The Best Sloppy Joes

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.

The best sloppy joes on a plate with pickles and chips.

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.

Recipe ingredients:

Sloppy joe ingredients labeled and in various bowls.

Ingredient notes:

  • Ground beef: Or substitute ground turkey or venison.
  • Onion: Finely chopped celery and bell peppers are great too!
  • Brown sugar: Even a tablespoon is too much for some people. If you don’t like the sound of brown sugar in your Sloppy Joe, please leave it out!
  • Worcestershire sauce: In a pinch, you can substitute soy sauce.

Step-by-step instructions:

  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.
    The best sloppy joe sauce being added to cooked ground beef and onion mixture.
  4. Let the meat simmer in the sauce for 20 minutes or so. Longer if you want drier, less sloppy Joes.
    The best sloppy joe meat in a sliver skillet.

Recipe tips and variations:

  • BBQ sauce. Your favorite barbecue sauce (or my favorite bbq sauce, based on Sweet Baby Ray’s) can be added instead of ketchup for a smoky version of a classic Joe.
  • 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. Or, splash on your favorite hot sauce to taste.
  • Slow cooker: In a skillet, brown the ground beef. Drain well and add the bottom of a slow cooker. Add all the other ingredients (except the buns), cover, and cook on LOW for 6-7 hours, or HIGH for 3-4 hours.
  • Freezer: 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 (or reheat from frozen).
  • Casserole: For a fork-friendly version, try my One Pot Sloppy Joe Casserole.

The best sloppy joes with chips and pickles on blue plates.

More classic recipes:

The best sloppy joe sandwich on a white plate.

The Best Sloppy Joes

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. 
5 from 103 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 294kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef (see note 1)
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped (see note 3)
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (see note 3)
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (see note 4)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 Sandwich buns, split

Instructions

  • 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, and salt and pepper to taste (I like 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.

Video

Notes

  1. Ground beef: Or substitute ground turkey or venison.
  2. Onion: Finely chopped celery and bell peppers are great too!
  3. Brown sugar: Even a tablespoon is too much for some people. If you don't like the sound of brown sugar in your Sloppy Joe, please leave it out!
  4. Worcestershire sauce: In a pinch, you can substitute soy sauce.
  5. BBQ sauce. Your favorite barbecue sauce (or my favorite bbq sauce, based on Sweet Baby Ray's) can be added instead of ketchup for a smoky version of a classic Joe.
  6. 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. Or, splash on your favorite hot sauce to taste.
  7. Slow cooker: In a skillet, brown the ground beef. Drain well and add the bottom of a slow cooker. Add all the other ingredients (except the buns), cover, and cook on LOW for 6-7 hours, or HIGH for 3-4 hours.
  8. Freezer: 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 (or reheat from frozen).
  9. Casserole: For a fork-friendly version, try my One Pot Sloppy Joe Casserole.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sandwich | Calories: 294kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 40mg | Sodium: 412mg | Potassium: 292mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 77IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 92mg | Iron: 3mg
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  1. Ryan

    Came out pretty thick, but I used tomato paste like in the picture of the ingredients. The recipe at the bottom says tomato sauce.

    1. Meggan

      Hi Ryan, I’m so sorry! It definitely should be tomato sauce. The picture is not correct, I’ll fix it. Sorry about that, I hope it didn’t ruin your day. – Meggan

  2. Scott

    Great recipe, I’ll never buy canned SJ mix again! Thanks for sharing!
    I made a few changes to the recipe above; substituted white vinegar for apple cider vinegar for some more depth of flavour (I did 1.5 Tbsp Cider vinegar for some extra tang), added another tbsp Brown sugar (I like it sweet) and some Saracha hot sauce to taste for some heat. Also added some garlic powder and salt and pepper to the meat in the pan while it was cooking to season the meat. Turned out great!5 stars

  3. Angie R

    Haven’t made sloppy joe’s for a long-time, and I don’t know why because it’s SO simple and quick! Glad I found your recipe, it was perfect and my husband really liked it. I only omitted the brown sugar, but didn’t tell him:) Not sure why anyone wouldn’t make this meal from scratch.5 stars

  4. Linda

    This is a fantastic recipe and even my picky eaters love it. This recipe is so much better than the canned stuff and worth the extra 2 or 3 minutes it takes to chop up the onion. We love slight tang from the vinegar. I’ve substituted yellow mustard for the dry mustard in a pinch and it’s still delicious!5 stars

  5. Bob Smith

    Made this exactly as written except added 1 minced stalk of celery! Very, very good and I liked that it was thick and not runny. Toasted the buns and my wife said to make sure I saved the recipe so I did and I will be making it again!5 stars

  6. benny

    Best i have ever had !5 stars

  7. Lorah

    Liked this very much. I added a little more worcestershire sauce and a touch more vinegar. We’ll definitely make this again!

  8. Rose

    Hi there, this is my first visit to your site. I just made this and, being vegetarian, used a vegan “ground meat”. Turned out super duper delicious! I didn’t have tomato sauce, so used equal amounts of tomato paste and water and whisked until combined. Worked a treat. Will definitely be making this again and again. Thank you – now excuse me while I browse your site for more deliciousness!5 stars

  9. nicole

    This was excellent!! To be fair I did make a change or two. I left out the white vinegar, and added 3T sweet pickle relish. I was a bit heavy on the Worcestershire, and light on the brown sugar. ( a pinch of brown sugar) I did not add salt or pepper.5 stars

  10. Lisa

    Newbie cook and just want to double check. Is the white vinegar, white vinegar or white wine vinegar?

    1. Meggan

      Hi Lisa! No problem, we are all newbies at some point! :) This recipe is white vinegar. Take care! -Meggan

  11. Joe

    Tastes great.

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. Crystal

    Our familcry’s favorite sloppy joe recipe!5 stars

  19. 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

  20. 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

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