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I regularly read Cooks Illustrated magazine. For thems unfamiliar with this food journal its goal is to explore the science of cooking in order to come up with new and improved ways to make established favorites. They take a dish, ‘take it apart’ and spend one to two pages explaining the trial and error they encountered on the road to the best recipe possible. The latest edition had a recipe for Sloppy Joes and how to do’em right. Spo-fans know I am always on the lookout for ‘proper’ recipes so I was intrigued to try out Cook Ilustrated’s ultimate recipe.

I am fond of Sloppy Joes; they are associated with family get-togethers and tailgate parties at football games. Recipes for Sloppy Joes are legion; I don’t think I’ve ever had or made the same version twice other than when I succumb to making the tinned Manwich variety (oh the embarrassment).

Someone is Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote on my quest to achieve culinary apotheosis. He’s grown dubious of these ‘new and improved versions” on the practical grounds they often take a lot of time to do and they often produce not much improvement over what we’ve always done. [1]  In my defense my attempts are admittedly different and not in a bad way. They never get a thumbs down. [2]

I got the ingredients and shooed Someone out of the kitchen for my quixotic attempt to create a Sloppy Joe culinary masterpiece.

The recipes are quite simple; it is the careful ingredients and technique that makes the dishes what they are. Cooks Illustrated always explains ‘why’ decisions are made but one can skip to the end and just make the recipe.

The hamburger meat was to be a certain fat percentage and seasoned and cooked with precise instructions.  Tomato paste was used instead of ketchup to increase umami; cornstarch was used to help bind the meat to make it less sloppy. [3]  I remember it did not have nasty celery and green bell pepper bits as they were deemed to interfere with the meat and onion flavors.

The end product was flavorful and there were no nasty drops down the shirt front.  It didn’t take too much time to do.  Someone said it was good and ‘worth making again’ so it was deemed a success.

There was a sense of it being different/not what I am used to so I guess I am not that different from the other Spos who prefer familiarity to flavor.  You can take the boy out of the Midwest but perhaps you can’t take the Midwest out of the boy after all.



[1] The awful fact that he is usual right doesn’t deter me from continually trying.

[2]  Once upon a time I spent a lot of time and effort making pumpkin pie from real pumpkins. It was full of organic pumpkin and fresh spices.  My family didn’t care for it. They were so used to ‘that made from the Libby’s can” this ‘new’ one didn’t feel ‘right’ for them in looks, taste, and feel.  Needless to say I don’t bother to make it any more. Pearls for swine I say.

[3] My family would find this another disappointment. Nothing dripping out the sides while eating would be seen as an object of suspicion. After all Sloppy Joes are supposed to be sloppy.  Mother served hers with a spoon for the droppings and with plenty of napkins.  It seemed most contents fell out but this was deemed a sign of ‘good’ Joes.

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June 2019

Spo-Reflections 2006-2018