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

    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

  2. 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

  3. Jonny87

    Wow Alex didn’t think to add zucchini. Gonna have to try that. I love pumping up veggies I can any recipe. Thanks.5 stars

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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!

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. Dave

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

  13. Denise Barker

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

  14. 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

  15. Gary Johnson

    Actually, tho’ I  may be a little biased,  the best Sloppy Joes I’ve ever had are my Mom’s!  And they are by far the easiest. The ingredients are One Of Everything’ in logical order. 
         One lb. of ground beef
         One onion diced
         One red or green pepper diced
         One cup of ketchup
         One tbs of yellow mustard
         One tsp of white vinegar
         One shake of black pepper to taste
         One shake of salt to taste
    Brown and Drain Ground Beef
    Sauté onion and pepper til translucent
    Mix all ingredients and simmer for forty-five
          minutes
    Serve with American Cheese on a bun

  16. Shannon

    I’m eating these right now as we speak (type)!  These are so nummy!!!  I used lean ground turkey. Didn’t have onion or green pepper on hand. Added a little garlic (I’m a garlic freak)!!!  Absolutely delicious!!! 5 stars

  17. Tami

    OH EM GEE! I just made this, didn’t change a thing, as it is wonderful!!!! My guy liked Manwich – until now!! He’s already upset that we only had 1 pound of ground beef on hand, lol, so guess what?? Because of you and your darned good recipe, I’m trekking it to the store for more ingredients!!! Thanks Meghan, this is truly my go to from now on!!!5 stars

  18. Kristy

    I’ve made this recipe a couple of times and my family loves it. This time I used ground Turkey instead of beef. A-maz-ing!!5 stars

  19. Sonja

    Great sloppy joe recipe! So easy and delicious. Mine was a tad bit acidic (may have been the ketchup or tomato sauce I used), but an extra 1 tbsp of brown sugar cut the acidity down, and it was so yummy. Thank you for this recipe! 5 stars

  20. Britt

    Hi!  Does the nutrition show for one serving size? If so how much is a serving size? I’m guessing 1/4 to 1/2 cup. Also, does it include the bun (guessing not)? Thanks!!

    1. meggan

      Hi Britt! Sorry to take so long getting back to you, I finally got around to testing this so I can tell you the answer! The recipe makes just under 4 cups total, so there are 8 servings of approximately 1/2 cup each. That was based on the size of my onion though. I am going to change the recipe to say 1 medium onion, instead of a small onion, to hit that even 4-cup mark. If that makes sense. And the calories iare based on including a bun, yes (a Pepperidge Farms hamburger bun). Without the bun, 1/2 cup sloppy joe meat is 190 calories. If you need anything else please let me know! Sorry again for the delay.

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