Coal Region barbecue

Coal Region Barbecue

Often identified in general as “sloppy Joe’s”, to the residents of parts of The Coal Region — Schuylkill County in particular — this is “barbecue“; not something smoked over wood or a smoking/cooking technique.

Here, “barbecue” refers to a sandwich consisting of chopped meat (frequently ground beef) simmered in a sauce then served on a burger bun. In Schuylkill County this “barbecue” is a noun, not a verb.

This style sandwich is a favorite in my neck of the woods, although folks throughout other areas of the Coal Region and Pennsylvania also know this dish as “wimpies” or “steamers”.

What’s in a name

Why we chose to call it “barbecue” is a debatable, but this barbecue is a top comfort food in my part of the southern Anthracite field. Simple but mouthwatering, it’s a combination of browned ground beef that has been simmered in a sweet/sour (usually) ketchup based sauce — and it’s delicious.  None of that canned “sloppy Joe” stuff for us!

Coal Region barbecue is great for pot-lucks and holds well in a slow cooker for parties. Every cook may make theirs a little differently than another, but the recipes are still basically similar.

Long time fan

I certainly have had my share of barbecue; it was one of the first dishes I made solo in the kitchen growing up. I have vivid and fond memories of my Mom, sitting at our chrome and yellow vinyl kitchen table set, “observing” and offering up helpful hints. 

Can’t let go

This recipe is on a card in my file box on which my Mom’s handwriting is so faded it has nearly disappeared; the grease stains on it may be older than I am, but I keep that card because it is in my Mom’s handwriting and I cannot bear to part with it.

Serve up some smiles

Typically, this barbecue is served on burger buns, but having buns around in my house when I was growing up was a rarity except for when we “cooked out” on the grill for summer picnics. More often than not, it found itself being served on a plate stuffed between two pieces of white sandwich bread which we then ate using a fork. To this day, I find I enjoy it that way the best!

Coal Region Barbecue

Recipe by A Coalcracker in the KitchenCourse: EntreeCuisine: Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy




  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 1 tablespoons white vinegar

  • 1 tablespoons white sugar

  • 2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard

  • 1 cup ketchup

  • 1/4 cup water

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 6 hamburger buns


  • Crumble the ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add onion; cook (chopping the burger up with the edge of a spoon into fine crumbles) and brown the meat. (I like to actually brown the meat, not just “steam” it.)
  • Drain excess grease, and stir in the vinegar, sugar, mustard, ketchup, salt and pepper and water. Simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Serve on buns.