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Sloppy Joes

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Effortlessly delicious and universally loved, Sloppy Joes are the tasty (and yes, slightly messy) champion of quick dinners and game day feasts.

Sloppy joe on a plate with salad.

A Sloppy Joe is a beloved American sandwich made from ground beef cooked in a tangy and slightly sweet tomato-based sauce and served on a hamburger bun. The name “sloppy” aptly describes the sandwich’s messy nature, as the filling tends to spill out of the bun. My homemade Sloppy Joes, which my kids have playfully nicknamed “Sloppy Jenns” (although I’m not a fan of that name!), is an upgrade on the classic recipe. Instead of using ketchup or seasoning packets, I create a smoky sauce entirely from scratch. The recipe is quick and always a crowd-pleaser, and it can easily be scaled up to feed a crowd or frozen for another meal.

To serve, I suggest toasting buttery brioche buns and pairing the sandwiches with either my sweet and tangy citrus slaw or classic coleslaw, crispy potato chips, and some refrigerator pickles on the side.

“The last time I had a Sloppy Joe was as a teenager–Manwich, of course! Definitely elevated with this version! Perfect weeknight meal!”

Kelly McBride

What You’ll Need To Make Sloppy Joes

ingredients for sloppy joes
  • Ground Beef: 90% lean ground beef is ideal due to its lower fat content, which not only ensures the dish is not too greasy but also eliminates the need to drain fat after browning.
  • Baking Soda: Tenderizes the beef.
  • Onion, Red Bell Pepper, Garlic: A flavorful trio that forms the aromatic foundation of the filling.
  • Smoked Paprika, Cumin, Oregano, Dry Mustard: These spices add a spectrum of flavors from smoky to earthy to tangy.
  • Canned Tomato Sauce and Tomato Paste: Used to make the sauce; the tomato sauce offers a tangy, liquid base, while the paste thickens and intensifies the tomato flavor.
  • Worcestershire Sauce and Hot Pepper Sauce: These condiments add umami and a heat, deepening the flavor of the dish.
  • Hamburger or Brioche Buns: The vehicle for the Sloppy Joe mixture, offering a soft and slightly sweet contrast to the flavorful beef filling.
  • Jump to the printable recipe for precise measurements

Step-by-Step Ingredients

To begin, combine the beef and baking soda in a medium bowl. The baking soda raises the pH of the meat, helping to lock in moisture and keep the beef tender. (I use this technique for many ground beef recipes, including beef enchiladas, stuffed peppers, stacked beef enchiladas and chili.)

beef and baking soda in bowl

Mash with your hands until well combined, and then let sit on the counter for 20 to 25 minutes to tenderize.

mashed beef mixture

While the beef rests, chop the veggies. I use a food processor to speed this process along, but it’s fine to chop by hand.

vegetables in food processor for easy chopping

If using a food processor, be sure to pulse only until the vegetables are finely chopped, not puréed.

chopped veggies for sloppy joes

When the meat is just about ready, melt the butter in a large skillet.

melting the butter

Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic.

onions, bell pepper and garlic in pan

Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.

Wooden spoon stirring softened veggies in a skillet.

Add the beef, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, and dry mustard.

beef and seasoning added to skillet

Cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until mostly brown, about 3 minutes.

browned beef mixture

Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce.

adding the tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce

Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes.

sloppy joes mixture in skillet

While the sauce simmers, butter the inside of the buns and place on a baking sheet, butter side up.

buttered buns for sloppy joes on sheet pan

Toast in the oven until warmed through and lightly crispy, about 5 minutes.

Baking sheet of toasted buns.

Taste the sloppy Joe mixture and adjust seasonings. (If you like your Sloppy Joes sweet, feel free to add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar.) Spoon the mixture onto the toasted hamburger buns and serve. Enjoy!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Sloppy Joes be made ahead of time?

Yes, the meat mixture can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop over medium heat until warmed through.

Can I substitute the beef with another protein?

Yes, you can use various types of ground meat for Sloppy Joes, including turkey, chicken, or pork. If going this route, skip the tenderizing step with the baking soda.

How does baking soda tenderize the beef?

Baking soda raises the pH level of the meat’s surface, making it more alkaline. This change in pH disrupts the protein structure in the meat, making it more tender. Baking soda also accelerates browning, which boosts the flavor of the dish.

Sloppy Joe on a plate with a salad.

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Sloppy Joes

Effortlessly delicious and universally loved, Sloppy Joes are the tasty (and yes, slightly messy) champion of quick dinners and game day feasts.

Servings: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 25 Minutes
Cook Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time: 45 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1¼ pounds 90% lean ground beef
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for buns
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¾ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 (14-oz) can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • ½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco or Frank's, or to taste
  • Hamburger buns

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, using your hands, mash the beef with the baking soda. Let it sit on the counter for 20 to 25 minutes to tenderize.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F and set a rack in the middle position.
  3. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until bubbling. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.
  4. Add the beef, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, and dry mustard and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until mostly brown, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, butter the inside of the buns and place on a baking sheet, butter side up. Toast in the oven until warmed through and lightly crispy, about 5 minutes.
  6. Taste the sloppy Joe mixture and adjust seasonings. (If you like your Sloppy Joes sweet, feel free to add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar.) Spoon the mixture onto the toasted hamburger buns and serve.
  7. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The meat mixture can be frozen for up to 3 months and reheated in the microwave om on the stovetop until hot.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (5 servings)
  • Serving size: 1 sandwich
  • Calories: 406
  • Fat: 18 g
  • Saturated fat: 8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 32 g
  • Sugar: 8 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 29 g
  • Sodium: 887 mg
  • Cholesterol: 86 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • Uhm, works well with baking powder instead of soda in an unintentional, that reminds me I need an eye appointment moment. Terrific recipe for a crowd.

    • — J Pats on March 28, 2024
    • Reply
  • Made and LOVED this recipe. I was definitely upset with myself for sticking with Manwich for so long. I knew that I could find a fantastic recipe here and, as always, wasn’t disappointed 🙂 Fantastic that it was gluten free too!

    Doubled the recipe but made two substitutions, one change, and one suggestion:
    Substitute 1. Used ground beef for one portion and market ground pork for the other – more flavor and slightly different texture.
    Substitute 2. Used Cento Passata instead of tomato sauce. Much more flavor imho and slightly thicker to start with. A great substitute in many recipes.
    Change. Instead of adding the beef (and pork) to the onions/peppers/garlic, I use a separate large pan to cook off the meats… gives more room for water evaporation so that the meat doesn’t “boil” in its own juices (or the veggies’) and allows me to brown the meat some which is hard to do if you already have veggies in the pan. The crisp texture and milliard reaction flavors are great to have when eating.
    Suggestion. While the flavor profile was spot on southwest (how could it not be with cumin/smoked paprika), I did miss the presence of sweet. Carmelizing the tomato paste in the meat didn’t add enough sweet. I would experiment with adding something sweet without being cloying… maybe some agave syrup or honey but not too much!

    Awesome recipe!!!

    • — David Rubin on January 29, 2024
    • Reply
  • Made this yummy meal yesterday… but as I’m adding this comment I’m constantly getting these annoying pop up ads and I feel like it’s getting worse… it’s non stop and interferes with reading the recipe as I’m trying to make it.

    • — Kimberley on January 19, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Kimberley, I’m glad you enjoyed the sloppy Joes, but sorry the ads are frustrating! What type of device are you using? If it’s an iPad, the ads can move around depending on how you’re holding it. Also, I’ve spoken to my ad network about it, and they’ve definitely found that iPad users tend to have more complaints across the board because of the unique sizing and formatting on an iPad.

      -If you’re using a computer, do you have it in full-screen mode? If not, depending upon how narrow the page is displayed, if the ads don’t have room to be alongside the content, they will display on top of it. This will resolve itself with the full-screen view. Again, I’m sorry for the frustration and appreciate your honest comments.

      • — Jenn on January 19, 2024
      • Reply
  • Delicious!! Quick and easy and made for wonderful leftovers.

    • — Jasmine Scheffer on November 25, 2023
    • Reply

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