This Sloppy Joes Recipe is a classic comfort food dinner that’s ready in a total of 20 minutes! Tender and juicy ground beef is simmered with peppers and onions in a sweet and spicy tomato sauce.
Serve plain on a toasted bun or load it up with your favorite toppings!
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Our favorite dinner recipes are ones that are made with simple ingredients, a hit with the whole family, and quick to make!
This sloppy joes recipe checks all of my “perfect meal” boxes! It’s made with ground beef, a few veggies, a simple sauce made up of pantry staples, and a few basic seasonings. It’s also always a favorite at our house AND it’s ready in a total of 20 minutes!
I mean, a messy, hearty, flavorful ground beef and tomato sauce piled onto a golden-brown, toasty bun? Easy dinner doesn’t get better than that!
What is a sloppy joe?
A sloppy joe is an American sandwich made up of ground beef simmered in a sweet tomato sauce and served on a toasted bun.
Sloppy joe sandwiches supposedly originated in Sioux City, Iowa in the 1930s when a chef named Joe added tomato sauce to his loose meat sandwiches, thus creating what is now a classic comfort food dinner!
Ingredients for sloppy joes:
- Ground Beef: I like to use lean ground beef so the mixture isn’t overly greasy. If you use a fattier meat, you’ll want to drain the oil before adding the sauce.
- Red Bell Pepper and Onion: sloppy joe filling is a great way to sneak veggies into your kids’ meals. Bell pepper and onion are the classic additions, but feel free to add other veggies if desired.
- Garlic: use freshly minced or pre-minced garlic. Garlic powder will work, but fresh is always my first choice!
- Salt, Chili Powder, and Black Pepper: a simple trio of seasonings to take the flavor of an already flavorful sauce up a notch.
- Ketchup, Brown Sugar, Worcestershire Sauce, Apple Cider Vinegar, Tomato Paste, Mustard, and Red Pepper Flakes: makes up the sweet, tangy, slightly spicy sloppy joe sauce.
- Water: used to thin out the filling, if necessary.
How to make sloppy joes
- Cook the beef: brown the beef with the onion and pepper. Stir in garlic, salt, chili powder, and pepper.
- Make the sauce: To the beef mixture, add the remaining ingredients. Stir well, then add water to thin it out if needed.
- Simmer and serve: Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium-low and simmer to thicken. Serve in buns with the toppings of your choice!
Sloppy Joes FAQs
The classic sloppy joe meat is ground beef! I prefer to use lean ground beef to keep it light. If you use a fattier beef, I recommend draining off excess oil after you cook the meat. Make sure you do this before you add the seasonings so you don’t drain off all that yummy flavor!
Don’t do beef? Check out Honey Garlic Turkey Sloppy Joes or Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken Quinoa Sloppy Joes!
Nope! Although they are similar, sloppy joe sandwiches are typically made up of a homemade tomato-based meat sauce. Manwich, on the other hand, is a pre-made sauce you can buy at the store.
You can keep your sloppy joe sandwich simple with a plain toasted brioche bun or dress it up with toppings! Try it with pickles, cheese, sour cream, thinly sliced red onions, sliced avocado, or even strips of crispy bacon.
Fill out your meal with a side of Creamy Ranch Bowtie Pasta Salad Recipe, air fryer potato wedges, Garlic Herb Instant Pot Potatoes, or Easy Broccoli Salad!
Leftover sloppy joe filling will last in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for 3-4 months.
To reheat, thaw in the fridge if frozen, then warm on the stove or in the microwave with a splash of water to thin, if necessary.
Tips and tricks
- Play with flavor. Sloppy joe filling is very forgiving. Prefer a sweeter sauce? Add more brown sugar. Love the spice? Add a drizzle of hot sauce or sriracha!
- Add more veggies. Sloppy joe filling is a great way to sneak some veggies into a meal…especially if you have picky kiddos. 😉 Try adding mushrooms, peas, carrots, celery, zucchini, spinach, you name it. Make sure you chop any extra veggies pretty small so they incorporate well into the sauce.
- Double the recipe. Sloppy joes store beautifully either in the fridge or in the freezer. Get ahead on meal planning and double the recipe!
- If the sauce is too thin, simmer it longer to allow it time to thicken. Keep in mind that the sauce will also thicken as it sits.
- If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of water to thin it out. Don’t add too much water though because you don’t want to dilute the flavor!
Other ways to use sloppy joe filling
There are so many ways to use sloppy joe sauce, which means you should have no issue using up leftovers! Here are some ideas:
- On grilled cheese. Check out my sloppy joe grilled cheese recipe. It’s even better if it’s made with homemade Whole Wheat Bread!
- Mixed into pasta. It’s delicious in homemade mac and cheese!
- Over nachos or fries. Serve it over nachos with melted cheese or use it in place of the ground beef in BBQ bacon cheeseburger nachos.
- On baked potatoes. Turn Air Fryer Baked Potato into a heartier meal by topping them off with a scoop of sloppy joe sauce.
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- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 red bell pepper (diced)
- ½ medium onion (diced)
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¾ cup ketchup
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons water
- Cook ground beef, onion and pepper in a large skillet over medium high heat until meat is browned and onion is translucent.
- Stir in garlic, salt, chili powder and pepper and cook 1 minute.
- Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, tomato paste, mustard and red pepper flakes and stir well. Add water to thin sauce if desired.
- Bring to a simmer over medium high heat and then reduce to medium low. Simmer until vegetables are tender and sauce has thickened slightly.
- Serve over buns.
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