The Best Sloppy Joe Recipe

The Best Sloppy Joe Recipe is for the old fashioned ones you adored as a kid; made from scratch, piled high on a toasted bun— every meaty bite messy and delicious. Grab some ground beef and get ready to win some awards at the dinner table tonight, all in under half an hour.

Need some lightening-fast, super-easy ground beef dinner ideas? Try Iowa’s original Loose Meat Sandwich, Cheesy Meatloaf, Turkey Meatballs, or pasta with Homemade Meat Sauce.

A side shot of a sloppy joe on a white plate served with potato chips.
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This is one of my all-time favorite ground beef recipes. My mom would make a huge batch of her homemade Sloppy Joes for our annual trip to northern Wisconsin, and freeze it for the car ride up.

When we got to the cabin, dinner was already made for the kids, cousins, aunts and uncles, and parents. The kids practically licked their plates clean—which is helpful, when you think about it—less to wash off the dish!

Just to be safe, better do what my mom would do, and triple the recipe.

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 claim responsibility for inventing the Sloppy Joe sandwich, including a bar down in Key West.

Much more likely, however, is that the original Sloppy Joe came from a type of sandwich popular in early 20th century and the Great Depression: cooked loose meat and onions on a bun.

For almost a hundred years, it’s easy to see why people have loved Sloppy Joes. It’s simply a  thrifty, filling, and delicious meal.

The addition of tomato sauce to the ground beef may have come from Cuban dish called picadillo, a sweet and spicy ground meat sauce eaten on top of rice.

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 Sloppy Joe.
  • Onion. My mom always adds finely chopped celery, too.
  • Tomato sauce. Canned tomato sauce is perfect.
  • Ketchup. Buy organic if you like.
  • 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 cracked black pepper.
  • Buns. Split and toasted, if you please.
    The Best Sloppy Joe Recipe is for the old fashioned ones you adored as a kid; made from scratch, piled high on a toasted bun— every meaty bite messy and delicious. Grab some ground beef and get ready to win some awards at the dinner table tonight, all in under half an hour.

How to make old school Sloppy Joes in a Slow Cooker:

When you want dinner as soon as you walk in the door, get out your crock pot.

  1. First, brown your meat in advance, then throw the rest of the ingredients in the cooker.
  2. Cook on LOW for 6-7 hours, or HIGH for 3-4 hours.
A side shot sloppy joe meat in a skillet.

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

Sloppy Joe 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 Sloppy Joe ideas:

  • Homemade Sloppy Joes with BBQ sauce. Your favorite barbecue sauce can be added in place 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.
  • Sloppy Joes with 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.
  • Sloppy Joe without ketchup. Substitute out barbecue sauce or tomato paste.
  • 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. As it does in a bolognese sauce, a splash of wine adds a wonderful depth of flavor and some acidity to balance the natural sweetness of a Sloppy Joe. 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 or a tiny bit of honey.
  • Sandwich toppings. 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 meat to melt.

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

A side shot of a sloppy joe on a white plate served with potato chips.

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.

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).

Embrace the herbs: A touch of thyme or oregano from the garden can only be a good thing.

Don’t forget the toppings: Because I’m from Wisconsin, a Sloppy Joe wouldn’t be complete without a thick slab of Wisconsin cheese (referred to as a "wonk" in my family), set right on top of the meat to melt.

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

  1. Leftover Sloppy Joes can be turned into a casserole with a tater tot crust, but the filling also freezes beautifully.
  2. Once cool, freeze the ground meat mixture into smaller portions to thaw when you’re craving the best dinner ever.
  3. Or freeze one giant batch and serve it up at your own cabin, as soon as you get there!
5 from 76 votes

The Best Sloppy Joes

The Best Sloppy Joe Recipe is for the old fashioned ones you adored as a kid; made from scratch, piled high on a toasted bun— every meaty bite messy and delicious. Grab some ground beef and get ready to win some awards at the dinner table tonight, all 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. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. Emily

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

  5. Velina

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

  6. 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

  7. Barbara

    shredded carrots are a great idea.
    I never put ketchup in anything. Control the balance with vinegar and molasses.
    I added chipotle with Adobe (homemage) lots of garlic and a teaspoon of instant coffee.5 stars

  8. Kathy Czech

    I’ve tried a few Sloppy Joe recipes, none were quite right. This one is perfect. Slightly sweet. Sloppy, but not too much so. And it’s flexible… as our provider stated, you can add before, if you like. Thank you for this recipe!5 stars

  9. Jonny87

    Wow Alex didn’t think to add zucchini. Gonna have to try that. I love pumping up veggies I can any recipe. Thanks.

  10. Alex

    Loved this recipe! I doubled the sauce, used 5.5 lbs of beef,  added loads of veggies (shredded carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, onion, celery) and it turned out perfect! I browned the beef the night before and then threw everything into the slow cooker in the morning and it made for a really easy Sunday lunch for 12 people with 6 servings for leftovers. Will definitely make again.5 stars

  11. Ann Marie

    This looks great. I plan to feed about 15 people, any idea how many pounds of meat to use?

    1. Meggan

      Hi Ann Marie, I think it depends on whether you are lunching with ladies or feeding a gaggle of guys. One pound of beef will make 8 sandwiches, so you would want at least 2 pounds. I’d go with 3, personally, unless the crowd is predominantly male, then they might all want at least 2 sandwiches. And is it the main entree, or a potluck situation where there are other entrees? I’d say you’ll want 3-4 pounds beef depending on these other factors. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks! -Meggan

  12. Maria Roberts

    I need to make this! 18 people for my husband’s police stafff….no issues to make ahead and keep warm in a crockpot, yes? I am counting on these reviews! No ti.e to test ahead of time!

    1. meggan

      Hi Maria, you will be set making it ahead and keeping it in a crockpot! I feel like they are going to LOVE the stuff… I hope they do. Just taste it once you have it done, and email me at meggan@culinaryhill.com if you hate it and want to know how to fix it. But I really think you’ll be fine. Trust the reviews – they aren’t from me! :D Good luck, and thank you!

  13. Joe V

    Decided to add a chopped poblano pepper instead of a green bell pepper (for those of you who like to add bell peppers) and, whoa! It kicks it up a notch! 

    Also, this is recipe is 2 just servings for me, with each serving consisting of 2 rolls served open faced. It’s so good that it’s easy to inhale 1/2 lb of meat without even blinking. Be forewarned! 😂5 stars

    1. meggan

      You might be my soulmate. First subbing poblanos (GENIUS) and then eating all the meat without blinking… yes. Totally my style. It cracks me up that for you, this recipe is just TWO SERVINGS. Best thing I heard all day. -Meggan

  14. Cathy

    Making these for my brother’s birthday next week. It was his birthday dinner every year and this is the recipe that is his all-time favorite. Serve with potato chips and cottage cheese for dipping (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it)– he’s a sloppy Joe contest judge at our state fair, so he knows!!5 stars

  15. Katy

    This is my third time making this. It is the best sloppy Joe’s I have ever made!!! I add a little siracha to it and it is very good. I also sub ground mustard for the dry mustard. Can’t wait to add bell peppers to it, may be carrots too.5 stars

  16. Dave

    Made and devoured the addictive chili – now time for the Joe’s. This looks like the same recipe my mom used to stir up. As a kid, I loved eating them on cold winter days while ice skating. That was a week or two ago. lol5 stars

  17. JUDITH DAVIS

    How long can it be keeped in the freezer?

    1. meggan

      Hi Judith, indefinitely although eventually the quality will suffer. But as far as food safety goes, you can keep it in the freezer forever. I would say you’d want to eat it in 3 months, but I haven’t actually tested this to know for sure. I can if you want me to? Just let me know. But it will take a while to report back. :D

  18. Dave

    Serve it like they do everything in Pittsburgh – with French fries on it. lol5 stars

  19. So yummy the best we have ever had !! Thank You !!5 stars

  20. Dave

    This girl knows what’s good. Period!

    I was doing fine until I scrolled past her Cincinnati Chili recipe.  Now I’m a wreck. GOTTA MAKE IT. It’s sooooo good!!5 stars

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