Crew’s Mess: Sloppy José

Jan 13, 2019 by Capt. John Wampler

Crew’s Mess: by Capt. John Wampler

I grew up in the foothills of Southern California in the 1960s. Coming off the post-war 1950s, it seemed like California was always on the cutting edge of music, technology, fast cars and fast food.

Taking over from the casual dining experience of Howard Johnson, Sambo’s, Shakey’s Pizza and Bob’s Big Boy, America embraced the fast food convenience of McDonald’s, In-N-Out,  Jack in the Box, A&W, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell.

In 1968, I could leave junior high school during lunch break on my bike, go to a fast-food restaurant and get a cheeseburger for a quarter, fries for a nickel and a large soft drink for 20 cents.

One of my favorites was what Taco Bell called the “Bell Burger.” It was a Sloppy Joe-style sandwich with the seasoned  beef and cheddar cheese used in their tacos; add lettuce, tomatoes and onion for the “Bell Grande.” During special promotions, I could get five for a dollar.

Sadly, the Bell Burger was a casualty of the Burger War and was extinct by the mid-1970s. I do not profess to have their secret recipe, but this is pretty darn close. It is a simple and quick recipe if condiments are prepped in advance. The picante sauce is fresh and without preservatives. This would be a great item for game night. Enjoy.


Seasoned beef

1 pound ground beef

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried onion flakes

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1 dash garlic powder

1/2 cup cold water

Picante sauce

1 1/2 cup cold water

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 (6-oz) can tomato paste

1 1/2 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Additional items

6 hamburger buns, steamed slightly

¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded lettuce

½ diced tomato

½ cup diced onion


It is best to make the sauce first. In a saucepan, add the water and cornstarch and whisk until fully dissolved.

Next add vinegar, salt, cayenne and tomato paste. While bringing it to a boil, continue stirring. Reduce heat to low and let simmer until sauce thickens.

Cool in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Now, for the filling. In a stand mixer or food processor, combine the ground beef and dry ingredients until well mixed.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add beef and the 1/2 cup water. Stir the mixture while it cooks, breaking up large chunks. Cook until slightly browned. In a colander, drain off any grease or liquid.

While cooking the beef mixture, steam the buns slightly in a rice maker or double boiler.

To assemble, spread some sauce on the bottom bun. Next, add two tablespoons seasoned meat. Sprinkle meat with shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion.

Serve with guacamole as garnish.

Capt. John Wampler ( has worked on yachts for more than 30 years. His recipes are casual enough for anyone to prepare. Comments are welcome below.