HOME-STYLE SLOPPY JOES
I didn’t eat many sloppy joes growing up. Maybe my parents ate one too many soggy renditions during their own childhood, but for whatever reason this was an item that was rarely seen on the dinner menu at my house. It turns out that my lack of experience with these saucy, loose meat burgers puts me in a minority among friends who all recount fond memories of eating them on a near weekly basis. For me, sloppy joes have always represented your typical lunch counter fodder: a half simmering pot of reddish-brown mystery meat smashed between a sodden, dissolve-on-contact bun. For them, Mom cracking open a can of Manwich stood out as a true suppertime treat in a lineup of otherwise dismal home-cooked fare.
It wasn’t until I came across a recipe for this iconic American sandwich in a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine that I decided to give sloppy joes another look. As usual, it looked as though the editors had found a few ways to rid the dish of it’s usual shortcomings and breath new life into an old favorite. So, with a pound of ground beef sitting in the freezer and few extra homemade buns lying around from my fried chicken sandwiches, I set out to see what I’d been missing all these years.
The results were nothing short of spectacular. Robust and beefy with a pleasant brightness coming from the addition of tomato puree, these joes were unlike anything I’d tasted in the past. Gone was the typical grainy, greasy texture, replaced with a consistency that was pleasantly thick, yet saucy enough to blend seamlessly with the tender, pillow-soft bun.
Now to convince my parents to give them a shot.
HOME-STYLE SLOPPY JOES
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, American Classics
Mixing the sauce ingredients ahead of time will allow you to devote all of your attention to the color and texture of the meat in the pan. When stirring the beef, be sure to break up the any large lumps with the back of a spoon and cook it just to the point of being pink. Browning the meat during this stage will result in dry, grainy sloppy joes so don’t worry about cooking it all the way through — it will finish cooking in the simmering sauce. Finally, don’t be afraid to add in any of your favorite flavors along with the tomato/ketchup sauce. A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce helps bolster the meat’s beefy flavor while barbecue sauce adds a nice smoky element.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 2 medium garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (or more to taste)
- Hamburger buns for serving
- In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, tomato puree, ketchup, water and hot sauce. Stir briefly to dissolve the sugar and incorporate the ingredients and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until just shimmering. Add the onions and the salt, stir to coat with oil. Cover with a lid and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Be sure to stir the onions every once in a while to prevent scorching. If the onions begin to brown, turn down the heat to low.
- Add the garlic and chili powder and cook, uncovered until fragrant and well combined, about 30 seconds.
- Add the beef and cook over medium heat, breaking up the meat with the back of your spoon until just pink, about 3 minutes.
- Add the reserved tomato sauce mixture and stir to combine with the beef and onions. Simmer over medium-low heat until the mixture is slightly thicker than ketchup, about 8-10 minutes.
- Season the sloppy joes to taste with remaining salt and black pepper. Spoon on to hamburger buns and serve immediately.
Makes 6 large burgers