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. Jessica Snodgrass

    Hi! I don’t usually comment on recipes I find online, but I have to say that this was so EASY and turned out so delicious, that I had to thank you! So Thank You! I added a finely grated carrot to the onions and meat to sneak some veggies in for my kids and everyone loved it. I almost cried because it is never that easy for me to cook something that yummy so quickly and easily. This will now be in rotation with our regular meals. Thank you again and again!5 stars

  2. Hi Meggan! I had to blog about this recipe! Thank you so much for sharing! Drop by sometime!
    https://thedomesticatedrebellion.wordpress.com/2018/07/16/home-made-sloppy-joes/

    Mimi5 stars

  3. Mary Ann

    I made this with ground turkey and it was Delish!!!! I won’t be buying canned sloppy joe mix any more.5 stars

  4. Toria E Crews Johnson

    Meggan, my husband is from Wisconsin Rapids and he calls this recipe barbecues! I had always called it sloppy joes growing up. Just like macaroni in his chilli recipe!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Toria, this makes my day! LOL! I know exactly where Wisconsin Rapids is and used to have my cross country State meets there in high school. :D Have a lovely weekend!

  5. David Ress

    Found this recipe while on a mission trip with my church to Cumberland, MD. Had an awesome time with two friends preparing the sloppy joes as the main course for dinner in the kitchen of the Bruce Outreach Center in Westernport, MD. Bookmarked this site for future meal ideas. Awesome recipe, everyone loved the sloppy joes.5 stars

  6. Connie Terry

    I just made it and it was delicious.5 stars

  7. Connie

    Makes 6 servings but recipe calls for 8 buns?

    1. meggan

      Typo. Makes 8 servings!!! Sorry about that. I should say, it makes 8 servings on those cheap junky white buns… if you are doing something more substantial, like kaiser rolls, you might only get 6.

  8. Linda Marks

    I have prepared this recipe numerous times. It is a crowd pleaser. I add diced cellery(finally chopped)or a little crunch.5 stars

  9. silver

    so im not done making the accual sloppy joe 
    but i tried the sauce 🤤👌it will be good 
    we having a small party so i tripled the size 5 stars

  10. Roger

    I was browning some ground beef to make sloppy joes last week & found I did not have my trusty package of sloppy joe mix. I did not want to go to the store so I found your recipe online. I had all the ingredients on your list so I decided to give it a try. The extra 3 minutes to make this from scatch is so worth it. These sloppy joes were way beyond my old way of making them. I will never buy the packaged mix again. I served mine open faced on hamburger buns with a slice of colby jack cheese melted on top. I will be back to try some of your other recipes.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Dear Roger, THANK YOU! You made my day. And you ate it just like we do in Wisconsin – with a slice of Colby jack. :) And I’m glad it was easy for you to make. I really appreciate you! Have a great rest of your weekend.

  11. Damian

    great recipe! opted to try yours over many others on the internet based on half the amount of ketchup and less sugar than other recipes. i ended up modifying the recipe slightly. added 2 garlic cloves(minced) instead of regular salt, I used 1/2 tsp (ish) of celery salt. used 2tbsp Worcestershire sauce instead of 1, a few tbsp of red wine. seemed like it was missing a little something in the end so I added 1-1/2 tsp of liquid smoke and it was perfect! thank you very much!5 stars

  12. Mary Reyes

    Hi Megan,
    This is Mary from Wisconsin. Yes, we got hit hard with the white nasty stuff. 31″ to be exact. You must have been sending someone else a response, but I accidentally received it. Your sloppy joe recipe is to die for. My husband was the picky eater and absolutely loved your recipe.
    Take care and hope you have no need to come to Wisconsin anytime soon. So sick of snow, I’m over this. Possibly 50s and 60s this weekend though. Again take care!
    Mary Reyes5 stars

  13. Elizabeth

    This is way too sweet! How do I cut the sweetness down quickly before I try and serve this to my family? I followed the recipe to a T! Help! What do I do? Tripled the recipe cuz I thought it’d be good based on all the comments. 5 stars

    1. Laura

      …please pardon the typos…should’ve edited Before hitting POST. They LOVED it. 5 stars

    2. Laura

      I’ve subbed barbeque sauce for half of the ketch and cut the he sugar by half, because my family (I don’t eat meat so can’t really comment) tends to like things a little hotter. They LOVED it. Just a thought. 5 stars

    3. Elizabeth

      I did a quick google search which recommended lemon juice, which I just happened to have, and that did it! Now it tastes great! (Minus the salt which I added just a little too much of.) We’ll see if my family likes it! I think it tastes great now! I think I’m so used to eating manwich so the flavor was alien to me. Lol. I change my rating to 5 stars! 5 stars

    4. meggan

      Oh my gosh, you didn’t need to change your rating! The 2-star rating reflects how well my recipe served you, LOL! I’m glad you tried lemon juice and that it worked. I feel like I should have known that, but now I do. I will add a note to the recipe. I really appreciate your kindness and honesty and I’m glad you fixed the recipe. Take care!

    5. meggan

      Hi Elizabeth, you can add tomato paste to cut the sweetness. You may have to simmer longer to thicken. I’m sorry it was too sweet for you. It must be the ketchup, I’m guessing it’s not to your taste. Sorry about that! Yes most of the people who try the recipe seem to like it, but we all have our own individual preferences for food of course. Good luck and sorry about that!

  14. I usually hate sloppy joes, but wanted to make something quick for the family and I LOVE this recipe. It isn’t too sweet or too vinegary. It’s just perfect. I did sub Dijon mustard for the dry mustard and apple cider for the white vinegar, but this is a keeper.5 stars

  15. Jean Torgeson

    That’s “in the 50’s, not 40’s”. Just added 10 years to my age!

  16. Jean Torgeson

    It cracks me up when people worry about adding or subtracting a seasoning (onion/garlic) use tomato sauce or soup etc. I’m a kitchen sink cook. Whatever’s handy goes in. The more stuff the merrier! Just taste as you go along basically. Don’t think I ever used an actual recipe for Joe’s. Even the chicken gumbo soup instead of tomato for “super burgers” like I had as a kid in the 40’s works great!. So guys, ad lib it and have fun!5 stars

  17. Marles Humphrey

    How much ground beef?

    1. meggan

      So sorry about that! One pound. The recipe got messed up this morning.

  18. Lisa Dalton

    I have usesd this recipe twice. both times i added the small red, yellow & orange sweet peppers to the onion. My family like so many others says “no more Manwich” so much better. I can never make a big enough pot everyone wants to take the leftovers for lunch. Thank you so much for sharing. And I agree with you about not being able to mess this recipe up you just follow your basic recipe and add what your family likes. We love it. Tell your Mom.

    Lisa5 stars

  19. I made Sloppy Joes using your recipe and added green peppers.  EVERYBODY loved them.  These were so easy to prepare.  Thanks!5 stars

  20. Michelle

    This is such a great recipe Meggan! Thank you! As a Wisconsin girl myself, I loved to see the Wisconsin cheddar mentioned :) My husband loves this recipe and it tastes really similar to what I grew up on! We are having this for the second time in a week because we just can’t stop craving it!5 stars

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