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.

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.

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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.

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 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!

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.

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!

4.99 from 71 votes

The Best Sloppy Joes

The Best Sloppy Joes are easy to make, so delicious, and ready in 30 minutes or less! Triple or quadruple the recipe for parties, backyard barbecues, and giant family vacations.
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. Jean Torgeson

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

  2. 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!

  3. Marles Humphrey

    How much ground beef?

    1. meggan

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

  4. 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

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

  6. 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

  7. We ate this for dinner last night and it was a hit! Never buying canned again. Thank you!5 stars

    1. meggan

      This is amazing, thank you so much Caroline! I’m glad you liked it. :) Take care and thanks again!

  8. McKenna Keenan

    I stumbled on this recipe and decided to try it due to all the positive reviews. 1 warning though. I substituted dry mustard for Dijon. The problem there is that Dijon has vinegar in it so at first try the sauce was terrible. I added more ketchup and brown sugar to try and even out the vinegar taste. Once I did that, however the sloppy Joe’s were amazing. My 14 year old daughter, who’s very picky said these were the best ones I’ve made. This recipe is very similar to what I normally do, but this ones far better! And SO simple. Just watch out for that added vinegar taste if your subbing out the dry mustard. Thanks for sharing this recipe! It’s a definite keeper!5 stars

  9. Sasha Spoon

    Made these tonight and they were great! Finally found a good recipe. Thanks for sharing!5 stars

    1. meggan

      HIGH-FIVES SASHA! This makes me so happy. “Finally found a good recipe.” Please put this on my tombstone. Thanks so much and take care!

  10. Marci

    It was my turn to make dinner for our Girls High School Soccer Team – we always have a team dinner the night before a home game. I wanted to do something other than the usual spaghetti or pizza. I prepared this during the day and then put it in the crock pot to keep warm. My husband was my “taste tester” and he asked me to keep the recipe so that I can make it for our family as well. The soccer team (and the coaches) loved it! There was nothing left to bring back home and I saw several of the girls going back for seconds!

    I did not make any variation to this recipe and it was DELICIOUS! Thank you!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thank you so much Marci! You made my day/week/month/life! I am so glad the recipe was a hit. Thank you so much for coming back to leave a review, it means a lot! Take care and thanks again. :D

  11. Recipe maker

    This was just ok, I added celery, white beans, an extra tablespoon of brown sugar and a splash of Frank’s red hot sauce, then it was perfect 4 stars

  12. Gene

    I like to use the Heinz Ketchup that has the Tabasco sauce in it……….and that really gives the flavor profile a bit more depth for my tastes w/out being hot to taste. This recipe is super easy and so tasty.5 stars

  13. Jackie

    This just tastes like beef smothered in ketchup. Was extremely disappointed with this recipe. 

    1. Nadia

      I made this today for my family… sooo delicious . I cut the ketchup in half and added more tomato sauce , diced green peppers and finely chopped mirepoix . All gone in a heartbeat ! 5 stars

    2. Meggan

      Thanks so much! I’m glad everyone loved it! :D

  14. Mary reyes

    Megan, this recipe is amazing. My husband “Mr. Picky” said this is amazing. I made it for today (New Years Eve) I’m sure my kiddos and grands will love it. I have it on my screan so it’s just a click away. Thanks again. Mary from Shawano Wisconsin5 stars

    1. Mary reyes

      Wisconsin had 2 warm days this weekend.lol It was in the 40’s, but today back in the low 20’s. We are waiting eagerly for March. Take care Megan and happy you enjoyed Wi while you were here. We have family in Milwaukee.

    2. meggan

      Hi Mary!!! Have you guys warmed up yet? I was in Wisconsin for 2 weeks and it was SO STINKIN’ COLD (I was in Waukesha and Racine). But fun and lovely also. :) Anyway, thank you so much for trying my recipe and I’m excited and relieved that your husband gave his approval. I appreciate that you came back to leave a comment and I hope it’s a success for tonight. Happy new Year Mary! Take care.

  15. Don Can Charles Va.

    Made the Joe’s ,great used half turkey burger and half 85% ground round really good no one knows that is has turkey burger in it and cuts fat great Don5 stars

  16. Teena

    This was awesome, I think it’s even better than the can stuff. Thanks so much for sharing5 stars

  17. Portia

    Omg I’ve just made them and they were so good! All my kids loved them and it’s not easy to please them all! The passata worked fine too instead of the tomato sauce. I’ll definitely make these again! 5 stars

  18. Portia

    Hi! I’m in England and I really want to make this for my kids but our shops don’t sell cans of tomato sauce.

    We call ketchup ‘tomato sauce’, and it only comes in bottles. We have something called Passata which comes in a carton or glass jar which people cook with. Would that be a good substitute? Then there’s tomato purée that comes in tubes but I know that would be way too concentrated. I hope you can help! Thanks!! 5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Portia! Passata is really close to tomato sauce! We have it here too. I would use that and hopefully you love it. Please report back if you can – I’d love to know what you thought! Thank you so much for trying my recipe. :D

  19. Nancy Lausier

    My husband and I tried this and it was excellent. Definitely a do again.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thank you so much Nancy, I appreciate your kind words and I’m glad your husband agrees. I could literally eat this every day! Take care and thanks again.

  20. Gayle

    This is now my “go to” recipe for sloppy joes. I made the recipe for my husband and me to try [yum] and then made the recipe x 5 to take to work. I had 32 buns and it’s amazing but it came down to one bun left and just enough mixture to make one sandwich. One suggestion is to use frozen chopped onions. I use them in most recipes and it really saves time and mess. With using frozen onions this recipe is just measure, mix and cook. After cooking the hamburger and onions, I added everything to the skillet without mixing it all separately in a bowl. Thanks!5 stars

    1. Jonni87

      Agreed. My reason for using frozen onions is I buy onions in 2 or 3 lb bags because it’s more economical. But since it’s just the two of us I usually come home and process at 3/4 of the bag and freeze it. Saves me some time in busy weeknights and saves money.

      Will use some of these great suggestions Ifound in the comments.

      Gonna make these next week.

    2. meggan

      Gayle, the frozen chopped onions are GENIUS! Such a good idea, it’s the perfect recipe for that. Thank you so much! And I’m glad you like the recipe. Makes my heart sing!

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