The VERY BEST Sloppy Joe recipe is delicious, quick, and easy to make. A scrumptious, from-scratch sloppy joe sauce made with real ingredients puts it over the top. Hundreds of rave reviews agree that these Homemade Sloppy Joes are fantastic!
There aren't many dinners that you can get on the table faster than whipping up Sloppy Joes. And while the store-bought sauce that rhymes with San-wich might make this meal even quicker, it's got some less-than-ideal ingredients. After all, I tend to avoid high fructose corn syrup in my sweets, much less my dinner.
So what's a Sloppy Joe lovin' family to do? Why, put together your own quick and easy, all-natural sauce, of course! Once you make these amazing homemade Sloppy Joes, y'all, you won't go back.
This sloppy joe sauce only takes a couple of minutes to stir together, it tastes soooo much better (in fact, you get to control how sweet and/or salty you want it), and you don't have to worry about any unnecessary additives!
- Ground beef. I usually use 85/15 ground beef, but it's okay to use a leaner or fattier ratio, depending on what you have on hand. The grease gets drained either way. Alternatively, these homemade Sloppy Joes also turn out delicious using ground turkey.
- Garlic. Fresh garlic is great, but to save time, I often use minced garlic in water, which I always keep in my refrigerator.
- Tomato sauce. An 8-ounce can of tomato sauce is the perfect amount for this recipe. I sometimes use tomato puree (passata) instead if I already have a jar open in the fridge.
- Ketchup. I prefer using an all-natural brand of ketchup without too much added sugar. As you'll see below, I like to control the sugar. 🙂 Keep this in mind as the sweetness of your ketchup will likely dictate how much additional sugar you want to (or don't want to) add.
- Brown sugar. An important recipe note...use as much or as little brown sugar as you like! Some people prefer totally savory Sloppy Joes while others like their sandwiches on the sweeter side. You may also substitute a squeeze of honey in place of using brown sugar, which I often do.
- Worcestershire sauce. For an extra savory undertone. Again, you may tweak the amount to your liking.
- Prepared mustard. Believe it or not, a little squirt of plain ol' yellow mustard adds depth of flavor.
- Garlic powder + onion powder + fresh black pepper. For further seasoning.
How to Make Sloppy Joes
I shared my Slow Cooker Chicken Sloppy Joes awhile back, which feature this same homemade sloppy joe sauce. But sometimes you don't have the forethought (or the time) to toss something into the crockpot first thing in the morning.
So if you still want an effortless, family-pleasing meal come 5 o'clock, make this tried-and-true Sloppy Joe recipe!
I like to start out by mixing up my sauce and setting it aside so that it's ready to go once my meat is browned.
- Measure the Sloppy Joe sauce ingredients directly into a 2-cup glass measuring cup and stir together until well combined.
- Brown your ground beef (or turkey) and drain the fat.
- Stir the sloppy joe sauce into the drained ground beef.
- Allow the mixture to simmer on the stove, stirring occasionally.
Sloppy Joe Recipe Additions
My family likes our Sloppy Joes on the plain and simple side. However, if your family likes yours with onions and/or peppers, they're easy to add!
- Before browning the ground beef, dice up half an onion and half a bell pepper and cook them in a tablespoon of olive oil until softened (about 5 to 10 minutes).
- Remove the onions and peppers from the pot and proceed with the recipe, cooking the meat and then stirring the onions/peppers back in at the same time you add the sauce.
How Long to Simmer Sloppy Joe Sauce
This Sloppy Joe recipe is flexible and turns out tasty whether you need to make it in a flash or you have extra time to allow it to simmer.
At a minimum, you should let the mixture simmer long enough to heat through once you've stirred the sauce into the meat. I'd recommend 10 minutes of simmering, if possible.
However, if you have the time, the flavors will really meld and develop if you allow your mixture to simmer for 30 to 45 minutes (or even longer). Just keep the heat low and stir occasionally to prevent sticking or burning. And if the sauce starts to get too thick, stir in a little bit of water to buy you more simmering time.
Crock Pot Option
One trick I sometimes use is to make this recipe on the stove and then transfer it to a slow cooker (set to WARM) just before I go pick up my kids from school. When it's time to eat that evening, dinner is already ready and the flavor is extra yummy...double win!
Alternatively, if you need to whip up this Sloppy Joe recipe more than an hour or two ahead of time, you can actually let the sloppy joe sauce do its cooking in the crock pot (as opposed to simply keeping it warm, as described above):
- Brown and drain the ground beef and transfer to a slow cooker.
- Add all of the sauce ingredients and stir well to combine.
- Scrape down the sides of the slow cooker with a spatula (so that the sauce around the edges doesn't burn), cover, and cook on LOW for 4 to 6 hours.
- Stir well and serve!
If you choose to make homemade Sloppy Joes this way, just keep in mind that if your particular model of slow cooker runs hot, the sauce may darken a bit around the edges. But if you're home, you can stir a couple of times during the cooking time to help prevent this.
Also, make sure your slow cooker is suitable to the size of the recipe. In other words, if you have a crock pot that's on the larger size, you may want to double or triple the recipe!
Other Ideas for Serving Sloppy Joes
Everybody knows that meaty Sloppy Joe sauce is scrumptious piled high on hamburger buns! But there are lots of other fantastic ways to enjoy it, whether you're wanting to put a new twist on a fresh batch or you're simply using up leftovers:
- Turn it into a "casserole." For example, you could arrange tater tots on top, like this Sloppy Joe Tater Tot Casserole, or bake a crust on top, similar to Cheeseburger Pie or a even a cornbread casserole.
- Stir into mac & cheese or other pasta.
- Sprinkle over nachos.
- Fold into quesadillas.
- Top baked potatoes (and then melt cheese over the top).
- Spoon it over hot dogs in place of chili (like Chili Dogs).
- Or similarly, spoon it over French fries and add cheese (like Chili Cheese Fries).
- Stir it into queso for a hearty dip with tortilla chips.
- Stuff it into bell peppers and then bake.
- Layer it into grilled cheese sandwiches.
Have you tried any other creative ideas?
There's a reason this Sloppy Joe recipe is one of the all-time most popular recipes on the site, folks.
Kids adore it, but adults love it, too.
It's so simple but oh-so-good.
Helpful Tips, Tricks, & Equipment
- If you're making your own homemade Sloppy Joes in order to avoid processed ingredients, be sure to use all-natural ketchup.
- The sauce in this Sloppy Joe recipe is intended to be slightly sweet, but it's really a matter of taste. If you prefer a more savory sauce, feel free to use less brown sugar. Additionally, you may use unrefined sugar or a squeeze of honey in place of the brown sugar, if you wish.
- Along those same lines, if you'd like to make this meal even healthier by packing in some extra veggies unbeknownst to your kids (or your spouse), be sure to check out my How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies post, which specifically addresses Sloppy Joes. 😉
- My family loves homemade Sloppy Joes so much that I've also come up with a zesty Tex-Mex version...olè!
- If, like me, you make a lot of ground beef (or ground turkey) recipes, this tool is pretty darn handy for breaking up your meat.
More Easy (& Popular!) Ground Beef Recipes
The VERY BEST Sloppy Joe Recipe
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef (OR turkey)
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- ½ cup ketchup
- 1 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Hamburger buns
- Sliced pickles
- Make the sauce in a 2-cup glass measuring cup (or a medium bowl). Stir together the tomato sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, and freshly ground black pepper until well combined; set aside.
- Set a large pot over medium-low heat. Add a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil, and saute the garlic for a minute or two until just fragrant and very light golden brown. Add ground beef, increase heat to medium/medium high, and cook until nicely browned with no pink remaining, breaking apart and stirring as the meat cooks. Drain the grease.
- Pour the sauce over the browned meat, stir to combine, and simmer for at least 10 minutes until heated through, stirring occasionally.
- Serve warm on hamburger buns or rolls with sliced pickles on top.
- This Sloppy Joe sauce is intended to be slightly sweet, but it's really a matter of taste. If you prefer a more savory sauce, feel free to use less brown sugar. Additionally, you may use unrefined sugar or even a squeeze of honey in place of the brown sugar, if you wish.
- If you like your Sloppy Joe recipe with onions and peppers, you may dice up half an onion and half a bell pepper and cook them in a tablespoon of olive oil until softened (about 5 to 10 minutes) before browning the beef. Remove the onions and peppers from the pot and proceed with the recipe as directed, cooking the meat and then stirring the onions/peppers back in at the same time you add the sauce.
- The simmering time is up to you. If you're in a hurry, 10 minutes is all you need. However, if you have more time, simmering for 30 to 45 minutes (or longer) will really allow the flavors of the sauce to develop and meld. Just remember to stir occasionally to prevent sticking/burning and add a splash of water if the sauce starts to get overly thick.
Post originally published on January 13, 2015 (back when a certain two-year-old couldn't keep her little marker-stained mitts away long enough for me to snap a few pictures) and updated on November 2, 2017, January 5, 2021, January 31, 2022, and May 10, 2023.