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.
The best sloppy joe sandwich on a white plate.

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.
4.98 from 95 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 183kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Video

Notes

Some popular reader variations including adding finely chopped celery, bell pepper, or carrots.

Nutrition

Calories: 183kcal
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  1. Marles Humphrey

    How much ground beef?

    1. meggan

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

  2. 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

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

  4. 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

  5. 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!

  6. 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

  7. 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!

  8. 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

  9. Em

    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 5 stars

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. Teena

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

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. Rhonda

    Made this tonight for a quick pre trick or treating dinner!! It was a huge hit!! 5 stars

  19. Paula

    Best recipe ever for sloppy joes!5 stars

  20. Kim

    This looks so good.   Do you think you can add celery in the mixture?  I’ve made sloppy joes with celery before, and my kids loved it.   5 stars

    1. meggan

      Yes! My mom *always* does. The only reason I don’t have it in the recipe is because my husband doesn’t like the texture of celery in it. Or, at one point he did. I feel like if he read this right now he’d be like… what do you mean I don’t like celery?! So yes, please add it. It’s also good with green pepper if that’s your jam. I hope you love it! Thanks Kim!

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