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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- First, brown your meat in advance, then throw the rest of the ingredients in the cooker.
- 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
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.
- Rip open a bag of your favorite potato chips and crack open a jar of pickles—done.
- Then again, Easy Cold Pasta Salad or The Best Macaroni Salad might be nice.
- Wait a minute, there’s also Broccoli Salad with Bacon and Cheese.
- Whatever you do, don’t forget dessert! No Bake Peanut Butter Bars are sensational and ready in minutes.
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!
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:
- Leftover Sloppy Joes can be turned into a casserole with a tater tot crust, but the filling also freezes beautifully.
- Once cool, freeze the ground meat mixture into smaller portions to thaw when you’re craving the best dinner ever.
- Or freeze one giant batch and serve it up at your own cabin, as soon as you get there!
The Best Sloppy Joes Recipe
- 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.