Sloppy Joe Conundrum

My wife made dinner tonight—sloppy joes—and it was tasty.

Open-faced sloppy joes

We served it on homemade sourdough bread, which is a bit unconventional, but it definitely made the meal tastier than it would have been on a run-of-the-mill hamburger bun. That’s not the conundrum.

The conundrum is, when it came time to serve the meal, Aurora gave me a little bit of sloppy joe mix between two slices of bread like a traditional sandwich and I looked at her like she had three heads, “That’s not how you’re supposed to eat sloppy joes,” I told her. “They’re supposed to be served open-faced and eaten with a knife and a fork.”

It was her turn to give me a funny look. “No way!” she protested. “It’s a sandwich and you’re supposed to eat it like one. Haven’t you ever seen the picture on the Manwich can? It’s a sandwich.”

Actually, no, I can’t recall the picture on the Manwich can because it’s never entered my shopping cart and I don’t pay attention to it, because who wants sloppy joes out of a can? But that’s a different topic altogether. Really, what I’d like to know, as an informal poll, is how many people eat their sloppy joes open-faced and how many pick them up and eat them like a traditional sandwich? Please leave a comment; I’ll tally up the results and post them in a week.

36 Responses to “Sloppy Joe Conundrum”

  1. Amee Says:

    I’m with your wife. A sloppy joe is meant to be eaten like a sandwich. That way it can be messy the way it’s meant to be =P

  2. Aurora Says:

    Now, I’ve never eaten a sloppy joe made with Manwich either, but all normal people have at least seen the can. And, I might say, that tonight is the first time in my life that I’ve ever eaten a sloppy joe with a knife and fork–and that was only because I cut my bread too thin. I mean, how is a sloppy joe sloppy if you’re using utensils?

  3. June Says:

    LOL! I think that it is eaten traditionally as a sandwich - hence the “sloppy”! But who the heck wants to lick meat sauce from their forearms? Give me a knife and fork, please!

    Oh, and here’s a pic of the can:

  4. justin Says:

    open face and utensilized makes sense if you want to stay tidy, but if that’s your intent, i can’t imagine sloppy joes ever being on the menu in the first place. for the sake of poll, i vote sandwich style; however, if i had thin sliced or crumbly bread, i might go ahead and try open face. either way, i’m hungry for one (or six) right now

  5. Patrick Says:

    It’s called a sloppy joe because it’s sloppy. It’s supposed to be goobery and get all over your pants and arms and floor. If you eat it with a knife and fork then it’s all clean and ready for white linen tables served by a snooty waiter named Pierre. Sandwich form all the way.

  6. Cortney Says:

    Sloppy! When I ate them, it was sandwich style.

  7. Chellie Says:

    A big sloppy sandwich!! If I don’t wind up with part of my meal on my lap, then I haven’t just eaten sloppy joes. :)
    (amusingly, we had sloppy joes for dinner last night)

  8. peg Says:

    always as a sandwhich!! I do however occasionally use a fork to get the stuff that spilles out of the roll!

  9. alex Says:

    depends on how sloppy you want it to be

  10. Kerstin Says:

    I never ate them at home, but in my college dining hall we always made them into sandwiches.

    In Australia though, they wear their sloppy joes: it’s a term for a sweater!

  11. MIL Says:

    I’ve enjoyed sloppy joes for most of my 50+ years and they have always been enjoyed sandwich style…like Peg though…a fork is used to “clean up.” As fas as Aurora never having had Manwich….that’s not quite true. I tried it a couple times when she was growing up (unbeknowst to her)…but preferred my own recipe and thus did not buy it much. :o)

  12. Jeremy Says:

    As your brother, it’s likely unfair to even count my vote. As you of course know, we grew up eating sloppy joes open faced, and I think scientists recently proved that it is all but impossible to reverse one’s early sloppy joe experiences. The sloppy joe wiring in our brains becomes irreversibly set at the age of 11.

  13. Jeremy Says:

    (So my vote is open-faced)

  14. derek Says:

    like my biscuits and gravy, open faced all the way. how do you pile on the raw onion and shredded cheese? Even if your sloppy joe comes from a can you need to class it up some. as a product of the midwest, i feel that any class movement i can register (like making the best of cream of mushroom soup and frozen mixed vegetables (corn, carrots, green beans, and LIMA beans)) is welcome. However, circumstance would dictate that indeed, on occasion (like a graduation open house or some sort of get together where you need to maximize the space on your Dixie plate) a sloppy joe may be eaten as a sandwich. Yet, if i have the time and the real estate, i’m going open faced all the way. Now, if we’re talking BBQ pork…..

  15. Brian Says:

    If you “class it up some,” then call it what it is: a classy joe. Sloppy joes are sandwiches!

  16. cb Says:

    Sandwich style, all the way.

  17. BillD Says:


  18. Joanna Says:


    It’s a sandwich. Take it from me - somebody named Jo who eats sloppily.


  19. Janice Says:

    Any misconceptions of the proper eating of a Sloppy Joe can be blamed on the American school cafeteria institution. They slopped it down sandwich style.

  20. Johanna Says:

    Like my brother before me, I’ll have to also say that my vote will probably not count, as I am also your sibling, however; my argument is that as a Sloppy Joe one cannot eat this as a sandwich. That is the whole point of open face style, it is just too messy to attempt any other way. Otherwise there is not nearly enough filling in it!

  21. Jim Says:

    It’s good you commented, Jo(hanna). I was about to think that the previous Jo(anna) had misspelled her name and failed to support her sibling.

  22. Zil Says:

    I’ve always had them as sandwiches (and yes, it was a cafeteria treat). That way, you get to experience the delight of having the filling ooze out the back. If it’s not messy, it’s not a Sloppy Joe. But don’t just take my word for it - it’s written in the great holy tome, Joy of Cooking.

  23. Aurora's MIL Says:

    It is obvious that I am probably somewhat responsible for this controversy since I’m the one who taught my children to eat Sloppy Joe’s as open faced sandwiches.

    For the record, they didn’t get them very often because I served them so often before Jeremy was born that Jim was threatening divorce if I ever served them again! In my defense, I taught until the day Jeremy was born and would come home very tired and this was one of the meals that I could manage to put on the table before I collapsed for the evening. Therefore, we had them once in a while and always open-faced because it only seemed logical to serve them that way.

    I have observed my students in recent years when they have prepared them in the foods lab. At least 99% of them, if not the whole 100%, eat them as sandwiches. Not only that, but they put very little filling on them so they really aren’t sloppy, but then they eat 4 or 5 of them!

    I think it all goes back to one’s life experiences and how they were served to them. This is true of most foods, not just sloppy joes.

    Jim alerted me to this posting via email in the middle of the day and I want to thank all of you who commented because the posting and comments made me laugh and brought a bit of sanity to my life during an otherwise very stressful day in my classroom.

  24. Aurora's MIL Says:

    By the way, I like the idea of eating them on sourdough bread. That has to be much better than hamburger buns.

  25. qmom Says:

    Sloppy Joes eaten open face remind me of those brownies eaten with a fork by my new college friends freshman year. What was that? They soon learned that those chewy brown squares were actually cookies and needed to be eaten out of hand. It looks silly eating a cookie with a fork. It also looks silly eating a Sloppy Joe with a fork. Anyway, the best, proper and right way to eat Sloppy Joes is on a substantial, kind-of-chewy bun, preferably homemade – with a top on. Most run of the mill hamburg buns get soggy, but maybe that enhances the sloppy-ness. Eat your “Neat Joe”, your “Dapper Joe” or your “Spiffy Joe” with a fork.

  26. kari Says:

    although we were never allowed to eat sloppy joes when I was a kid (becasue they’re made from poison and formeldehyde, I’ve been told), if we had, they would have been sandwiches. What’s the point of being an american if you don’t eat a sandwich for as many meals as possible? Jesse, why do you hate America?

    [[PS to the Bush Administration: that was HUMOR. Jesse is a PATRIOT, and does NOT hate America.]]

  27. Andi Says:

    Mostly had my sloppy joes in elementary school… Thus, sandwich. But I did have a venison sloppy joe at a party when I was in vet school that was really good (and the only time I actually enjoyed a game meat) and it was served SANDWICH style…

  28. Otto Schmidlap Says:

    I’ve alway had them as a sandwich, with the contents stuffed between two buns, then ladled sloppily and generously over the entire thing. Then eaten with knife and fork, because the whole sandwich is too soaked with chili to handle.

  29. Steff Z Says:

    I’ve never had them as a closed, pick-it-up-and-eat-it sandwich. I’ve never even seen them served that way. I can’t imagine eating it that way, since if you have enough of the “joe” component, (a) the bread component is totally soaked and falls apart, and (b) 80% of the filling would squish out and fall onto your plate. Which means you’re using a fork anyway. I had them at places like girl scout camp or school lunch, too, and no-one else ever suggested they were supposed to be closed sandwiches, IIRC.

    I don’t remember eating sloppy joes since childhood. But in my experience, sloppy Joes come with at least 1/2 to 2/3 cup of filling on each half, and they are much soupier than the (yummy-looking) stuff in the photo. A closed sandwich just wouldn’t work. I think I’d feel kindof shortchanged if someone served me one that would work as a closed sandwich: I mean, where’s the beef? This is all bread! (In the photo, the foreground joe looks like it has almost enough filling; the background sloppy joe looks a little thin.)

    I wonder if this is a regional thing, or an age thing (maybe sloppy Joes evolved in the ’80s or ’90s)?

  30. Paul Says:

    Yikes, looks like the open-face crowd is getting crushed ;). As previously stated, there is nothing “sloppy” if a fork and knife is used. Doing that defeats the purpose of the name.

    Vote: Sandwich

  31. Jim Says:

    Yes, the majority is voting for closed sandwich, but the majority also voted for Nixon in 1972.

  32. kari Says:

    Jim: the minority voted for GWBush in 2000. statistics statistics statistics!

  33. Kat Says:

    Dude, it’s gotta be a sandwich. It’s not a sandwich if it’s not closed. Anyway, why do they call it a Manwich? Girls can eat them too! I think it’s just ridiculous to eat them with silverware. Doesn’t a tired mom deserve a break on washing some silverware? So, in my opinion, I’ve never heard of a sloppy joe with a fork.

  34. Ry Says:

    Open Faced! I just got done eating two of them! I like piling the meat on the bread and forking it. Buns are probably more common, but too much bread usually. And I actually stumbled here looking for the origination of the name “sloppy joes”.

  35. Katharine Says:

    I may be in the minority, but I prefer it open-faced with a knife and fork. More tasty filling to balance out the bread that way!

  36. donna Says:

    always a sandwich………… yummy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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