Nowadays, many of us associate Sloppy Joes with the stuff that comes out of a can. But the colorfully-named sandwich actually has a long and noble history in the U.S., originating back in the early 20th century.

What are Sloppy Joes?

At its core, the Sloppy Joe consists of three basic elements — ground beef, tossed with a sweet, tomato-rich sauce (made with ketchup, chili sauce, or actual tomato sauce), and piled on a squishy white bun.

Why are they called Sloppy Joes?

Sloppy Joes are largely believed to be the creation of a cook in Sioux City, Iowa. Named, yes, Joe, he based his treat on the loose meat sandwiches that were popular in the 1930's. While those tavern favorites were generally composed of seasoned ground beef on a bun (optionally topped with ketchup, mustard and pickles), Joe's addition of tomato sauce brought the sloppy into the equation, and emerged as an affordable comfort food staple that is still around today.

Related: Did you know a guy named Nacho invented nachos? Get our top 10 most creative nacho recipes.

Variations on a Sloppy Joe

All over the country, different regions have their own take on the Sloppy Joe. Rhode Island has a riff called the "Dynamite," which throws onions and peppers into the mix, and New Jersey diverges completely. In fact, their version is more like a triple decker sandwich, with stacks of deli meat and cheese slipped between thin slices of rye, all cemented together with Russian dressing and mayo-gobbed coleslaw.

Turkey Sloppy Joes
Turkey Sloppy Joes | Photo by Holiday Baker

To most of the country, however, the Sloppy Joe remains largely defined by the creation of Sioux City's Joe. Not that it's kept us from taking liberties. Variations abound, especially when it comes to the ground beef itself. To appeal to non-red meat eaters, you'll find numerous recipes for Turkey Sloppy Joes (a hint of cayenne gives this one a little zip), Vegetarian Sloppy Joes (using everything from tempeh to lentils), and even these Buffalo Chicken Sloppy Joes, which cleverly combines two perfect barroom snacks.

Yet as all-American as the Sloppy Joe may seem, it undoubtedly shares DNA with dishes from overseas. India, for instance, piles pav rolls with curried meat, while parts of China feast on buns filled with stewed beef, pork or lamb.

No matter which way you go, it's always the right time to enjoy a deliciously Sloppy Joe!