The Best Sloppy Joe Recipe

When it comes to easy, homemade dinners, it doesn't get any better than the best Sloppy Joes, my family's most requested recipe. Every bite is meaty, messy, and delicious. Especially good with ground beef or turkey, and miraculously ready to eat in under half an hour. I always make extra, so everyone can have second helpings. 

Serve up Sloppy Joes with Baked Mac and Cheese, pickles, and your favorite potato chips for an award-winning dinner. Need some lightning-fast, super-easy ground beef dinner ideas? Try Iowa’s original, famous Loose Meat Sandwich, Cheesy Meatloaf, or pasta with Homemade Meat Sauce.

The best sloppy joes on a plate with pickles and chips.
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It's no surprise that Sloppy Joes take me back to the good old days of summer vacations. Every year my mom would make a giant batch of this recipe, freeze it, and stow it in the car during our annual trip to northern Wisconsin. When we got to the cabin, dinner was already made. All we had to do was toast up some buns and set the table. Summer meant lots of Sloppy Joe sandwiches, which was fine by me.

Of course, you can fiddle with the recipe. Make it spicy, with some green chilies. Keep out the sugar if you prefer things less sweet, or add some smokiness with a little BBQ sauce. Fill it full of hidden veggies, or leave it as-is. Throw in some ground turkey, lamb, or venison. There's simply no wrong way to make a Sloppy Joe.

Got a slow cooker? Crockpot instructions are included down below, in case you love walking in the house to dinner already made. This recipe just gets better, the longer you cook it. And the leftovers are incredible, too.

The Best Sloppy Joes are even better in big batches, frozen until you need then for completely satisfying last-minute dinners. Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.

A little Sloppy Joes wiki:

Like all famous recipes, there are many who take credit for inventing the Sloppy Joe sandwich, including a bar down in Key West and a sandwich place in Sioux City, Iowa. Loose meat sandwiches were wildly popular in the early 20th century and all through the Great Depression. It made a thrifty, filling, and delicious meal.

Ground meat with tomato sauce may have been a Cuban influence, related to picadillo, a sweet and spicy ground meat sauce eaten over rice. Which reminds me, you can definitely eat Sloppy Joe over rice, pasta, or potatoes.

No matter where it came from, it's an American classic and people go crazy for it!

Old fashioned Sloppy Joes ingredients:

Here’s what you need to skip the Manwich and go straight to the best.

  • Ground beef. Or ground turkey, for a healthy version.
  • Onion. My mom always adds finely chopped celery, too. Even shredded carrot for natural sweetness.
  • Tomato sauce. Canned tomato sauce is perfect.
  • Ketchup.
  • Brown sugar. Because it tastes so good!
  • Ground mustard. (An equal amount of Dijon mustard works if you don’t have it.)
  • White vinegar.
  • Worcestershire sauce. This fermented British condiment, packed with umami flavors, is your Sloppy Joe secret weapon. Just a little bit gives the sauce extra body and makes it rich and savory. Look for Lea & Perrins brand, if you can.
  • Salt and black pepper.
  • Buns. Split and toasted, if you please.
    Sloppy joe ingredients in various bowls.

Worcestershire substitutes:

That little bottle has a funny way of vanishing when you need it the most--or maybe you never had it at all? Don't worry.

It's salty, sweet, and tangy. Most Worcestershire substitutions use sugar, cider vinegar and something salty. But because there's already sugar and vinegar in Sloppy Joes, you probably don't need to add more. Maybe just focus on that funky saltiness.

Some good substitutes:

Soy sauce. Use soy sauce 1:1 in the recipe.
Miso paste and water. If you have it, mix a little bit of miso with water until thin, then measure out 1:1 in the recipe.

How to make the best Sloppy Joes you've ever had:

  1. Depending on the amount you're making, you need a Dutch oven, large saucepan, or big pot. To start, over medium-high heat, brown the meat and onion together until the meat is almost cooked through--about 5 minutes or so.
    Ground beef and onion cooked in a sliver skillet.
  2. While the meat is cooking, mix together the tomato sauce, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, vinegar, and brown sugar in a separate bowl. Season the sauce with some salt and pepper.
    The best sloppy joe sauce ingredients in a clear glass bowl.
  3. Pour the sauce over the meat in the pot, stir well, and turn down the heat to a simmer. Let the meat simmer in the sauce for 20 minutes or so. Longer if you want drier, less sloppy Joes.
    The best sloppy joe sauce being added to cooked ground beef and onion mixture.

And that, my friends, is all there is to it!

Crockpot Sloppy Joes:

When you want dinner as soon as you walk in the door, get out your slow cooker. When you want the easiest party dinner ever, also get out your slow cooker. Birthday dinner for a dozen hungry kids? Yep, get out the slow cooker.

  1. First, brown your meat in advance on the stove.  Then just throw it-- along with the rest of the ingredients-- in the cooker.
  2. Cover and cook on LOW for 6-7 hours, or HIGH for 3-4 hours.

How to make vegetarian Sloppy Joes:

The impossible is possible. Vegetarians can get messy, too! Make this recipe with your favorite plant-based protein, such as…

  • Crumbled firm tofu
  • Veggie patty
  • Sautéed mushrooms
  • Seitan or tempeh
  • Cooked lentils

But brown your onions in the pot first, before adding anything else. The vegetables won't need as long to cook.

The best sloppy joe meat in a sliver skillet.

Here are some perfect sides:

What to serve with Sloppy Joes? This all-star sandwich is almost a meal, but needs a little something else to round out the menu.

Brilliant and delicious Sloppy Joe ideas:

  • Homemade Sloppy Joes with BBQ sauce. Your favorite barbecue sauce (or my favorite, based on Sweet Baby Ray's) can be added instead of ketchup for a smoky version of a classic Joe.
  • Mix up the meat. In case you’re wondering, ground chicken, turkey, or even lamb can get sloppy, too. Got a venison connection? By all means, get wild and use it.
  • Peppers and onions. Diced bell peppers, extra onion, even garlic make this simple recipe a little more unique.
  • Tomato soup. A can of tomato soup can be added to the ground meat if that’s what you have. Add a little extra ketchup to give it some extra tomato flavor.
  • No ketchup. Substitute out barbecue sauce or tomato paste, or just some extra tomato sauce, if that's what you have.
  • Healthy Sloppy Joes. Sneak some extra veggies in there. Go on, do it! Get your kids to eat more vegetables  by sneaking in shredded zucchini, carrots, or finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes. No one will be the wiser.
  • Spicy. If you love some heat, throw in a tablespoon of ancho chili powder, a teaspoon of ground cumin, or a half teaspoon of chipotle powder; it might bring your Joe to the next level.
  • Wine is fine. A splash of wine (or even beer) adds a wonderful depth of flavor and some acidity to balance the natural sweetness of this recipe. Don’t worry, the alcohol will cook out over time.
  • No sugar Sloppy Joe recipe. Leave the sugar out, and make this recipe with no-sugar-added ketchup. If you want a little sweetness, try monk fruit sugar, shredded carrots, or a tiny bit of honey.
  • Herbs. Garden-fresh oregano, thyme, or parsley is a-okay.

Sandwich toppings:

The first one that comes to mind: cheese. Because I’m from Wisconsin, a Sloppy Joe wouldn’t be complete without a thick slice, or wonk, of Wisconsin cheese, put right on top of the ground meat to melt.

But when it comes to other Sloppy Joe toppings, the sky is the limit: chopped scallions, pickles, green olives, pickled garlic, a dollop of sour cream, or even a handful of crushed potato chips. This is your sandwich, after all!

Best bread for Sloppy Joes:

I love soft, toasted buns for Sloppy Joes, especially when they’re buttered. Some readers prefer pretzel buns, or pillowy soft brioche rolls. Open-faced or double bun, that's up to you and your appetite.

But don’t let that stop you if you forgot to buy buns at the store: Serve it on pasta or rice (I even have a crazy One Pot Sloppy Joe Casserole).

How to freeze Sloppy Joes for meal prep and last minute dinners:

Easy meal prep, right here. Let your Sloppy Joe meat cool completely, then add to freezer containers, (one big batch or individual portions) label and date, and freeze for up to 4 months.

When you're ready to eat, let the Sloppy Joes thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat on the stove.

Leftover Sloppy Joe inspiration:

Want it all, but don't feel like freezing?

  • Turn any extra Sloppy Joe into a tater tot casserole.
  • Spoon the ground meat mixture into a quesadilla with pepper jack cheese, or wrap into a tortilla with rice for an amazing burrito.
  • Top a baked potato with Sloppy Joe and a dollop of sour cream. Maybe some chives.
  • Sloppy Joe nachos! Spoon over tortilla chips and add some beans, cheese, and guac.
  • Wrap a tablespoon of meat into crescent rolls and bake. Joe in a blanket.
4.99 from 92 votes

The Best Sloppy Joe Recipe

When it comes to easy, homemade dinners, it doesn't get any better than the best Sloppy Joes, my family's most requested recipe. Every bite is meaty, messy, and delicious. Especially good with ground beef or turkey, and miraculously ready to eat in under half an hour.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword sloppy joe
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 183kcal
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 Sandwich buns, split
  • In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, combine beef and onion. Cook until the meat is mostly browned, about 5 minutes. Drain well.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together tomato sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. 
  • Pour sauce ingredients over drained beef and stir until evenly coated. Simmer uncovered 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (cover if you prefer a sloppier Sloppy Joe). Serve in buns.

Recipe Notes

Some popular reader variations including adding finely chopped celery, bell pepper, or carrots.

Nutrition

Calories: 183kcal

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  1. Barbara Snedegar

    My aunt made this recipe for as long as I can remember. The only difference is her recipe calls for 1/2 cup onion and 1/2 cup green bell pepper, which is a nice addition. I still use the index card in my mom’s handwriting titled “Irene’s BBQ.” This recipe brings back such happy memories for me too. I like your suggestions for leftovers and will definitely try the “Joe in a Blanket” idea!5 stars

  2. Catherine

    Is it tomato paste or tomato sauce? I’ve seen both on this page! Looking forward to making this.

    1. Meggan

      Hi there Catherine, I’m very sorry, the paste was a typo. It is SAUCE in this recipe. Thanks! -Meggan

  3. Mary Channell

    My family loves this recipe. I’ve been looking for this for a long time. In the 80s craft shows served food and this recipe is the closest thing to the Sloppy Joe’s I remember.

  4. Sonia

    Fantastic recipe! I ran out of white vinegar so I used a zesty Italian dressing and it turned out great!!! I have made this 4 or 5 times. It’s a big hit in my house.4 stars

  5. Catherine Foote

    I used balsamic vinegar, then Korean BBQ sauce in place of the Worcester sauce….I didn’t have any…..and a smidge more ketchup….it was amazing….definitely let it simmer to blend all the flavors. The leftovers were mixed with macaroni and fresh tomato……great flavor.5 stars

  6. izzi

    I was very happy to find this web site. I need to to thank you for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely appreciated every bit of it and i also have you book-marked to check out new things on your blog.5 stars

  7. Crystal

    Our familcry’s favorite sloppy joe recipe!5 stars

  8. Lynn Kurtz

    I make this recipe with ground chicken. It is the best recipe for sloppy joes out there. My husband has never been a sloppy joe fan, but he really likes this revipe.5 stars

  9. Rachel

    This was just made in a ×10 (or so) batch for a large community weekly meal. I cannot claim to a follow the recipe perfectly, but no I did pretty closely… These were truly the best homemade sloppy joes! Everyone thought they were tremendous! I did not use the bell pepper, as we have a large child attendance and didn’t want them to be detoured. They were still amazing!5 stars

    1. Meggan

      Wow, that’s a lot of sloppy joes! I’m so glad that they were great for you and your group! Whenever I hear things like this it just makes my day. Thanks! -Meggan

  10. It’s A Winner

    Made Sloppy Jo Jo Rabbit for an Oscar Pun Party and this recipe won Best Flavor! Thank you for sharing your recipe!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Well THAT is the best feedback I’ve ever gotten on this recipe. Wow. :) I’m so delighted! Thanks for sharing. -Meggan

  11. Tammy Smith

    It’s so much better than canned sloppy joe sauces from the store, and the ingredients are pantry staples.5 stars

    1. Meggan

      I’m glad you liked it Tammy! Thank you!

  12. Joy

    This was amazing! My whole family loved it (I have 6 kids and a picky husband!), and my son even called it his “new favorite” dinner. That is a win in my book! Thanks so much for sharing healthy, delicious recipes!5 stars

    1. Dawn

      So my family was skeptical when I said this was for dinner because the last time I made this it was too sweet (different recipe). This was a winner! Thanks so much!

    2. Meggan

      You’re welcome Joy! I’m glad it was a winner! -Meggan

  13. Birdie Harms

    Thank you so much for this recipe. I homeschool four of my grandchildren ages 9-15 and they all said it is definitely “a Keeper!” I used ground turkey for a healthy alternative as you suggested and I also added in grated carrots and finely chopped kale to make it a healthier dish. I put it in my crockpot in the morning while they were eating breakfast and it was smelling delicious by lunch time. So easy, I will definitely be using this recipe as one of our rotation meals for lunch. Thank you again for sharing this with all of us.5 stars

  14. Susan

    Of course I only had tomato-basil sauce! So I went for the tomato soup instead but all I had was PC Blue Menu tomato and roasted red pepper soup to use. Added 2T tomato paste and only 1/4C ketchup so it wouldn’t be too sweet. Next time I’ll leave the brown sugar out till the end to taste. I also added about 1/4C each of celery and cubanelle pepper. My husband says best sloppy joes I ever made – brilliant! I see much more of this in our future thanks5 stars

  15. Bridget

    Have made a few times, using 2 cups brown/green lentils instead of the 1 lb meat (my standard substitution). Thank you for the recipe, it is perfect. I had tried “vegan sloppy joes” recipes and they never hit the mark – for some reason always containing tablespoons of chili powder and never really being “sloppy joe” flavored. This sauce is just perfect sloppy joe sauce. I saute a sweet onion until nice and sweetly browned, then add the lentils, 4 cups water, a little salt, and cook until just about done. Then I add all the sauce ingredients. (Adding the acidic tomato sauce to the lentils while cooking will prevent them from softening). Then I let it simmer for a while to let the flavors blend. We serve it with fresh baked rolls or pitas, sliced pickle and onion, and for my husband – fritos. As written the recipe yields two big man servings for him and one serving for me – need to remember to double it next time so I get some of the leftovers.5 stars

  16. Emily

    This turned out amazing. (I took a taste) I have it simmering right now but it seems too liquidity to put on a bun. Any suggestions on thickening I?5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Emily, you can simmer it longer if it seems too sloppy. I think the way we eat it, it’s just like that (maybe not as thick as the stuff from the can). Also, did you drain your beef after browning it? If not, it might have more liquid. I think also, uncovering it while simmering will help a lot (I will change the recipe to simmer it uncovered). I hope this helps. And I am so glad you like it! -Meggan

  17. Emily

    If I make this in the crockpot, should I cook the onions first or put them in raw?

    1. meggan

      Hi Emily, you could actually do either. Normally I cook the onions with the beef so they would go in cooked. I have another recipe for Calico Beans in a slow cooker and the onions go in raw. I like that too, but the onion flavor ends up being stronger/more pronounced (not bad, not overly oniony, but it’s different). If you aren’t sure, I would say cook them first. But if you aren’t worried about it, or you like an adventure, throw them in raw. Thanks! -Meggan

  18. Emily

    If I make this in the crockpot, should I cook the onions first or put them in the crockpot raw?

  19. Velina

    This was super tasty!  Since my son doesn’t like onions, I added onion powder!5 stars

  20. Victoria Murray

    This is AMAZING!!! The only changes I made was I added the salt and pepper to the meat while it was cooking and per the suggestions I added one clove of garlic and a diced green pepper in with the meat. I will never again but the canned.5 stars

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