I never had any sort of affinity for sloppy joes until one fateful evening in college, when my roommate Krystal decided to make sloppy joes and I decided to eat them. I will forever hold her in a special place in my heart just for that one meal.
I felt like I had never really known sloppy joes until that moment. My experience up until then had been with Manwich, which came in a can and had a silly name. I think this was what my mom served. Actually, she probably served some sort of generic alternative, maybe Misterwich. It was okay, but I wouldn't recommend eating it without pickles. It just can't stand on its own feet. We also had sloppy joes at the public school cafeteria, and I don't know if there is a better definition of mystery meat than something that can be scooped and plopped onto a bun.
Krystal was a pretty good cook, but she didn't do it very often because there were so few opportunities to cook for more than herself. I feel her pain. Now, I like to cook and I'm not bad at it, but it's really hard to muster any amount of enthusiasm for cooking for one. I cook very regularly, until Josh goes out of town. And then it's fried eggs every night or cucumber sandwiches if the skillet is still dirty from the night before.
Anyway, Krystal made sloppy joes, not from a can, and I found out why anyone ever bothered to make a product such as Misterwich. To have a successful canned product, you must first have a successful homemade product. Otherwise, people will notice that what you're selling is pretty crappy, actually, rather than feeling it is a convenient approximation of something they had once back when they were small.
I had dreams of Krystal's sloppy joes, though she never made them again, probably because I ate all the leftovers (a clear violation of roommate protocol, though I see it as repayment for the time she was going through a bad break-up and drank all my liquor). A couple years later, I decided that I was ready as a chef to tackle the daunting task of browning ground beef, so I asked for her recipe. It was:
"ketchup, brown sugar, maple syrup, garlic powder, onion powder, worcheshire (sp?), beef and green olives."
Now, if you are looking to make sloppy joes, this is a good solid recipe. Brown the ground beef, add in the saucy stuff to taste. You don't even need pickles. To me, it tastes like a basement apartment in a cold mountain town, with a dash of roommate bonding. If all you've ever had is Misterwich, it just may change your life.
But just as Krystal's sloppy joes made me go "Wait, they can taste like this?", I naturally began to wonder just how good they could get. I wanted a definitive recipe, one that would make a can of Misterwich hide in the corner, too ashamed to be in the glow of a truly awesome sloppy joe. I scoured the internet.
I first tried this recipe, and I found it wrong, all wrong. It was sloppy, but it must have been some other dude. I got on board with the addition of vegetables, but I could not abide the sauce. It was delicious and tangy, but just too strange. I was so distracted by its non-joeness that I couldn't enjoy it. These were sloppy alberts or something.
I despaired. Woe! Would I ever find a sloppy joe for my very own?
Once I discovered that I could make my own very excellent barbecue sauce, I decided to try it as a sloppy sauce. I used the vegetables and browning technique from the sloppy alberts recipe, but went with my own sauce. And then I just kept doing that. The result is probably not really a sloppy joe either, but something more wholesome with a certain spicy smokiness. It is still sloppy. Maybe sloppy rogers?
I have started a small tradition with myself of making these when Josh goes out on tour. You see, he did not have a special moment with a plate of sloppy joes, and he is so-so on them, even though the ones he gets are about as fancy as Manwich can get, like Monsieurwich. So I wait until he is gone to make them. I forego the cucumber sandwiches for a night and go through the arduous task of chopping an onion and grating a carrot and browning ground beef. It takes like a whole hour, just to cook dinner for one measly person! However, I do get to eat all the leftovers by myself.