The Best Homemade Sloppy Joes

5 from 5 votes
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Quick & easy homemade sloppy joes made with ground beef, garlic, onion, pepper, and homemade sauce loaded onto hamburger buns – a comforting, filling meal the whole family will enjoy!

Homemade sloppy joe sandwich

What Is a Sloppy Joe?

Though the name may not sound super appealing, sloppy joe-type recipes (aka a “loose meat sandwich”) have been around since the early 20th century, known by several different names then, and have since become an American family and childhood favorite.

A sloppy joe is a type of American sandwich that contains a saucy ground beef mixture made with a rich tomato-based sauce of onions, tomato sauce/ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and several other seasonings, then served on a hamburger bun (or sometimes hotdog bun).

The combination of the thick, rich filling made with a homemade sweet and savory sauce and stuffed into a big fluffy bun makes for a (slightly messy – but thoroughly enjoyable) cozy, super satisfying meal that’s wholeheartedly adult and child-approved.

Spooning sloppy joe beef mixture over hamburger bun

Best of all, they’re so inexpensive and easy to make from home! They come together using only basic ingredients with minimal effort and one pan in under 30 minutes. It also tastes infinitely better than any canned sauce (with healthier ingredients, too!).

Ingredients for Homemade Sloppy Joes

  • Ground beef: I prefer to use ground beef between 85-90% lean, so it’s not overly “greasy.” However, use slightly fattier beef if preferred.

You can also make a homemade sloppy joe recipe with other ground meat, like ground turkey, ground chicken, or even a vegetarian/vegan ground beef alternative.

  • Olive oil: Or another neutral cooking oil.
  • Aromatics: Both onions and garlic are used to create a flavor-packed base.
  • Bell pepper: I used a green bell pepper, but red would be fine, too.
  • Ketchup: Use regular, reduced sugar/sodium, all-natural ketchup, or homemade ketchup. It’s up to you.
  • Mustard: I used yellow mustard, though Dijon would work, too, for a more intense, slightly spicier flavor in the homemade sloppy joe sauce.
  • Tomato paste: To enhance the ketchup with a rich, concentrated tomato flavor.
  • Brown sugar: (or honey) To balance the various flavors in the sauce. Adjust the amount to taste, as preferences vary.
  • Worcestershire sauce: This tangy sauce is packed with umami flavor to add depth.
  • Chili powder: Alternatively, use cayenne pepper, hot sauce, or red pepper flakes. Adjust the amount to taste.
  • Salt & black pepper: To season the sloppy joe mixture to taste.
  • Hamburger buns: Just plain white hamburger buns/dinner rolls are the traditional choice, but feel free to use cheese buns, pretzel buns, hotdog buns, etc.
Ingredients for sloppy joes

You might also enjoy serving them with toppings like a mozzarella or cheddar slice, sliced pickles, coleslaw, sliced jalapenos (fresh or pickled), etc.

How to Make Homemade Sloppy Joes

First, finely chop the onion and green pepper and mince or grate the garlic.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Then add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic, and sauté for 2-3 minutes until softened and translucent.

Add the beef to the pan, using your spatula to break it into crumbles as it browns. Add the salt, pepper, and chili powder, then cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Steps for cooking ground beef with aromatics and spices

If you’ve used fatty meat, optionally drain excess grease before moving to the next step.

Add the tomato paste, ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, water, and sugar, stirring well. Then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened.

At this point, taste and adjust any flavorings/seasonings, too. Leaving it to rest for a few minutes off-heat can help it to further thicken, making it easier to serve.

Steps for cooking beef for sloppy joes

Optionally (highly recommended to avoid soggy buns), toast the inside of the burger buns in a dry pan and then serve the sloppy joes loaded with the meat mixture – enjoy!

Can You Make Sloppy Joes In A Crockpot?

It’s really simple to adjust this recipe to a crock pot. Just sauté the aromatics and brown the beef in a skillet. Then transfer everything (except the buns) to the crockpot, stir, and cook over LOW for 4-6 hours or HIGH for 2-3 hours.

What to Serve with Sloppy Joes?

These oven-baked beef short ribs are melt-in-the-mouth tender and absolutely packed with rich and delicious flavor, perfect for serving alongside:

How to Use Leftover Sloppy Joe Meat

You can use sloppy joe meat as a topping for baked potatoes, hotdogs, buttermilk biscuits, rice/ quinoa, or nachos/fries. It’ll also taste delicious in stuffed bell peppers, grilled cheese, stirred into pasta dishes, and more!

Three homemade sloppy joe sandwiches

Can You Make Sloppy Joes Ahead of Time?

Make ahead sloppy joes are a family meal-prep staple. Just prepare the sloppy joe meat, allow it to cool, and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.

It’s also freezer-friendly in containers or freezer bags (spread flat, excess air removed) for 2-3 months. Leave it to thaw in the refrigerator overnight when needed.

Reheat it on the stovetop or in a microwave (2-3 minutes) with an extra splash of liquid if needed.

More Beef Favorites

If you try this sloppy joes recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!

The Best Homemade Sloppy Joes

5 from 5 votes
By: Samira
Quick & easy homemade sloppy joes made with ground beef, garlic, onion, pepper, and homemade sauce loaded onto hamburger buns – a comforting, filling meal the whole family will enjoy!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 6

Ingredients 
 

  • 1 lb ground beef 85-90% lean
  • 1.8 oz onion 1 small (1/2 cup chopped)
  • 1.4 oz green bell pepper 1/2 medium (1/3 chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic small (1 tsp minced)
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup water more if needed
  • 1.5 Tbsp olive oil or avocado oil
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar or honey
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard
  • 1 tsp chili powder or cayenne pepper/hot sauce; adjust to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 6 hamburger buns cut in two

Instructions 

  • Finely chop the onion and bell pepper and mince or grate the garlic.
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Then add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic, and sauté for 2-3 minutes until softened and translucent.
  • Add the beef to the pan, using your spatula to break it into small crumbles as it browns. Add the salt, pepper, and chili powder, then cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
    If you've used fatty meat, drain excess grease before moving to the next step.
  • Add the tomato paste, ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, water, and sugar, stirring well. Then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened.
    At this point, taste and adjust any flavorings/seasonings, too. Leaving it to rest for a few minutes off-heat can help it to further thicken, making it easier to serve.
  • Optionally (highly recommended to avoid soggy buns), toast the inside of the burger buns in a dry pan.
    Then serve the sloppy joes loaded with the beef mixture – enjoy!

Notes

  • Use good-quality meat: Make sure to use high-quality ground beef that isn’t overly fatty since it’s the main flavor profile in this recipe.
  • Don’t rush the simmer stage: This step doesn’t only thicken the sauce; it also provides time for all the flavors to meld. If you have the time, 30-40 minutes of simmering over low heat, stirring occasionally, will be even better!
  • Season to taste: Taste and adjust any ingredient before serving. You can control how sweet, tangy, spicy, etc., it is.
  • To adjust the consistency: add a splash of water or broth if it becomes too thick. If it’s too thin, simmer the mixture for longer to thicken and reduce.
Optional add-ins and variations: There are several ways you can boost the nutrients, texture, and flavor of this recipe to personal taste:
  • Other spices: Smoked paprika, cumin, onion garlic powder, etc.
  • Fresh herbs: For freshness, add at the end – i.e., parsley or green onions.
  • Canned green chilies: For extra flavor and a bit of heat.
  • Vegetables: Shredded carrots, zucchini, sliced celery, mushrooms, etc.
  • Apple cider vinegar: For a little more tangy acidity if preferred.
Check the blog post for serving recommendations!
Course: Main
Cuisine: American
Freezer friendly: 2-3 Months
Shelf life: 3-4 Days

Nutrition

Calories: 303kcal, Carbohydrates: 34g, Protein: 21g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5g, Trans Fat: 0.3g, Cholesterol: 47mg, Sodium: 759mg, Potassium: 455mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 12g, Vitamin A: 297IU, Vitamin C: 8mg, Calcium: 83mg, Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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