A legend involving Ernest Hemingway says that it could have been as simple as accidentally putting picadillo on a roll.
picadillo as a sloppy joe havana cuba
Did the Sloppy Joe possibly originate from picadillo on a bun, like this? Photo: Tripadvisor

I spent the last month recovering from Covid. Yes, a month! The entire time I felt like my cough was going to be my cause of death but dying from boredom might have been the other reason for my demise. 

As I am lying (dying) in bed with nothing on television, I started to think about Sloppy Joes. I haven’t had a Sloppy Joe since I was a kid. My mom would make it for dinner every so often even though I would have preferred a hamburger over the Sloppy Joe. 

What is so appealing to Americans about the Sloppy Joe? It’s a lazy hamburger with a sweetened tomato sauce plopped onto a hamburger bun. If you didn’t have hamburger buns, white bread slices took its place. The bread would be soggy and your hands covered in greasy tomato sauce. 

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Since I had nothing else to do,I decided to do some research on this American classic. Some say the Sloppy Joe is also known as the “loose meat sandwich or tavern burgers” and got its origins in Sioux City, Iowa in the 1930s. Served at a lunch counter called Ye Olde Cafe, it was created by a man named Joe.

Joe’s recipe included ground beef, chopped onion, ketchup, mustard, and vinegar. This recipe validated my opinion of the Sloppy Joe. It’s just a lazy hamburger. 

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Another theory of where the sandwich was created involves Ernest Hemingway, Havana, Cuba, and this guy… Jose. 

picadillo as a sloppy joe
Picadillo in a bowl.

José Abeal y Otero, a Spanish immigrant, opened a bar in Havana, Cuba. He was nicknamed by John J. Mcgraw (a baseball player) as “Dirty Joe” and “Sloppy Joe.”  Jose later changed the name of his bar to “Sloppy Joe” to appeal to American tourists.

Jose and his cantineros (Cuban bartenders) not only popularized the mojito (mint, lime, sugar, rum, & club soda), but legend has it he is also credited for creating the Sloppy Joe sandwich. Jose put picadillo on a roll similar to a brioche. If you ever had a medianoche sandwich, it’s that sweet bread. He served it to his regulars and it was a hit. 

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The sandwich was such a hit that Enerst Hemmingway, who frequented Jose’s bar, convinced his friend Joe Russell, the owner of the Silver Slipper in Key West to change the name of the bar to “Sloppy Joes” and to serve the Sloppy Joe sandwich. The sandwich is still on the menu today. 

Sloppy joe's bar havana cuba
Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Havana, Cuba. Photo: Tripadvisor

In 2013, Sloppy Joe’s in Havana reopened after being closed for 49 years. The bar still is serving up all of its classic drinks and the famous “Sloppy Joe” sandwich. 

If you find yourself craving a Sloppy Joe, you can always open a can of Manwich and add it to cooked ground beef. But, if you are feeling adventurous, take a trip to Iowa,  Key West, or if you are lucky enough to Havana, Cuba. 

However, if time or money are tight, I can help you out with some recipes.

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Jami Erriquez is a part-time chef, food stylist, and an avid cookbook collector from South Florida. She studied culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta, Georgia. Her love for cooking came from her father, Danny. She is a traveler, a yogi, and a beach bum, and has been eating Cuban sandwiches and listening to Celia Cruz since she was seven!. When Jami isn't in the kitchen she is binge-watching Golden Girls and hanging out with her family and pet cat, Irma.

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