This may be my favorite comfort food of all. I loved 'em from the very first time my mother placed a platter of them on our kitchen table one evening many, many years ago.
Back then, the recipe was pretty simple. My mom started with ground beef, cooked it in a skillet, and then added diced onion, ketchup and (of course) some flour to give it that body that makes it easier to rest on a hamburger bun.
Like my mother's recipe, I drain the hamburger meat to remove most of the rendered fat. But leave a little in the skillet. Over the years, I've come to the point where I add a few more ingredients: a tablespoon of molasses, a 1/4 cup of diced green or red bell pepper, a teaspoon of Tabasco (just to give it a slight kick) and although I use about 1/3 cup of ketchup, I also add a 1/4 cup of a premium tomato sauce like Classico. (Instead of molasses, Rachel Ray's recipe includes a similar ingredient: brown sugar.)
I love bacon as much as the next person, but I consider it overkill to add (as this foodie site endorses) a slice of bacon atop the sloppy joe meat. And what the hell is an ingredient like corn doing in a recipe for sloppy joes? Ugh. I just think these ingredients complicate a dish that is wonderfully simple and tasty.
Enough diversionary comments. Back to my recipe -- the second-to-last ingredient is three tablespoons of beer. Does that sound a little crazy? Try it. It really does add a unique flavor.
Then I just add enough flour to help the meat coalesce. The meat never sticks together perfectly, but that's something to celebrate. After all, they are called sloppy joes. Which is why you should serve 'em with a fork.
I see some sloppy joe recipes with other ingredients, like this one with yellow mustard and garlic powder. Mustard? I'm not sure I see the value of adding it. I generally love garlic, but my feeling is that it just doesn't work for sloppy joes.
Whatever you do, avoid the temptation of using one of those Manwich-style pre-prepared sloppy joe sauces. They just aren't as good as doing it yourself.