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. Savannah

    I want to make this tonight, but I bought tomato paste instead of sauce thinking I was making a different recipe, then stumbled upon yours and it looks so much better! Think it would be ok to substitute? Should I maybe add water? Thanks!

    1. Kat

      I always use tomato paste.. makes the mixture thicker!5 stars

    2. Savannah

      It came out delicious! Thanks for the recipe!5 stars

    3. meggan

      Hi Savannah, I’m so sorry I didn’t respond to you in time! I hope you were able to proceed. Tomato paste is fine, and yes you could thin it with water if you like. It’s a very forgiving recipe and it’s REALLY hard to screw up, ha ha! I hope it worked for you. Take care and thanks for the question!

  2. Tim

    Might make these tonight for my wife and I. Sounds good. Thanx

  3. Kristin

    Confession: I love to cook & bake from scratch, but when it comes to sloppy joes I take the Manwich way out. Except for when my kids beg for them at 7:00 at night & I’m fresh out of Manwich, I went with plan B…do a Google search for best sloppy joe recipe! Yours popped up right away. And although I substituted a jar of sweet chili sauce for the tomato sauce, & a packet of Lipton beefy onion powder mix for a real onion, I followed the rest of the recipe to a tee. The result was outstanding, & I’ll never buy another can of Manwich again!5 stars

    1. Brian

      Ahhhh! Now there’s a real cook – digging through the pantry and the spice rack to see what you come up to make this recipe work when you don’t have all the ingredients called for. Remember, a recipe is just one person’s idea of how to make a dish. Never be afraid to be creative!

    2. meggan

      I totally agree with you Brian! I always consider a recipe a starting point for negotiations. I love when people can tweak a recipe based on their own ingredients and taste because let’s face it – people are different! They like different flavors! Different amounts of spice or sugar! Whatever it is. I wish I could hold everyone’s hand and tell them it will be okay if they change something out in a recipe. :D Thank you for being such a lovely soul!

    3. meggan

      THIS IS THE BEST STORY EVER!!! I can just picture you rummaging through your pantry to find anything you can to make it work, and you obviously did the job. Your version is probably better than mine! So exciting. Thanks for sharing Kristin!

  4. Janet

    These were delicious! Only thing I added was some sauted chopped bell pepper and a tbsp of molasses in the sauce to cut the acid in the tomato. Turned out to be a winner. Husband ate left overs with chips so had to be good. Thanks for sharing!5 stars

  5. Cathy Podgorny

    Looks delicious. Just curious the reason for the ketchup? I have a huge pot of fresh thick tomato sauce I just made from tomatoes from my garden and thought I would pressure can some sloppy joe sauce in jars to have on hand. I have ketchup but just wondering if I really need it with all this fresh sauce I have?

    1. Cathy

      Had to let you know I made these in the summer with my garden tomato sauce and did use the ketchup. Canned about 12 jars of this and we are out. Just thawed out 50 pounds of tomatoes from the garden and I am making an even bigger batch to can this time around. Gave a few away as gifts at Xmas and am already getting orders for more. I gave them the recipe and told them they are on their own this time. Thanks again!!5 stars

    2. meggan

      Hi Cathy! I’d say the ketchup adds sugar, for better or for worse. It’s definitely NOT required, you could certainly substitute your amazing fresh tomato sauce! It will taste great and be healthier. Obviously ketchup adds its own flavor, but that doesn’t mean it’s required. Consider this recipe a blank canvas for your own (and probably better) ideas! :)

  6. Anne

    Hi, I’m going to make this tonight. Do you think apple cider vinegar would be a good substitute for white vinegar?

    1. meggan

      Hi Anne, yes! Absolutely. It’s a great substitution and one I’ve made myself many times. I’ll add that info to the recipe. Thank you for your question, and I hope you like the recipe! Take care.

  7. Heather Elissa

    The sauce is amazing, I tried it before I added it to the mixes, only thing I felt missing was a bit of garlic. It tasted amazing with both the lentil, onion, and pepper mixture and the meat and mirepoix mixture.5 stars

  8. Jacqui

    Hey there. I am going to make this for my baby shower!!! I was wondering if it would be alright to cook everything the night before and then just heat it up the day of? Am I going to lose any of the goodness?

    1. meggan

      Hey Jacqui! DO IT! It will actually taste better if you do it that way. That’s the genius of the recipe! My mom always does that for our trip up north to the log cabin. She makes it ahead, freezes it solid so it survives the 6-hour car ride, and then we heat it up when we get there and it’s THE BEST. I hope you love it! Thank you for your question and for visiting the site. :) Take care!

  9. Jill

    So so good! First time making this recipe and everyone loved! Thank you!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thank you so much Jill! So grateful for your support. And glad it was a success! Thanks again and take care. :)

  10. Kandace K.

    This looks so good! I plan to try it this weekend for a camping trip. The group you talk about up at the cabin is exactly the size I’m planning for this weekend. Do you know how large of a batch you would make? Triple?5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi, Kandace! I would say triple AT LEAST. I think my mom quadruples the batch, but that way we can eat leftovers for a few days. Leftovers might not work as well camping! But I’d still say triple it, it’s so good I personally eat at least 2 sandwiches immediately. I hope you love it!

  11. AES

    I made this tonight for a last minute family (low-key) dinner – IT WAS AMAZING! Thank you for publishing this recipe! 5 stars

  12. michelle d linden

    I just served them for mu husbands Birthday party,I made 5 lbs of meat,and about 20 people showed up(there was plenty of other food too) That was destroyed,and recieved MANY compliments!! eVEN mY gRANDMOTHER LOVED IT…THANKS AGAIN!5 stars

  13. Jeanne L.

    I just made this sloppy joe recipe. This is by far the best I’ve ever made! So delicious and so easy to make. I can’t wait to serve my sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch.
    Thank you for sharing this.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thank you so much Jeanne! I really appreciate your kind words and I’m so happy you liked the sloppy joes. I agree – it’s the best! But I’m biased. :) Thanks again and take care!

  14. Michelle Linden

    Excellent! I adjusted the seasonings to taste.My adjustments…1/2 a minced onion,1/2 diced green pepper saute then add 1lb organic grass fed beef.salt pepper and worchestire.In a small bown combine 8oz can tomato sauce 1/2 c ketchup 1tbsp worchestire 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp yellow mustard salt and pepper to taste,pour over beef and simmer 20 minutes.I like Manwich,but try and avoid any processed food.This KILLS Manwich!! So good,My Husband licked His plate! He is very picky! Thank you,really is the best sloppy joes!5 stars

    1. Nope

      Haha

    2. meggan

      Thank you so much Michelle! I love that you added green pepper. I like that a lot (my mom always added that) but my husband isn’t a fan, so I miss out. And hooray for grass fed beef!!! Anyway, this all makes me really happy and I really appreciate that you tried it and so glad you liked it. And I’m glad you made it your own, too. :) Take care!!

  15. Bonnie

    This. Was. A. Maze. Ing. So good. I tripled the recipe for us, 2 grown kids, son-in-law and 5 grandkids. Our daughter said we just wrecked sloppy joes for her. No more packaged mix for her! Everyone loved it. Only down side…no leftovers :(
    Thank you for a great, quick and pretty darn cheap, keeper. 5 stars

  16. Bonnie Hawkins

    Would like to make these…any special change if I wanted to double the recipe?
    Thanks :)

    1. meggan

      No changes, Bonnie! Just double everything. :) And that’s a good call, doubling it. I hope you love it as much as I do! Take care!

  17. Jackie

     Was excellent! I added bacon and diced onions. Thanks for sharing!5 stars

  18. Jeanne Morton

    I’m a Texan living in Singapore. This was a taste of home. Yum! My husband raved about these. Thanks for the recipe. Subbed Dijon for the dry mustard. Didn’t add cheese. Buttered and grilled the bun first. I’m a Pinterest follower now. Shared on Facebook.5 stars

    1. Harold

      Ya boi

    2. meggan

      Thank you so much Jeanne!!! I imagine it was a quite a change from what you’ve been eating in Singapore. So happy you and your husband enjoyed these! Thanks again and take care. :)

  19. Dave

    I have a spatchcocked chicken brining for roasting today, but these are definitely on deck for tomorrow – drool.5 stars

  20. I can’t believe I have never thought to add cheese to my sloppy joe. These look great. The messier the better!5 stars

    1. kathy hodges

      we add sour creme too….yummy.5 stars

  21. Meggan

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

  22. 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

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