Homemade Sloppy Joes

Every once in a while one or the other of my kids would mention having eaten a sloppy joe for lunch in school, and I was somewhat skeptical about the whole concept: “Really? Did you like it?” The reply? A resounding “YES!” 

Sloppy Joes

I’ve always thought that meat loaf didn’t get the respect it deserves, but I harbored a secret disdain for sloppy joes. So, I set about unraveling the mystery appeal of this cafeteria classic, and now I fully understand. The slightly sweet and tangy sauce, the soft buns, the glorious messiness of it—what’s not to love? And what took me so long to get on board?

Sloppy Joe Toppings

I asked my husband what he topped a sloppy joe with when he was a kid, and he said, fairly mulishly, “Nothing.” My kids agree. I did spend a good amount of time thinking about this and discussing it with others, and there are a lot of intriguing options. One bacchanalian individual suggested kielbasa, which I cannot in good conscience recommend. 

How to Top a Sloppy Joe:

Pick and choose your favorite toppings!

  • Pickles
  • Onions: raw, sautéed, pickled, or fried
  • Sliced or grated cheese , such as Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, or Cheddar
  • Coleslaw , such as Spicy Cole Slaw
  • Potato chips
  • Fried egg
Sloppy Joes

Make Ahead Sloppy Joe Filling

The filling is, in fact, even better when you make it a day or two ahead and reheat it; heat the buns right before you serve. This is a good recipe to remember if you are going to have an onslaught of teenagers coming over. The filling also freezes well for up to 3 months, well sealed.

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes: The slightly sweet and tangy sauce, the soft buns, the glorious messiness of it—what’s not to love?

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What to Serve with Sloppy Joes:

Sloppy Joes

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Sloppy Joes

The slightly sweet and tangy sauce, the soft buns, the glorious messiness of it—what’s not to love?
Yield: 8 People
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes


  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 ½ cups ketchup
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper , to taste
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (see Note)
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 8 hamburger buns , white or whole wheat (toasted, if desired)

For the Toppings (Optional):

  • Pickles
  • Onions , raw, sautéed, pickled, or fried
  • Sliced or grated cheese , such as Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, or Cheddar
  • Coleslaw , such as Spicy Cole Slaw
  • Potato chips
  • Fried egg


  • Spray a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add the beef, and cook, using a spoon to stir and break up the meat into crumbles, until it is browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the beef in a colander.
  • Wipe out the skillet and return it to the burner. Add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are tender, 4 minutes. Add the ketchup, tomato paste, mustard, brown sugar, chili powder, salt, and pepper and stir until well combined. Add the water, Worcestershire sauce, and cider vinegar, then return the beef to the pan. Bring to a simmer, adjust the heat if necessary, and simmer uncovered until the liquid has reduced and thickened into a sauce, about 5 minutes.
  • Place an open bun on each plate, and using a large spoon, scoop some of the beef filling onto the bottom half of each bun. Add toppings, if desired, top with the other half of the bun, and dig in.


Most Worcestershire sauces contain anchovies, and therefore are not vegetarian, but you can find anchovy-free versions. Annie’s and The Wizard’s are two brands, and any Worcestershire labeled kosher will also be vegetarian. You could also substitute 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon soy sauce for the 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 467kcal | Carbohydrates: 42g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 77mg | Sodium: 1081mg | Potassium: 822mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 18g | Vitamin A: 635IU | Vitamin C: 9mg | Calcium: 120mg | Iron: 5mg

The nutrition values are provided as an estimate. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.

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