The secret to a sloppy joe is to go as DIY as possible. While you don’t have to start making your own deli meat, to get the best possible joe, the Russian dressing and coleslaw must be homemade.
- Combine the cabbage, vinegar, sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl and massage it with your hands to break down the fibers. Season well with black pepper and toss. Set aside for at least a few hours, ideally overnight (in the refrigerator). When you're ready to assemble the sandwich, drain any excess liquid from the slaw. There will be leftovers. Make another sandwich tomorrow.
- In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, chile sauce, relish, hot sauce, and onion powder. Season with salt to taste. There will be leftovers.
- If using a ploughman-style loaf of rye bread, work horizontally and slice three ¼-inch pieces from the center of the loaf. If using a boule, work vertically and slice three ¼-inch slices from the center of the loaf.
- Lightly butter one slice of bread, then, working from the outside in, lay on folded pieces of your first meat so that the folded edges hit the very outside of the bread. The exact amount will depend on the size of your bread. Repeat with the second slice of bread and second meat.
- Lay a few spoonfuls of coleslaw over each meat-covered slice of bread, fanning out the slaw with a butter knife or offset spatula so it reaches all the way to the edge of the bread evenly.
- Dollop a few spoonfuls of Russian dressing over the coleslaw on each slice of bread, then use the butter knife or offset spatula to evenly spread the dressing to the edges.
- Lay cheese evenly over the Russian dressing on both slices of bread. Place the first layer of the sandwich over the second layer.
- Butter the third slice of bread, then place it, butter side down, over the top layer of the sandwich.
- If using ploughman-style bread, cut the sandwich into thirds or quarters lengthwise, then once crosswise to make even squares (this is the style of Town Hall Deli and Eppes Essen). If using a boule, slice the sandwich into three pieces by making two diagonal lengthwise cuts (this is the style of the Millburn Deli). If you want to keep the sandwich from getting sloppy too quickly, you can stick each section with a cocktail toothpick.
Rebecca Firkser is a New York City-based food writer and cook. Most recently the Culinary Editor at Extra Crispy, Rebecca’s byline has appeared in number of publications, among them Food52, Tasting Table, and Healthyish by Bon Appetit.