef Spanish Style.
Marilyn Brown, Director of the Consumer Test Kitchen at H.J. Heinz in Pittsburgh, says their research at the Carnegie Library suggests that the sloppy joe's origins lie with the "loose meat sandwiches" sold in Sioux City, Iowa in the 1930s and were the creation of a cook named Joe.
References to sloppy joes as sandwiches begin by the 1940s. One example from Ohio is a 1944 Coshocton Tribune ad under the heading "'Good Things to Eat' says 'Sloppy Joes' – 10c – Originated in Cuba – You'll ask for more – The Hamburg Shop" and elsewhere on the same page, "Hap is introducing that new sandwich at The Hamburg Shop – Sloppy Joes – 10c".
Food companies began producing packaged sloppy joe sauce, such as Manwich, by the 1960s.
Several variations of the sloppy joe exist in North America. In Quebec, Canada, sandwiches of stewed ground beef such as pain à la viande and pain fourré gumbo are usually served on hot dog buns. A similar sandwich, the "dynamite", exists in the area around Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and is distinguished by the use of onions, bell peppers, and sometimes celery.
Stewed meat sandwiches are common in several other culinary traditions as well. The rou jia mo, from China's Shaanxi Province, consists of stewed pork, beef, or lamb on a steamed bun. Keema pav of Indian cuisine uses a pav bread roll filled with keema, a minced, stewed, curried meat.
A sloppy joe differs from a traditional loose meat or tavern sandwich due largely to its tomato-based sauce.
In some stores in northern New Jersey, an unrelated sandwich made with a combination of deli meat, such as turkey, roast beef or especially ham, with coleslaw, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese on three slices of rye bread is also known as a sloppy joe.