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.
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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- First, brown your meat in advance on the stove. Then just throw it-- along with the rest of the ingredients-- in the cooker.
- 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.
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.
- 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. My DQ copycat recipe for Easy Ice Cream Cake is a total crowd pleaser, too.
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.
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 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.