Homemade Sloppy Joes
This homemade Sloppy Joes recipe is easy to make and will please the whole family! Kids love it and adults can never resist the messy nostalgia. Double, triple or quadruple this recipe, as it is a great way to feed a hungry crowd!
An American Classic Sandwich!
With 4th of July around the corner, I’m feeling inspired to cook all the American classics.
And since I posted the most amazing Brioche Burger Buns not too long ago, I thought it was time this recipe for Homemade Sloppy Joes joined them here on the blog!
No canned sauce or packaged seasonings needed. This sandwich is made from scratch, with pantry staple (or easy to find) ingredients.
It is also an easily customizable recipe, so feel free to sneak in some veggies in there to feed your kids or add a glug of beer for a bolder taste when feeding grown-ups!
But there’s one thing that is not negotiable when serving Sloppy Joes: napkins. Lots of napkins!
Don’t come telling me I didn’t warn you.
What is a Sloppy Joe?
A Sloppy Joe is an American sandwich consisting of ground beef, onions, peppers, ketchup or tomato sauce, brown sugar or molasses, and various other seasonings. The resulting mixture is served on a burger bun.
As for origins of this sandwich, they are up for debate. My research found that there are three places that are often credited with inventing the Sloppy Joe: an obscure café in Sioux City, Iowa; the Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida; and the Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Havana, Cuba.
I wasn’t surprised by the latter, especially since Cuban cuisine has similar dishes, like ropa vieja (shredded beef in tomato sauce) and picadillo (ground beef with tomato sauce and spices).
Upon further reading, I learned that the pre-revolutionary Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Havana opened in 1918, founded by a bartender named José Abeal y Otero, who was called Joe by his American friends.
Legend has it that José didn’t initially named his bar Sloppy Joe’s, but that the idea came after his friends kept commenting on the rather messy appearance of his establishment, which always had melted ice on the floor.
That being said, there is no concrete proof of this being the place where the now famous Sloppy Joe sandwich was born.
What is most probable, in my opinion, is that the sandwich – or at least the version that is the closest to what we call Sloppy Joes now – was born in the Florida Sloppy Joe’s, which got its name after Hemingway (a customer of both the Floridian and the Cuban places) suggested it should be renamed from Blind Pig to Sloppy Joe’s, like Havana’s hot spot.
According to their brand manager, the sandwich was inspired by a loose-meat sandwich that was served in the Cuban bar and Americanized to please the palates of their customers.
The sandwich eventually became a staple in school cafeterias and home kitchens. By the 1960s, food companies had begun producing packaged Sloppy Joes, in cans with meat or just as the sauce.
What is the difference between Manwich and Sloppy Joes?
Sloppy Joes are the sandwich, while Manwich is the store-bought canned sloppy joe sauce, produced by ConAgra Foods and Hunt’s.
While the brand markets this product as a quick and easy one-pan meal, I strongly recommend you make the sauce from scratch. It takes no time and it tastes so much better than anything you would get in a can!
Sloppy Joe VS Sloppy Jane
A Sloppy Jane is a Sloppy Joe made with ground turkey instead of ground beef.
Ingredients for Homemade Sloppy Joes Recipe
Here are the ingredients you will need to make Sloppy Joes:
GROUND BEEF – I like a blend of chuck and sirloin, for texture and flavor, but you can use whatever blend you’d like! You can also use ground pork or turkey for non-traditional Sloppy Joes.
ONION AND GARLIC – Most Sloppy Joes recipes ask for onions only. Well, to me onions and garlic are like Batman and Robin! You can’t separate them. :)
RED BELL PEPPER – The sandwich is traditionally made with green bell pepper, but I prefer the flavor from a red bell pepper instead. They are sweeter and slightly more tender.
KETCHUP – Don’t be afraid of the ketchup! It really adds that nice tomato-y sweetness that is characteristic of a Sloppy Joe. If you must substitute, I’d use tomato paste and tomato sauce instead.
MUSTARD – Good, old yellow mustard, please. I have tried making it with Dijon, but it didn’t taste “right”!
BROWN SUGAR – Some recipes call for molasses instead of brown sugar. You can use that if you prefer.
SMOKED PAPRIKA – A bit out there, I know. But I love the little heat and smokiness that it adds to the meat mixture. You can omit or use something else entirely, like chili powder.
WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE – Delivers some much needed umami to an otherwise sweet and tangy flavored dish.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR – Speaking of tangy, I like to add a splash of vinegar at the end, to brighten and balance the flavors.
OIL – Just a little oil to brown the beef. Don’t go crazy so your Sloppy Joes don’t get greasy!
SALT AND PEPPER – Season to taste!
How to make Homemade Sloppy Joes Recipe
Ready to make this easy and delicious sandwich?
While a Sloppy Joe requires a little more work than a – let’s say – grilled cheese, it is still a quick and simple recipe!
A little chopping, a little sautéing, a little simmering and voila. Saucy, beef-y, slightly sweet perfection! Totally worth it.
And on that note, Sloppy Joes are naturally sweet because of the ketchup and brown sugar or molasses. If you prefer it less sweet, adjust or omit these ingredients to your liking.
Here’s how I make this homemade sloppy joes recipe. As always, you will find the printable (and more complete) version of the recipe at the end of this post!
Step 1: Brown the beef
- Cook the ground beef in a large skillet, with a little bit of oil, and drain the excess grease. (Photo 1)
Step 2: Add the veggies
- Add the chopped onion and pepper, and sauté until softened. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. (Photo 2)
Step 3: Cook
- Add the remaining ingredients, minus the vinegar, cover and cook for 30 to 45 minutes or until the beef is soft and the sauce is thick. (Photo 3)
- Stir in the vinegar.
Step 4: Serve!
- Serve on toasted burger buns! (Photo 4)
For a saucier Sloppy Joe, you can add a cup of tomato sauce to the mixture
Making in the Slow Cooker:
- Heat the oil in a large skillet and brown the beef until no longer pink. Drain the excess grease. Add the onion and pepper and sauté until softened. Add the garlic and sauté briefly to release its aroma.
- Transfer the beef mixture to your slow cooker insert. Add the remaining ingredients, minus the vinegar, and stir to combine.
- Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours, or HIGH for 3-4 hours.
- Add the vinegar, stir and serve on burger buns.
Making in the Instant Pot:
- Select the Instant Pot’s sauté mode and wait until indicator says HOT.
- Add a little bit of oil and, once shimmering, add the ground beef. Cook until browned. Drain the excess grease.
- Add the onion and pepper, sautéing until softened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Stir in the remaining ingredients, minus the vinegar.
- Lock the lid and pressure cook on manual for 5 minutes. Let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes. After that, turn the pressure valve to venting position to release remaining pressure before carefully removing the lid.
- Add the vinegar, stir and serve on toasted buns.
What to serve with sloppy joes
Sloppy Joes are often served on buns, with pickles and potato chips on the side. If you’re feeling fancy, you could do a nice potato salad or Cole slaw on the side instead.
If serving for adults, some ice cold beer is always a great call!
A traditional Sloppy Joe doesn’t have cheese, but I love adding a slice of provolone or cheddar to the bottom bun before I spoon the meat. So good!
Ready to take your Sloppy Joes to the next level? Here are some fun twists on this classic sandwich:
- Philly Cheese Steak Sloppy Joes
- Pizza Sloppy Joes
- Chorizo Sloppy Joes
- Hoisin Peanut Sloppy Joes with Asian Slaw
- Sloppy Joes Grilled Cheese
Homemade Sloppy Joes FAQs:
Cooked Sloppy Joes will keep well in the fridge for 3-4 days, if properly stored in an airtight container.
Reheat the leftovers in a medium saucepan, over medium low heat, until hot. You can add a splash or two of water if the sauce has thickened too much in the fridge.
Yes, Sloppy Joes freeze well!
Make sure to cool it completely before transferring to a gallon-size resealable freezer bag (or smaller bags if you want to freeze into individual portions). Label and freeze flat for up to 3-4 months.
When ready to eat, no need to thaw. Just place it on a medium saucepan and reheat on medium-low heat!
You can also freeze the buns.
Did you make this recipe? I love hearing from you! Please comment and leave a 5-star rating below. You can also take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #oliviascuisine.
Homemade Sloppy Joes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 ½ pound ground beef
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 cup water
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 6 burger buns, toasted
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon, until browned and crispy, about 8 minutes. Carefully drain the excess grease and return the pan to the stove.
- Lower the heat to medium and add the onions and peppers, sautéing until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté briefly, about 1 minute, to release its aroma.
- Stir in the remaining ingredients, minus the vinegar, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 to 45 minutes.
- Add the vinegar and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
- Serve on burger buns, with pickles and/or potato chips.