Easy Sloppy Joes

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The delicious messy classic midwestern comfort food sandwich is easy to make at home from scratch – for an amazing flavor that is so much better than the canned mix!

sloppy joe sandwich in a bun with lots of sauce on a table
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sloppy joe in a bun with lots of sauce on a table

Homemade From Scratch Sloppy Joes

A classic Sloppy Joe is such an easy, delicious dinner that is a familiar but often overlooked American Classic. 

About the sloppy joe: Legend says that a cook named Joe at a diner in Sioux City, Iowa first developed the Sloppy Joe in the 1930s from a “loose meat” sandwich with a tomato-based sauce. Or maybe it came from the Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida, or Sloppy Joe’s Saloon in Havana, Cuba. Loose meat sandwiches are very much a midwestern tradition, stemming back from when ground beef first hit the consumer market in the 19th century. Iowa in particular still hosts a wide variety of loose meat sandwiches, even if the name is hardly evocative of a delicious meal.

Regardless of where the Sloppy Joe came from everyone agrees on the key, original ingredients: cooked (“loose”) meat, tomato or ketchup sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.

Making your own Sloppy Joe at home is so easy, and tastes so much better than the canned mix you buy at the grocery store. Plus you can tailor the recipe to your own likes and dislikes. 

This Classic Sloppy Joe recipe can even been cooked ahead and frozen to be reheated later for an even fast lunch or dinner treat!

sloppy joe in a bun with lots of sauce on a table

How to make Classic Sloppy Joes

To make this recipe, you’ll need:

  • Ground Beef – Use 80/20 ground beef. That number indicates the meat-to-fat ratio of that particular blend of ground beef. The first number is the percentage of beef, the second number is the percentage of fat included in the blend. 80/20 ground beef is the classic burger blend because it includes enough fat to provide rich beef flavor and keep your meat moist.
  • Oil – Any neutral cooking oil will serve for this, particularly avocado oil. I used homemade smoked beef tallow made from brisket trimmings to add a rich and smokey beef flavor. 
  • Bell Pepper – Bell peppers are called “sweet peppers” because they’re not spicy, not because they taste sugarey. However, when cooked with onion they provide great aromatic flavor.
  • Onion – Beef and onion go together like a hand in a glove. Onion cooked with bell pepper is ? of the cajun classic “holy trinity” that is the base for a lot of southern cooking. 
  • Garlic – The whole garlic brings wonderful aromatic and spicy flavor to this dish.
  • Tomato Paste – Tomato paste brings a rich, umami flavor to the Sloppy Joe, and is one of the essential ingredients that differentiate a sloppy Joe from other loose meat sandwiches. 
  • Ketchup – Ketchup brings tang, sweetness, and richness to the dish in a way that regular tomato sauce doesn’t.
  • BBQ Sauce – BBQ sauce isn’t a traditional ingredient in Sloppy Joe sauce, but I like to add it for the extra depth of flavor and BBQ flavor that I really think adds to this dish.
  • Brown sugar – The brown sugar helps add some sweetness to counteract the strong tomato and vegetable flavors in the meet. 
  • Yellow Mustard – Mustard brings spice and tang to theSloppy Joe sauce that you won’t be able to identify individually, but is an important ingredient for balancing the flavors.
  • Worcestershire Sauce – W sauce is the other key, traditional ingredient for this dish. The sauce is believed to be a British and Indian adaptation of fish sauce. It was originally developed in 1876 by John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins in Worcestshire, England. They went on the form the Lea and Perrins company.
  • Salt and Pepper – Salt and pepper are indispensable to almost any savory dish. 
  • Buns – Pick your favorite bun. Since these are traditionally served on classic hamburger buns, I went with brioche buns. Brioche is a French dough that uses large amounts of eggs and butter to create an amazing, soft bread with a delicate crumb. 

Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, we will use the following method: 

  • Prep. Prepare your ingredients. Dice your garlic, onions, and bell peppers. Try to keep the dice of the onions and pepper around the same size so they will cook evenly. 
  • Cook. Cook your ground beef. In a large skillet, use some of the oil to cook your ground beef until brown and cooked through. When cooked, remove from pan and set aside. In the same large skillet, cook your garlic, onions, and bell pepper in the beef fat until they are soft, and 2-3 minutes. If you need, you can use the remaining cooking oil.
  • Make sauce. Return your beef to the skillet with the vegetables, and begin to add the liquid ingredients. Add the tomato sauce, water, tomato paste, ketchup, BBQ sauce, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Stir together thoroughly and cook for 4-5 minutes until the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency. 
  • Serve and enjoy. When the sauce has cooked down to your liking, remove it from the heat. Seve while hot on a toasted bun and enjoy!
sloppy joe in a bun with lots of sauce on a table

Tips and Tricks to Perfect Sloppy Joes

Classic Sloopy Joes are really easy to make, but these tips will help make it even easier.

If your sauce is too thick, add more water. Depending on the moisture content of your vegetables, the meat and the thickness of your tomato paste, you may need to add more water water to help the sauce and spices cook down and come together.

Spice it up. If you like your Sloppy Joe a little more on the spicy side, add a couple of dashes of Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, or a ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes to add some heat to your meat sauce.

Quality Ground Meat: Choose fresh, high-quality ground beef for the best flavor. You could also consider ground turkey or pork for a different taste.

Drain the Fat: After browning the meat, drain off excess fat for a less greasy final product.

Sauté the Vegetables: Sautéing the onions, peppers, and other vegetables before adding the meat enhances their flavor and texture.

Don’t Rush the Simmer: Allow the sloppy joe mixture to simmer sufficiently. This helps the flavors meld together and thickens the sauce to the perfect consistency.

Season to Taste: Always taste your sloppy joe mixture before serving. Adjust the seasonings as necessary. Remember, it’s easier to add more seasoning than it is to correct an overly seasoned dish.

Add a Sweet Component: Adding a bit of brown sugar or ketchup can balance the tanginess of the tomato sauce and the savory meat.

Toast the Buns: Lightly toasting the buns before serving not only adds a nice texture contrast but also helps prevent them from getting soggy.

Customize Your Toppings: Don’t be afraid to add cheese, pickles, or even a bit of coleslaw to your sloppy joes for additional flavor and texture.

Leftovers are Great: Sloppy joe mixture is one of those foods that taste even better the next day, as the flavors have more time to meld together.

FAQs:

Are sloppy joes gluten free?

Obviously, the bun I’ve selected is not gluten free, but it can be replaced with a gluten free bun. This recipe for the meat sauce is gluten free, however, unlike the canned sauces available at your local grocery store. 

Can you freeze sloppy joes?

You can make the Sloppy Joe meat mix ahead of time and freeze for up to six months. 

Can I make vegan sloppy joes?

You can substitute the ground beef for a meat substitute like Beyond or Impossible Meat. Worcestershire sauce, an essential ingredient for getting the taste right, is made from anchovies so it is not vegan. Annie’s, 365, and O brands all make a vegan version of Worcestershire sauce.

Can you make sloppy joes in a slow cooker?

Yes, after browning the meat and sautéing the vegetables, you can combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low for 4-6 hours.

Why are my sloppy joes too runny?

If your sloppy joes are too runny, it may be due to excess liquid. Let the mixture simmer uncovered for a bit longer to allow some of the liquid to evaporate.

Can you make sloppy joes ahead of time?

Yes, you can prepare the sloppy joe mixture ahead of time. In fact, it often tastes better the next day as the flavors have more time to meld together.

Why are they called sloppy joes?

While the exact origin is unclear, legend has it that a cook named Joe in Sioux City, Iowa, added tomato sauce to his loose meat sandwiches and the “sloppy joe” was born.

sloppy joe in a bun with lots of sauce on a table

What to Serve With Sloppy Joes

Classic Sloppy Joes taste great with traditional hamburger side dishes like air fryer potato chips, french fries, coleslaw or a fresh and delicious tomato and chickpea salad or some edible brownie batter for dessert! 

We love serving this recipe with classic BBQ side dish recipes – for more, check out our recent favorites below:

sloppy joe in a bun with lots of sauce on a table

Easy Sloppy Joes Recipe

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sloppy joe in a bun with lots of sauce on a table

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Easy Sloppy Joes

Yield: 8 sloppy joes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Delicious easy sloppy joes without the canned mix - with simple ingredients in less than 30 minutes!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of Ground Beef
  • 4 tablespoons of Oil
  • ½ cup of finely diced Bell Pepper
  • ½ cup of finely diced Onion
  • 4-5 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of Tomato Paste
  • ⅔ cups of Ketchup
  • 2-3 tablespoons of BBQ Sauce
  • ⅔ cup of Water
  • 1 tablespoon of Brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of yellow Mustard
  • ½ teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
  • Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)
  • ½ teaspoon each of Salt and Pepper
  • 8 brioche buns

Instructions

  1. Finely chop and keep separated the onion, garlic, and bell pepper.
  2. Brown the ground beef with 2 tablespoons of oil.  Drain and remove from pan.
  3. In the same pan, saute the bell pepper, garlic, and bell pepper.
  4. Add the cooked ground beef back to the pan with the vegetables.
  5. Add the tomato paste, water, ketchup, BBQ sauce, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Stir well and cook for 2-4 minutes until the sauce is reduced to the desired thickness. 
  6. Remove from heat and serve hot on a brioche bun. 

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Nutrition Information
Yield 8 Serving Size 1 sandwich
Amount Per Serving Calories 570Total Fat 31gSaturated Fat 12gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 16gCholesterol 159mgSodium 712mgCarbohydrates 50gFiber 3gSugar 16gProtein 23g

Nutrition is automatically calculated by Nutritionix - please verify all nutrition information independently and consult with a doctor or nutritionist for any and all medical and diet advice.

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About Courtney

Courtney loves to share great wine, good food, and loves to explore far flung places- all while masting an everyday elegant and easy style at lifestyle blog Sweet C’s Designs. Sweet C's devoted to finding the best food and drinks you'll want to make or find, around the world!

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1 Comment

  1. We LOVE the EASY SLOPPY JOES RECIPE. It’s easy to fix, being there are only 2 of us we cut it in half on our bun night. We have fixed this dish several times and will never buy another can of Manwich again.