Quick and Easy Sloppy Joe Recipe

This Sloppy Joe recipe is lick-the-plate-scrumptious and a guaranteed most requested, repeat family and potluck favorite!  The hot, saucy, meaty filling is leveled up with seasonings and the perfect balance of sweet, punchy tanginess served on toasted brioche buns (no soggy sandwiches here!). This recipe is quick and easy to make, make-ahead friendly (just keep warm in the crockpot), customizable and 1000X better than anything from a can!  

up close of Sloppy Joe recipe showing how juicy the meat is on a bun


 

Watch How to Make Sloppy Joe Recipe

A Simple Sloppy Joe Recipe for those busy evenings!

  • On your table in just over 30 minutes.   This means you’ll be spending less time in the kitchen and more time with your family AKA winning at life!
  • Easy.  Brown the beef, onions and bell peppers, then simmer with the sauce.
  • Pantry friendly.  Make Sloppy Joes whenever you need a last-minute dinner or whenever the cravings strike.
  • Gone in minutes.  They are serious comfort food that even the pickiest eaters will be gobble up.
  • Make ahead friendly.  Reheat the filling or keep it warm on the stove or in the crockpot.
  • Easy to double or triple. The ideal recipe for a large crowd!
  • Customizable. Make this recipe more or less tangy, add cheese and serve with endless toppings because this recipe is YOUR recipe!
two Sloppy Joe's stacked on top of each other showing the sloppy filling
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 Ingredients for Sloppy Joes

You will love that this Sloppy Joe recipe is made with pantry friendly ingredients.  Keep everything on hand (and even freeze the buns) so you can make this family favorite at a moment’s notice! Here’s what you’ll need (full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

FOR THE beef and buns 

  • Brioche hamburger buns: These buttery, golden, soft pillowy buns pair amazingly with the savory filling.  They toast up beautifully and don’t become soggy quickly.  Brioche buns can usually be found in the bakery section of the grocery store or in the pre-sliced bread section.
  • Lean ground beef:  One pound of ground beef will do the trick – make sure it’s lean so the filling will be tender but not greasy. I use 90/10 percent lean.
  • Aromatics: Use half of a finely diced yellow onion and 3 minced cloves garlic.
  • Bell pepper:  Half of a green bell pepper adds subtle texture and earthiness.
  • Seasonings:  Chili powder, paprika, dried thyme, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper awaken the filling. Use more or less to taste.

For the Sloppy Joe Sauce: 

  • Ketchup: Any ketchup will work. Ketchup is preferred over tomato sauce for its bright, balanced tanginess with a subtle sweetness. Tomato sauce, on the other hand, is more mild tasting with unbalanced acidty.
  • Water: Provides liquid to thin out the sauce which is then simmered to reduce, concentrating the flavors.
  • Worcestershire: This adds a punch of tangy, umami depth with a subtle sweetness. This recipe uses more Worcestershire than most for undeniable flavor.
  • Mustard: Yellow deli mustard cuts through the sweetness with its crisp, tart-tanginess and pungency.
  •  Vinegar: White vinegar adds clean, bright tanginess.
  • Brown sugar: This is a must to balance the tangy ketchup, Worcestershire and vinegar.
  • Beef bouillon This is a secret ingredient that adds a complex depth of flavor. Use beef bouillon cube, beef base (Zoup! or Better Than bouillon), or granulated beef bouillon. If using a cube, crush and add directly to the sauce – don’t dissolve in water first.
top view of Sloppy Joe filling showing how saucy it is in the skillet

Best Sloppy Joe Recipe Variations and Substitutions

Make these Sloppy Joes your own!  Use ground turkey, add veggies, make it spicy, add toppings, etc.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Shortcut onion and garlic: Use 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1 teaspoon garlic powder instead of fresh.
  • Turkey or chicken:  To help the poultry taste beefy, omit the salt and add an additional 1-2 teaspoons additional beef bouillon, then salt to taste.
  • Different bread:  Use traditional hamburger buns, hoagie rolls, or even sandwich bread. Level up with pretzel buns (for a little more crunch) or Hawaiian sandwich buns (for a little more sweetness). 
  • Add cheese:  Top the hot Sloppy Joe filling with sharp cheddar, white cheddar, provolone, Colby, Gouda, Havarti, pepper Jack, Monterey Jack, etc.
  • Don’t use buns! Alternatively, try adding the filling to pitas, wraps, or go low carb with lettuce wraps.
  • Change the flavor profile:  Go tangier with additional vinegar, sweeter with additional brown sugar or sweet and tangy with additional Worcestershire.
  • Make them vegetarian: Substitute the ground beef with Beyond Meat or Impossible Meat – both are great options for producing a juicy texture. You could also try substituting the ground beef with an equal amount of plant-based protein such as crumbled firm tofu, lentils, mushrooms, etc.
  • Make them vegan:  Use a ground beef substitute described above and use vegan Worcestershire sauce.
  • Make them gluten-free: Use gluten free Worcestershire and ketchup; double check the rest of the filling ingredients are gluten free. Use gluten free buns. Canyon Bakehouse’s gluten-free buns are a great substitute.  

How to make Sloppy Joes

This Sloppy Joe recipe is as easy as sauté, brown and simmer! Let’s take a closer look at how to make it (full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Step 1: Toast buns. Split buns and lay them cut side up on a large baking tray (15×21). Lightly brush the cut sides with softened butter or mayonnaise (optional for crispier/more flavorful buns). Bake for 5 minutes to toast the buns.
showing how to make Sloppy Joe recipe by toasting the buns
  • Step 2: Cook onions and beef. Sauté the onions in a drizzle of olive oil for 4 minutes.  Add ground beef and cook until almost browned; drain grease.
showing how to make sloppy joes by browning beef and onions in a skillet
  • Step 3: Sauté bell pepper and garlic. Add bell pepper, garlic and all seasonings. Cook for 3 minutes or until onions are softened.
showing how to make sloppy joes by add bell peppers and garlic to ground beef
  • Step 4: Add filling ingredients. Add the ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire, brown sugar, beef bouillon, water, etc.
showing how to make sloppy joes by adding ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire, vinegar and brown sugar to the ground beef in the skillet
  • Step 5: Simmer.  Gently simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, but the mixture is still a little saucy, about 8-10 minutes.
showing how to make sloppy joe recipe by simmering the filling until thickened
  • Step 6: Assemble. Divide mixture between the toasted buns and dig in!
showing how to make sloppy joe recipe by adding the filling to toasted buns

TIPS FOR making Sloppy Joe Recipe

  • Scale up or down. Use the arrows next to the servings in the recipe card to double or triple the recipe.
  • Don’t skipping toasting the buns!   Toasting the buns provides barrier which helps prevent the juices from soaking into the bun and making it a soggy mess. 
  • Use a hot pan: The best pan for this is cast iron.  It heats up quickly and retains the heat, continuously evaporating any moisture, ensuring the filling is extra flavorful and not diluted and watery.
  • Drain excess fat: After browning the ground beef, drain fat from the skillet to prevent excessively greasy Sloppy Joes.
  • Watch the sauce consistency: The Sloppy Joe meat can take more or less time to reduce depending on your stove/pot, etc.  The key is to watch it closely so it doesn’t reduce too much – we want slightly saucy Sloppy Joes and not dry Sloppy Joes. 
  • Adjust the seasoning: This is the most important part of the recipe! Some like Their Sloppy Joe recipe tangier, others like it sweeter. Adjust after simmering with additional Worcestershire sauce, mustard, or brown sugar to achieve the desired balance of flavors.
  • Enjoy hot: Sloppy Joes are best enjoyed while hot and fresh.
  • Don’t assemble early: If not serving immediately, keep the filling warm on the stove until ready to enjoy to prevent soggy buns and cold filling.

What Toppings Can I add to Sloppy Joes?

Traditional Sloppy Joes are not served with toppings – but that doesn’t mean you can add any! Here are a few ideas:

What to serve with this Simple Sloppy Joe Recipe

These Sloppy Joes are heavenly with simple sides such as pickles, potato chips, and a big green salad. To level up your side game, try pairing with these sides:

up close of easy sloppy Joe recipe

WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH SLOPPY JOES MEAT?

This Sloppy Joe meat is incredibly versatile and can be used on anything and everything from pasta to potatoes.  Here are some fun variations to try:  

 

  • Rice:  Serve the meat over or stirred directly into rice.
  • Grilled cheese:  Sandwich in between bread and toast or use a panini press.
  • Pizza:  Top your favorite pizza dough with the Sloppy Joe Meat followed by cheese and bake according to directions or make Stromboli or calzones.
  • Stuffed peppers:  Combine the Sloppy Joe meat with rice and follow this recipe for baking instructions.  
  • Potatoes:  Serve over mashed potatoes, French fries or baked potatoes (detailed below).
  • Baked Potatoes. Poke holes in washed, dried potatoes. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and the skin is crispy.  Slice open the potatoes, top with Sloppy Joe meat and provolone then place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Top with sour cream, green onions, etc.
  • Mac and cheese:  Stir meat into your favorite mac and cheese recipe.
  • Pasta and ramen: Keep the Sloppy Joe filling extra saucy and stir it into pasta or ramen.
  • Tacos, taquitos or flautas:  Stuff in taco shells/tortillas or roll the filling in quality corn tortillas or flour tortillas and either fry or bake like in this recipe.
  • Burritos: Layer a burrito size tortilla with Sloppy Joe meat, beans and cheese, fold, then toast in a skillet like I do in this recipe. 
  • Quesadillas:  Layer a burrito size tortilla with cheese and filling and grill until golden, cheesy perfection.  

Sloppy Joe Recipe FAQs

Can Sloppy Joes be made in the Instant Pot?

Yes, start by browning the meat, peppers and onions in the Instant Pot in “Sauté” mode. Remove the grease and then add all the remaining ingredients except the cheese.  Cook the mixture on “Manual” for 5 minutes and then do a quick release.

Can you make Sloppy Joes in a crockpot?

Yes, you can certainly make Sloppy Joes in the crockpot, but I prefer just warming the meat filling in the crockpot because crockpot Sloppy Joes tend to have a softer texture, and you still have to brown the meat on the stove first anyway so it doesn’t save any time.

Can you add cheese to Sloppy Joes ?

Yes! There are a few ways to add cheese to this Sloppy Joe recipe: mix cheese directly into the filling, place cheese directly on top of the meat to melt while still in the skillet, place cheese on top of the filling on the buns to melt in the oven or place cheese on top of the meat piled on the bun while it’s hot.

How do you make Sloppy Joes stick together?

Using ketchup and simmering the Sloppy Joe filling is key for the filling to stick together. As the filling simmers, the liquid evaporates, binding the ingredients together.

What buns are best for sloppy joes?

You can use traditional hamburger buns, pretzel buns, brioche buns, or, if you’ve forgotten the buns, serve extra sloppy and sandwiched in between white bread!

What’s the difference between Manwich and Sloppy Joe?

Manwich is a pre-made Sloppy Joe sauce that contains a blend of tomato, spices, and seasonings, making it convenient and quick to prepare.

Homemade Sloppy Joes, on the other hand, typically involve cooking ground beef with various ingredients like ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and spices to create a sauce from scratch. Homemade versions allow for more customization and control over the flavors and ingredients used and this recipe is 1000X better in my opinion!

What is the Sloppy Joe sauce made of?

Sloppy Joe Sauce is a combination of ground beef, tomato-based sauce (such as ketchup or tomato sauce), a sweetener (like brown sugar or molasses) vinegar (such as white vinegar or apple cider vinegar) for brightness, Worcestershire sauce for savory depth, and often mustard to add a tangy kick. These ingredients come together to create a flavorful and slightly sweet sauce that coats the ground beef, resulting in the iconic taste of Sloppy Joes.

Why is it called Sloppy Joe?

The exact origin of the name “Sloppy Joe” for the sandwich is not entirely clear, as there are a few different theories. One popular theory suggests that the term “Sloppy Joe” originated in the early 20th century in the United States, specifically in the Midwest. It is believed to be named after a cook or a bar owner named Joe who created the sandwich. The sandwich’s loose and messy nature, with the sauce and filling spilling out, led to the name “sloppy.” Over time, the name “Sloppy Joe” became associated with this particular type of sandwich, which consists of a filling, often made with ground beef in a tangy sauce, served on a bun.

showing how to serve best sloppy Joe recipe with chips and salad

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up close of Sloppy Joe recipe showing how juicy the meat is on a bun

Homemade Sloppy Joe Recipe (Simple!)

This Sloppy Joe recipe is lick-the-plate-scrumptious and a guaranteed most requested, repeat family and potluck favorite!  The hot, saucy, meaty filling is leveled up with seasonings and the perfect balance of sweet, punchy tanginess served on toasted brioche buns (no soggy sandwiches here!). This recipe is quick and easy to make, make-ahead friendly (just keep warm in the crockpot), customizable and 1000X better than anything from a can!  
Servings: 4 servings
Total Time: 30 minutes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

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Ingredients

Buns

  • 4 brioche buns
  • softened butter or mayonnaise (optional)

BEEF & SEASONINGS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, minced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp EACH paprika, salt, pepper
  • 1/4 tsp EACH dried thyme, red pepper flakes

SAUCE

  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow deli mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon beef bouillon (crushed cube, granulated or base)

Instructions

  • TOAST BUNS: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Split buns and lay them cut side up on a large baking tray (15×21). Lightly brush the cut sides with softened butter or mayonnaise (optional for crispier/more flavorful buns). Bake for 5 minutes to toast the buns. Meanwhile, proceed with the recipe:
  • COOK ONIONS & BEEF: Heat olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and salute for 4 minutes. Add ground beef and cook until almost browned; drain grease.
  • SAUTE BELL PEPPER: Add bell pepper, garlic and all beef seasonings. Cook for 3 minutes or until onions are softened.
  • ADD SAUCE INGREDIENTS: Stir in all Sauce ingredients. Note: We love this recipe boldly flavored. For milder meat sauce, start with 1 TBS Worcestershire and 1 TBS brown sugar and adjust to taste.
  • SIMMER: Gently simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, but the mixture is still a little saucy, about 8-10 minutes.
  • SEASON TO TASTE: Add additional vinegar for tangier, sugar for sweeter.
  • ADD TO BUNS: Divide mixture between the toasted buns and dig in!

Video

Notes

 
  • To store:  Store the Sloppy Joe meat separate from the buns in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.  Freeze the meat and buns separately for up to 3 months. Let the meat thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
  • To reheat:  Rewarm the meat gently in a large skillet, stirring often. Add a splash of water if the filling seems dry.  

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4 Comments

  1. Carol says

    Best sloppy joes we have ever had!

    • Jen says

      I LOVE hearing that Carol, thank you!!!

  2. Annette says

    For some reason I couldn’t complete my review. Anyway, this recipe was like a trip down memory lane, only better. Reduced the sugar but followed the rest of the recipe and it was delicious. Can’t wait to make again. Thank you!

    • Jen says

      Oh I am so glad it was such a good experience! Thanks for the kind review Annette!