All-American Homemade Sloppy Joes

An American Sloppy Joe is a budget-friendly flavor explosion. Ground beef sauteed with vegetables in a rich, smokey, molasses sauce and then served on fluffy hamburger buns — who can say no to that!

About This Homemade Sloppy Joes Recipe

An all-time American classic that’s high on flavor and so satiating, it’s hard to beat a good Sloppy Joe.

I can’t remember a time as a child in the ’90s when there wasn’t a teenage sitcom or cartoon that didn’t feature these mouth-watering beauties.

Originating in Iowa, US, in the early 20th century, traditional Sloppy Joes are quite simply ground beef cooked with onions and peppers inside a tomato and molasses sauce. They came about due to families in the 1930s having to make their food allowance stretch a little further and become inventive with cheaper cuts of meat during the Great Depression.

With some dispute over its origin, Sloppy Joes have also had an abundance of names. Many say the first Sloppy Joe was called a “loose sandwich” and originated in Iowa, whereas others argue it’s a Cuban classic!

Today, Sloppy Joes is a term we’ve all become familiar with. Sloppy Joes have become so ingrained into American culture that there are even “Messy Eating Contests” across the states. How many Sloppies do you think you can eat?!

The Sloppy Joe is almost a pick-and-mix of budget-friendly dinners. You can chop and change the spices, veg and even the bun it’s served in.

And that’s exactly what this recipe delivers — a simple but highly customizable Sloppy Joe that is packed with mouth-watering flavor!

sloppy joes

Ingredient Notes

  • Olive Oil: The best oil to add depths of flavor when frying.
  • Ground Beef: Use ground beef with a higher fat percentage to get a more flavorful meal. I use a minimum of 12% and find 20% fat ground beef works best. The juices help emulsify the tangy sauce and lift the flavor even further on your palette.
  • White Onions: White onions or Spanish onions have far more of a punch than red onions or scallions. This balance of allium will contrast the sweetness of the meat, creating a perfect balance.
  • Bell Pepper: Green bell peppers are simply unripe bell peppers. They tend to be less sweet than red and yellow peppers and have a slightly bitter taste that contrasts the sweeter elements of this dish perfectly.
  • Garlic: To marry the flavors of the onions and create a further punch of flavor.
  • Ground Paprika: A pinch of paprika will add a smokey background flavor, and it pairs wonderfully with beef dishes. You can use either sweet or smoked paprika in this recipe, depending on your preference.
  • Ground Cumin: Rich and hearty, earthy and warm, with an edge of citrus, cumin adds instant depth to any dish.
  • Ground Mild Chili Powder: A light kick of heat in the dish. A little goes a long way. This is one of the ingredients you can adjust and increase depending on your personal preference.
  • Kosher Salt: Due to the unique shape of the salt crystals, Kosher salt is proven to grab onto flavor and season food better than other salts. Fine kosher salt would be best for this recipe.
  • Black Pepper: What’s Batman without his Robin? That’s what pepper is to salt when seasoning your food. Pepper will also further bring out the flavors of the ground spices.
  • Chicken Stock: Why add boiling water when you can add stock? Chicken stock is best used in meat dishes. It’ll simmer away, reducing and leaving you with a light flavor that’ll improve the dish but not overpower it.
  • Tomato Ketchup: Seems like an odd ingredient, but tomato ketchup has the perfect amount of salt, sugar, and acidic balance and makes for a straightforward BBQ sauce.
  • Soft Dark Brown Sugar: This type of molasses sugar is pertinent to a BBQ sauce. Sauces like the one in this recipe would be far too tomatoey and sharp. Soft dark brown sugar is best to create sauces that melt in the mouth.
  • Worcestershire Sauce: A famous (originally British) sauce with an amalgamation of extracts, bitters, and even anchovies! Any dish that uses tomatoes (ketchup included) should be paired with Worcestershire sauce to add a touch of brightness and depth to balance the flavors.
  • Brioche Buns: To add more texture and make the Sloppies easier to handle.

Video: How to Make Homemade Sloppy Joes from Scratch

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Ketchup: If you don’t want to use ketchup, you can use an equal amount of tomato puree/paste mixed with a little hot water with a ratio of 4:1 ketchup to water.
  • Worcestershire Sauce: If you can’t find Worcestershire sauce, you can substitute this for the same amount of light soy sauce.
  • Bell Peppers: You can also use celery or gherkins instead, or omit bell peppers completely.
  • Vegetarian Alternatives: For a vegetarian version, use meat-free ground beef and swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock.


Can I make this ahead of time?

The meat can keep for up to 3 days, refrigerated in an air-tight container. Just ensure you reheat thoroughly in a saucepan before serving.

Can I scale up this recipe?

Yes! This recipe scales up fantastically. You can double or even triple the quantities, depending on how many you need to feed!

What can I do with any leftover meat?

I’m glad you asked, here are a few ideas:

  • Sloppy Joe Nachos: Tumble the meat over some tortilla chips that have been warmed in the oven. Add a few sliced green chilis and grated cheddar, and place on the grill for 3-4 minutes.
  • Sloppy Joe Fries: Similar to the nachos, cook some fries and generously dollop the meat around before adding some grated cheese and crispy bacon pieces!
  • Sloppy Burritos: Create a bed of cooked long-grain rice along the center of a few soft tortillas. Spread the meat on top with any additions you fancy, like black beans or carrots. Sloppy Joe filling is incredibly versatile.
  • Sloppy Joe Hotdogs: A giant bratwurst sausage in a pillowy bun, topped with Sloppy Joe filling with crispy onions and a few pickles — that’s a hot dog to rival any Southern street food.

All-American Homemade Sloppy Joes

Difficulty: Beginner Prep Time 15 min Cook Time 30 min Total Time 45 mins


A hearty sandwich that has the perfect combination of sweet, savory, and a little bit of tang, Sloppy Joes are not only melt-in-your-mouth delicious but also satisfyingly messy to eat!

Yield: 6 large sloppy joes


How To Make Homemade Sloppy Joes Step By Step

  1. In a large pan or casserole dish, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and cook off the ground beef until it changes color and no red meat is visible. Empty into a bowl along with all the juices.

    Sloppy Joes step 1
  2. Add a couple more tablespoons of olive oil into the pan. Tumble in the onion and pepper and cook until the onions soften (about 5-6 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes before scattering in the spices along with the salt and pepper.

    Sloppy Joes step 2
  3. Once the vegetables have been coated entirely by the spices, deglaze the pan with the chicken stock, followed by the ketchup, soft dark brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine.

  4. Add the meat back in and increase the heat to high. Allow the sauce to reduce and thicken. Make sure you stir occasionally to prevent any meat from sticking to the bottom of the pan. This will take 15-20 minutes.

  5. Allow the meat to cool for 5-10 minutes before assembling it in buttery brioche buns.

    Sloppy Joes step 5


  • One thing to remember when making these succulent beauties is the molasses sugar used in the sauce can keep them remain quite hot for a while after cooking. So, to avoid burns, you must allow the filling to cool before slapping them inside the buns.