Barbecue Sandwiches

By Ann Fulton

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The “Sloppy Sauce” that envelopes the ground beef in these classic sandwiches is quick, easy, and contains less sugar than many traditional recipes. The taste, however, is spot on!


Breakfast for dinner is always a hit in our house. Come six o’clock, eggs are conveniently quick and satisfying, and an occasional stack of pancakes is a surefire winner.

But let’s just say you had one shot at eating a hot meal on any given day. Would dinner for breakfast offer similar appeal?

This thought never occurred to me until I spent a morning volunteering at First United Methodist Church (FUMC). Through its Anchorage Breakfast Program, the church welcomes anyone in need of breakfast and caters especially to Lancaster’s low income and unsheltered population. The buffet runs from 8:30 to 9:45am, five days a week, 52 weeks of the year.

FUMC took over the program from St. James Episcopal Church, which started the program 30 years ago. In the first five months at FUMC, Anchorage served 13,573 meals.  They average about 120 meals a day, and that number is growing.

I was immediately struck by the enthusiasm of the volunteers and the quality of the meal. Several of the regulars were eager to fill me in on the most popular recipes, many of which are the creative genius of Carole Adkins. Carole fills the role of team leader every Wednesday and says she truly found her passion within the walls of the Anchorage kitchen.

A variety of cold cereals, fruit, protein bars, juice, and coffee accompany the day’s hot breakfast special. I was intrigued when I learned that macaroni and cheese makes an occasional appearance—and it’s a hands-down hit.

Nothing goes to waste under Carole’s watch. When the weekly grocery list includes 80 loaves of bread, 40 gallons of milk, and 30 dozen eggs are scrambled in a single morning, the budget is always a concern. Uneaten toast is cubed and frozen until there’s enough for a savory egg bake, and leftover fruit is repurposed in a variety of sweet breakfast casseroles.

Carole reported that she was especially thrilled when she found a crowd-pleasing way to recreate leftover oatmeal. It’s baked oatmeal using cooked oatmeal in place of the usual dry oats. (Intrigued, I made a batch of oatmeal just to have the “leftover” for Carole’s recipe. If there are any readers who find themselves with a glut of cooked oatmeal, I will gladly pass along Carole’s clever recipe.)

In a conversation with Carole and program manager Laura Meisl several days later, we talked about the popularity of mac and cheese for breakfast, and I asked if they had any special plans for Anchorage’s first anniversary on August 1. They hadn’t, but this simple question was all it took to put their wheels in motion.

Shortly after, Carole and Laura reported that they would be celebrating with a dinner-for-breakfast anniversary meal, and Carole was pretty sure her recipe for barbecue sandwiches would give the mac and cheese a run for its money.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother often whipped up a batch of these saucy sandwiches for a special weekend lunch. My grandmother never measured a thing—just spooned or squirted all the flavorful ingredients into her big cast iron skillet after browning the meat. Over the years, I figured out rough measurements, and Carole’s recipe was quite similar.

Carole’s version added bell pepper and a touch of Dijon mustard; my grandmother always added a glug of vinegar. After making the recipes several times recently, I settled on a hybrid, which my family was all too delighted to see in the meal rotation after an unintentional hiatus.

The "Sloppy Sauce" that envelopes the ground beef in these classic sandwiches is quick, easy, and contains less sugar than many similar recipes. The taste, however, is spot on! 

Some people call these sloppy Joes, but we always called them barbecue sandwiches.  Carole likes them because they’re easy, use ingredients that are plentiful at Anchorage, and taste really good!

Barbecue Sandwiches
I love to top these saucy sandwiches with coleslaw, but they're rather tasty without, too. When choosing rolls, look for an option that is soft and not too bready so the flavor of the barbecue can truly shine.

Yield: 6-8 sandwiches
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 a small onion, minced
  • 1 small red pepper, finely chopped (may substitute color of choice)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • Sloppy Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Rolls for serving
For the Sloppy Sauce
  • 3/4 cup (204 grams) ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons (24 grams) lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) apple cider vinegar (may use white vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) Dijon mustard
  • Dash (1/4-1/2 teaspoon) Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt and several grinds of the pepper mill
  1. For the sauce: In a medium bowl, stir together the ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. If not using fresh garlic, stir in the garlic powder, too. Make ahead tip: the sauce may be prepared in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.
  2. Add the ground beef and onion to a 12-inch, nonstick or cast iron skillet set over medium heat. Cook, breaking up the beef as you go, until the meat is about two-thirds of the way browned. Add the red pepper and garlic, and continue cooking until the meat is cooked through and the peppers are beginning to soften, about 3 more minutes.
  3. Stir in the sauce, bring the mixture to a simmer, and then decrease the heat to low and cook, uncovered, until the mixture is thick yet still a little goopy, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve and enjoy!
  • I typically use lean (but not extra lean) ground beef and do not drain the fat. Use what you prefer and, if using beef with a higher fat content, you may wish to drain off some of the fat before adding the ketchup mixture.
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To volunteer or learn more about ways you can support the Anchorage Breakfast Program, go to and click on Anchorage Breakfasts.


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  1. Dorothy Frey

    Hi Ann;
    I, too, call the “sloppy Joe” dish barbecue, especially after my pastor came to me (his name is Joe) asking me how I’d like it if they named a dish after “sloppy dotti”? just as I no longer call the rotating shelves ‘lazy susans’. Reason? My one daughter Susan, is anything but lazy. The recipe I use is an old time favorite and very similar to the one you just sent. Very easy and good. I read you are no longer submitting posts to LNP. Sorry about that since I always look for it, but so happy to have your recipes coming by email.

    1. Ann Post author

      I love your comment and my sister, who is a Susan, too, would very much appreciate your renaming of the rotating shelves! Thank you also for the LNP mention. Not sure it will change anything, but quite a few readers have said they are writing in, just in case you’d like to send a quick note. Most importantly, I’m delighted you are a regular in this space and I always enjoy reading your comments.❤️

  2. Carolyn Spicknell

    Very good flavor, Ann; delicious on soft rolls, and even better as a leftover. I have an older slow cooker recipe that makes a large amount for a group, but your recipe tops that in flavor and yields just the right amount for us. Always appreciate your healthy approach and helpful notes as well.

    Carolyn S.

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Carolyn, I’m delighted this was a hit and I agree – the flavor does improve with age. Thanks also for your kinds words. They are much appreciated!

  3. Karen from Central PA

    Hi Ann,
    This post brought a smile to my face and memories from the past. As a native and lifetime resident of Central PA, I have been making this barbeque sandwich recipe for almost 5 decades, after finding the recipe in a newspaper article about popular food that local churches prepared and sold at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which is held every January in Harrisburg. Churches were chosen by lottery and could only participate every so many years. There was enormous competition for these concessions because they were huge fundraisers for the churches.

    Over the years in Central PA, I have enjoyed these sandwiches prepared by others and myself at homes, potlucks everywhere, youth sports and scouting activities, and school fairs. The same recipe submitted by an acquaintance was printed in the newspaper about ten years ago. For the past few years I have made this while vacationing with friends from South Carolina, well known for its “barbeque”. They enjoy it, but question how it can be called “barbeque” when it is not pork. The ingredients are usually on hand, the flavor improves with refrigeration, and it freezes well. After almost 50 years, wish I knew how many times that I have prepared this recipe. Thanks for the memories, Ann.

    1. Ann Post author

      I loved reading your wonderful comments, Karen. Thanks for taking the time to include a bit of history. We visit the Farm Show every year, but I wasn’t aware of the competition for concessions that used to occur. You can get a great pork barbecue sandwich there, but not one of these. Maybe they should bring them back!