For an easy and delicious lunch, make homemade sloppy Joes! This classic summer camp sandwich will satisfy any appetite.
Sloppy Joes are a lunchtime staple made from ground beef in a tangy sauce. They’re cheap, quick, kid-friendly, and have the perfect balance of sweet and savory.
This legendary Joe was a cook at Floyd Angell’s Cafe in Sioux City, Iowa. According to the story, he started making loose meat sandwiches with tomato sauce.
The sandwiches became really popular, and people started calling them “sloppy Joe’s.” And they’ve been a cafeteria staple ever since.
In stores, you can buy a canned product called “Manwich.” This mix has all the seasonings you need to make sloppy Joes, so you just need to add ground beef.
However, I prefer to make my own from scratch so I can adjust the seasonings to my liking. Frankly, this recipe isn’t much harder than opening that can — and it tastes so much better!
Tips for Making the Best Homemade Sloppy Joes
Toast the Buns
One easy way to improve your sloppy Joe recipe is to toast the buns. This makes the bread seem like it just came out of the oven, and it adds a nice crunchy texture to the sandwich.
To toast the bread, butter both halves of the bun and place them butter-side down in the hot skillet. Cook them on medium until they’re golden brown (about 1 minute).
Cook the Meat Properly
If your raw ground beef is at room temperature, it will cook through in about 8-10 minutes. But don’t use the color of the meat to determine when it’s done – that’s not reliable!
To make sure your beef is safe to eat, check that the internal temperature is at least 160 degrees F.
Thicken the Sauce
If you have some time, simply remove the lid from the pot while you’re making this sloppy Joe recipe allowing the liquid to evaporate. By doing this, your sloppy Joe meat will get thicker, and the flavor of the sauce will be more intense.
However, if you’re in a rush, you can thicken the sloppy Joe sauce with cornstarch. You need about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of liquid.
But don’t add the cornstarch directly into the hot sloppy Joe sauce! First, make a slurry with a little bit of cold water, and then slowly mix it into the sloppy Joe meat.
Sweeten It Up
My homemade sloppy Joe recipe uses brown sugar and barbecue sauce for sweetness. But if you like your filling a little sweeter and more flavorful, add an extra 2 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce.
Homemade Sloppy Joe Recipe
- Prep Time5 min
- Cook Time30 min
- Total Time35 min
- Fry the Beef
Place your skillet on the stove, turn the dial to medium, and let the pan heat up. Once the pan is hot, add the onion and saute it for 3 to 5 minutes.
When the onion is golden brown, add the green pepper and ground beef. Saute the meat mixture for about 8-10 minutes, or until cooked through.
While it’s cooking, stir the sloppy Joe mixture occasionally to break up big clumps of beef. But keep the crumbles to about ½ an inch, if possible.
- Add the Seasonings
Next, add the rest of the ingredients except for the salt, buns, butter, and toppings. Turn the heat to medium-high, and bring the meat mixture to a boil.
Continue cooking the homemade sloppy Joes for about 5 to 10 minutes. At this point, the sauce will be a little bit thicker.
Also, taste the sauce, and add a little extra salt if needed.
When you like the consistency of the sloppy Joes, take the skillet off the heat.
- Build Your Sandwiches
If you want to toast the buns, butter them and place them butter-side down in another heated skillet. Cook them on medium for about 1 minute or until golden brown.
Then, split your meat into an even portion for each bun. Spoon the beef on the bottom bun, and add your favorite toppings.
Finally, put the top bun on and enjoy the best sloppy Joes ever!
Apple Cider Vinegar
Some recipes don’t use tomato sauce or tomato paste. Instead, they flavor the meat with apple cider vinegar.
Vinegar and tomatoes are both acidic, so they give the filling its characteristic sourness. So, feel free to substitute cider vinegar in this recipe.
However, keep in mind that tomato sauce is thicker than vinegar, so your sauce might be a bit runny if you make this change.
For healthier homemade sloppy Joes, use ground turkey instead of ground beef. Turkey is lower in fat, and poultry is generally better for your heart.
For an even richer version of this homemade sloppy Joe sauce, use your crockpot or slow cooker!
After you saute the beef, onion, and green bell pepper in the skillet, transfer the mixture to your crockpot. Then, add the other sauce ingredients and cook everything for 3-4 hours.
Because you cook this version for longer, the flavor of the sloppy Joe meat mixture is even more intense!
To give this delicious recipe a little kick, make it spicy! To do this, you can add a pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne powder.
Or, for a Mexican twist, add a teaspoon of chili powder to the sloppy Joe sauce ingredients. This will add a little heat and extra seasoning.
But if you don’t want to change the flavor of the meat itself, you can always add a dash of hot sauce on top of your own portion of sloppy Joe filling.
What to Serve With Homemade Sloppy Joes
This is the best sloppy Joe recipe for making a classic American meal. So, I like to serve these sandwiches with traditional sides.
- For starches, I usually choose between potato salad, mac and cheese, and tater tots. Or, I just open a bag of potato chips for a quick side.
- For vegetables, I’ll make coleslaw, baked beans, or just a plain green salad.
- And don’t forget the toppings! I like to add cheese and dill pickle slices to my sloppy Joes, and sometimes I’ll even put a scoop of KFC coleslaw on top.
Storage & Reheating Instructions
In an airtight container in the refrigerator, your leftover sloppy Joe meat sauce will last for about 3 to 4 days. But if you want it to last longer, you can freeze it in a container or sealed freezer bag for about 3 months.
When you’re ready to eat the sloppy Joes, place the frozen or thawed meat in a large skillet. Then, heat it up until it reaches at least 165 degrees F.
Finally, spoon meat mixture onto toasted buns and enjoy!
The combination of bread and meat in homemade sloppy Joes provides three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. While these provide a solid foundation for your meal, there are not many micronutrients in this dish.
To make these sandwiches healthier, add fresh vegetables like lettuce and tomato. This will enrich the sloppy Joes with micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
Other ways to make this dish healthier include using ground turkey instead of beef. This lowers the cholesterol and fat content (particularly saturated fat).
As well, use 100% whole grain bread instead of regular hamburger buns. This provides fiber and will help keep your blood sugar from spiking suddenly. – Kirsten Mae Magbanua, RND