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Homemade Sloppy Joes come together in less than 30 minutes for a quick and easy dinner — even on your busiest nights. A handful of simple pantry staples like ketchup, mustard, and cider vinegar create a made-from-scratch sweet and tangy Sloppy Joe sauce that’s so much better than the canned stuff!
Table of Contents
- How to Make Sloppy Joes | 1-Minute Video
- Old Fashioned Sloppy Joes Recipe
- Ingredients for Classic Sloppy Joes
- How to Make Homemade Sloppy Joes
- How to Thicken Sloppy Joes
- Serving Suggestions
- Sloppy Joe Toppings
- Preparation and Storage Tips
- Unique Ways to Use Leftover Sloppy Joe Meat
- Recipe Variations
- Homemade Sloppy Joes Recipe
How to Make Sloppy Joes | 1-Minute Video
Old Fashioned Sloppy Joes Recipe
I’ve got nothing against store-bought Manwich Sloppy Joe sauce, but these homemade Sloppy Joes are so much tastier — and almost as easy as popping open a can! The old-fashioned recipe is a classic American comfort food that dates back to the early 20th century, and it’s no surprise that the sweet-and-savory sandwiches have been loved for generations.
In fact, Marilyn Brown, the Director of the Consumer Test Kitchen at H.J. Heinz, suggests that Sloppy Joes originated with the “loose meat sandwiches” sold in Sioux City, Iowa in the 1930s. Those sandwiches were created by a cook named Joe, which might explain today’s term for the simple recipe, Sloppy Joes. These sandwiches consist of a combination of ground beef (or other ground meat) in a tomato-based sauce, piled high on hamburger buns. What’s not to love?!
Ingredients for Classic Sloppy Joes
This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a super easy sloppy joe recipe. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.
- Lean ground beef: you can sub with ground turkey, ground chicken, or ground pork if you prefer.
- Onion and garlic: for savory flavor.
- Worcestershire sauce: adds salty, umami flavor.
- Brown sugar: for just the right amount of sweetness.
- Apple cider vinegar: for a bright, acidic note.
- Yellow mustard: adds a bit of subtle tang.
- Ketchup: the base of the sauce, this adds flavor and sweetness.
- Salt and pepper: to enhance the other flavors in the recipe.
- Sandwich buns: for serving.
The Best Bread for Sloppy Joes
We serve this old fashioned sloppy joe recipe on classic hamburger buns. Sesame seeds or not, you choose! You can butter the buns and toast them on a griddle for a fancier restaurant-quality touch. You might also like brioche buns, pretzel rolls, or even kaiser sandwich rolls for a tasty twist!
What can be used instead of ketchup?
Substitute with barbecue sauce or tomato sauce in lieu of the ketchup. The tomato sauce is not sweet like ketchup, so you will need to add some extra brown sugar to taste. You can also use a can of condensed tomato soup if that’s what’s in your pantry. Stir in a dollop of tomato paste for a richer tomato flavor.
How to Make Homemade Sloppy Joes
Not only is this old fashioned sloppy joes recipe quick to prepare, but you probably already have all of the ingredients that you need. Skip a trip to the grocery store and get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes! I’ve included the detailed directions in the recipe card below, but here’s the quick version:
- Brown the meat, onion, and garlic.
- Whisk together the remaining ingredients to make the sauce.
- Add the sauce to the ground beef mixture in the skillet and stir to combine.
- Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Spoon the mixture onto hamburger buns and serve warm.
How to Thicken Sloppy Joes
This recipe is very flexible, so you can make your homemade Sloppy Joes as thick or as “sloppy” as you like. For a thinner sauce, keep the skillet covered while you simmer the meat in the sauce. If the sauce is still too thick, gradually stir in a small amount of warm water or beef broth until it reaches your desired consistency.
To thicken the Sloppy Joes, simmer the sauce a little bit longer uncovered, or gradually sift in a small amount of flour while stirring vigorously.
Serve this old fashioned Sloppy Joes recipe with any of the following easy side dishes:
- Coleslaw or Vinegar Coleslaw
- Wedge Salad with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, Green Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette, Southern Caesar Salad, House Salad with Candied Pecans, Mixed Greens with Dijon Vinaigrette, or Classic Caesar Salad
- Baked Potato Wedges, Twice Baked Potatoes, 3-Ingredient Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes with Sour Cream and Chives, Skin On Mashed Red Potatoes, Baked Potatoes, Easy Potato Salad, Potato Chips, or French Fries
- Cast Iron Cornbread, Sour Cream Cornbread, Southern Cornbread, Pumpkin Cornbread, Cake Mix Cornbread, Skillet Cornbread, Sweet Cornbread, Jiffy Cornbread with Creamed Corn, Blueberry Corn Muffins, Corn Sticks, Broccoli Cornbread, Honey Butter Cornbread or Cornbread Muffins
- Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese, Duke’s Homemade Mac and Cheese, Pumpkin Mac and Cheese, Crock Pot Mac and Cheese, No-Boil Overnight Mac and Cheese, Shells and Cheese, or Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- 3-Ingredient Buttermilk Biscuits, Southern Buttermilk Biscuits, Flaky Biscuits, Aunt Bee’s 3-Ingredient Buttermilk Biscuits, Sweet Potato Biscuits, Cheese Biscuits, Easy Drop Biscuits, 7UP Biscuits, or Cheddar Biscuits with Chives and Bacon
- Pumpkin Bread or Pumpkin Muffins
- Corn Salad, Jiffy Corn Casserole, or Fried Corn
- 3-Ingredient Sour Cream Muffins
- Refrigerator Dill Pickles, Cucumber Salad with Vinegar, Tomato Cucumber Onion Salad, or Cucumber Dill Salad
- Arkansas Green Beans with Bacon or Southern-Style Green Beans
- Broccoli Cauliflower Salad
- Fried Apples or Baked Apple Slices
- Southern Succotash
- Southern Collard Greens
- Fried Okra or Okra and Tomatoes
- Broccoli and Cheese
- Easy Pasta Salad
- Homemade Baked Beans with Bacon or Cowboy Baked Beans
- Southern Squash Casserole
- Cheese Grits
- Fried Cabbage with Apples and Onion, Braised Red Cabbage, or Roasted Cabbage
Sloppy Joe Toppings
We keep them simple with just the meat inside a bun; however, you can feel free to pile on any of your favorite sandwich toppings. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Cheese: place a slice of American cheese on top of the warm meat — it will melt almost instantly
- Pickles: dill slices or bread and butter pickles are both delicious
- Coleslaw: a cool and crunchy contrast to the warm meat
- Lettuce, Tomato and Red Onion: just like a hamburger!
Preparation and Storage Tips
- This is a great make ahead meal for busy nights! You can prepare the Sloppy Joe meat in advance, let it cool to room temperature, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
- The prepared Sloppy Joe meat will keep in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
- How to Reheat: Place the meat in a saucepan, cover, and warm over a low flame, stirring regularly just until heated through. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of warm water, beef broth, or additional ketchup to thin. Spoon onto buns and enjoy!
Unique Ways to Use Leftover Sloppy Joe Meat
Instead of the traditional Sloppy Joe sandwich, try using the leftover meat in these other ways:
- Serve the meat on top of rice, noodles, or mashed potatoes
- Use the Sloppy Joes as a topping for baked potatoes with sour cream and cheddar cheese
- Combine with macaroni and cheese for a Sloppy Joe Pasta
- Stuff the meat inside quesadillas or tacos
- Pile it high on top of cornbread
- Spread it on flatbread and top with grated cheese, then bake for a Sloppy Joe pizza
- Wrap in crescent roll dough and bake in the oven
- Homemade Sloppy Joes with Ketchup and BBQ Sauce: for a zesty spin, swap out half of the ketchup with barbecue sauce instead.
- Sloppy Joe Recipe with Tomato Sauce: For a slightly less sweet Sloppy Joe sauce, replace half of the ketchup with tomato sauce. You can even omit the ketchup entirely and use tomato sauce instead. Just sweeten with brown sugar to taste.
- Homemade Sloppy Joes with BBQ Sauce: If you love the zippy flavor of barbecue sauce, swap out the ketchup and replace it with your favorite brand of store-bought (or homemade) bbq sauce.
- Add Seasoning: Use your favorite seasonings like chili powder or cumin, or herbs such as oregano, thyme, basil, or parsley.
- Include Vegetables: Make healthy Sloppy Joes by sneaking in extra veggies. Try diced bell pepper, shredded zucchini or squash, or grated carrots.
- Try Different Meat: Instead of ground beef, use ground pork or ground turkey, or a blend of meats.
- Make Them Spicy: Add crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne to your sauce.
- No Sugar Sloppy Joe Recipe: omit the brown sugar and use no-sugar-added ketchup.
Homemade Sloppy Joes
- 1 lb. ground beef
- ¼ cup finely diced onion (frozen is fine)
- 1 clove garlic, minced (or ⅛ teaspoon dried garlic powder)
- ¾ cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Dash of black pepper
- For serving: sandwich buns
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef, onion, and garlic until the meat is no longer pink. Drain.
- Whisk together the remaining ingredients to make the sauce. Add to the skillet with the beef, onion, and garlic.
- Simmer uncovered over low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring regularly, until the mixture reaches desired consistency. You can keep the skillet covered if you like the sauce “sloppier.” If the sauce is too thick, gradually stir in a small amount of warm water or beef broth. If the sauce is too thin, gradually sift in a small amount of flour while stirring vigorously to thicken.
- Spoon beef mixture onto buns and serve!