Franklin Park PTA School BBQ Day Sloppy Joes

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PTA School Barbecue Day has been a beloved tradition at Franklin Park, IL, District 84 schools since the 1950s. Featuring PTA-mom-made Sloppy Joes that fill the halls with the delicious aroma of seasoned beef, this monthly tradition was–back then–the only day kids didn’t have to go home for lunch. “For grade school boys, ordering food for Barbecue Day was a prelude to an eating contest,” remembers the anonymous LRF reader who wrote in for the recipe. “I remember washing our desks with liquid soap from the bathrooms while we waited for the food to come, propping the desktops level so the food wouldn’t slide off. And then the sandwiches, wrapped in paper, would be delivered to our desks along with chips, chocolate snack cake and a carton of milk.”

Kathy White, current PTA president for District 84, says PTA School Barbecue Day still happens monthly six times a year at the district’s three grade schools and one middle school. The Sloppy Joe recipe–handwritten on an old, dog-eared paper, is still the same one that the school used from the start: ground beef spiced with Open Pit barbecue sauce, mellowed with tomato juice and paste, thickened with a little cornstarch and seasoned with brown sugar, onion and garlic.

Starting last year, healthier sides (pretzels and fresh fruit cups) were added to the menu. And with Hostess gone, the PTA is still figuring out what they’ll serve for dessert instead of Hostess snack cakes. “But other than that, the tradition is still very much the same,” says White. “It’s always been a bonding experience for the moms, who get together at 9 a.m. on BBQ days to cook the sandwiches from scratch.”  While most of the kids at the schools still order Sloppy Joes on PTA BBQ Day, “the sandwiches are most popular with anybody who is an alum,” says White. “Every time I meet a former student who finds out I’m the PTA president, they always ask me about the Sloppy Joes!” Good news for any alums reading this? Kathy says if you e-mail the PTA ahead of time, she’ll be more than happy to set some sandwiches aside for you. E-mail to find out the yet-to-be-announced remaining BBQ Day dates for 2013, and be sure to put “BBQ Day Request” in the subject line.


Makes 3 dozen

Sloppy Joe Sandwich Ingredients

  • 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 5 lb ground chuck
  • 1 2/3 cups Open Pit barbecue sauce (original recipe)
  • 16 oz tomato juice
  • 8 oz tomato paste
  • 2/3 cup cornstarch
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • Onion powder and garlic powder to taste
  • 3 dozen hamburger buns
  • Potato chips, fresh fruit, chocolate snack cakes and milk to go along with


  1. Mix together cornstarch with 1 cup tomato juice. Set near your cooking area to add when meat is ready.
  2. Stir barbecue sauce with remaining 1 cup of tomato juice and tomato paste. Set near your cooking area to add later.
  3. Sprinkle salt in bottom of very large skillet to keep beef from sticking to pan. Brown meat over medium high heat,  in batches, until all is browned. Drain liquid. Skim off fat from liquid and discard; return meat juices to pan with the beef.
  4. Stir in cornstarch/tomato juice mixture and keep stirring until thickened. Pour in barbecue tomato mixture. Add onion and garlic powder to taste. Add brown sugar and simmer five minutes.
  5. Portion onto hamburger buns. Wrap filled sandwiches in paper and pack into clean pan; keep warm in very low oven until ready to serve. Serve with chips, fresh fruit, chocolate snack cake and milk.

10 thoughts on “Franklin Park PTA School BBQ Day Sloppy Joes

  1. I made this recipe for the second time this morning, but I left out the cornstarch entirely. Maybe the cornstarch was needed in order to prepare and wrap hundreds of sloppy joes and haul them to the outlying schools without soaking the buns. Or perhaps the amount didn’t translate well from the huge batch recipe. Either way I don’t think the cornstarch is needed if the sandwich is served immediately.

    The taste is just what I remember!

    • I left the recipe as it was, to be true to the original. But I’d have to agree that I prefer sloppy joes sans corn starch, which is how we do them in our home kitchen. Glad it’s a memory-evoking taste! Happy sandwiching!

  2. Pingback: Culinary Historian, Monica Kass Rogers & The BEST Shrimp Salad – The Daily Basics

  3. This of takes me back 55 years to William Horlick High School (Horlick’s Malted Milk Balls) in Racine, WI. Every Thursday was “Made-Rights” Day in the school cafeteria, Stensa Christensen’s (no relation) version of the “loose meat” sandwich. I don’t know where the name came from, but trust me, there were few brown bag lunches in the cafeteria on Thursdays! Thanks for this delicious memory from my high school days…

  4. Omgosh wow! I am throwing a White Elephant Christmas party this weekend and I was inspired by my childhood when it came to planning the food items. I thought – BBQ Day! (I went to North School than Hester Jr. High – I am 23 now lol). For some reason I thought, perhaps the recipe for BBQ Day sloppy joes is out there somewhere so I googled “BBQ day sloppy joes” and this webpage was the first hit! I am overjoyed reading this article. Thank you for posting. This will be my go to recipe for sloppy joes – seriously made my day and these sandwiches are one of my greatest memories from being a kid in school. :)


  5. I will never forget the smell of the sloppy joes we used to have at North School. Thank goodness for the internet and the person willing to share the original recipe. I’ve always wanted to experience that taste again (I’m 65, so it’s been way too long!!!) and now I can. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  6. I attended South school from 1952-1956. BBQ Day was the best as it is the best memory I have of my time there. This year I decided to Google it and there you were. Thanks. Can’t wait to try it. The test will be is it as great as we remember it.

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