The Best Sloppy Joes: A Traditional Beefy American Comfort Food Upgrade

Do you remember eating sloppy joes as a kid?

Top-down shot of a large white bowl filled with ground beef sloppy joe filling, topped with chopped parsley, with hamburger buns and a stack of square white plates on a brown wood table.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up on sloppy joes. Loading up buns with the sloppy mixture, feeling the beefy goodness dripping down my chin as I giggled endlessly about the mess I was making – those are the memories of sloppy joes that I’m sure many of you can relate to.

Of course, the sloppy joes I used to eat were made from sauce that came straight out of the can. With a single mother working a full-time job, not to mention my active membership in all the clubs and sports programs I could get myself into, this left meant there were many nights without more than 30 minutes to make and eat dinner.

Homemade sloppy joe mixture on a hamburger bun, on a square white plate with more in a white bowl with a spoon in the background, on a brown wood surface.

I used to love the stuff in the can, but as I got older, my tastes changed. The canned mixture just doesn’t quite cut it for me anymore, and I have to say, I am happy to be able to admit that.

Now, when I want a sloppy joe, I want a freshly made sauce. And I look for the highest quality grass-fed ground beef because high-quality meat really makes a difference in terms of flavor, as well as nutritional value.

A large white bowl of beef sloppy joe with a stainless steel serving spoon, beside a small stack of square white plates, with a serving on a hamburger bun in the foreground, on a brown wood table.

You want to taste the meat in the sandwich, rather than allowing it to be overpowered by an overly sweet and preservative-laden tomato-based sauce.

The sauce plays a big role in this recipe, and it’s made with a basic tomato sauce and barbecue sauce as the base. Then you bulk up the flavor with a mixture of savory spices to give it even more richness.

If you like, when you don’t have homemade barbecue sauce or ketchup on hand, you can swap out these pantry ingredients for natural, preservative-free alternatives like fresh tomatoes, brown sugar, and rice vinegar. Convenience is key here, so you get to choose!

A bowl of homemade sloppy joe sandwich filling topped with chopped parsley, on a brown wood table beside a stack of white plates.

I love to serve the sloppy joe mixture on a well-toasted hamburger bun. But you can also serve it on standard white bread, sprouted bread, or any other kind of bread you like. That way, you can easily accommodate everyone’s tastes and dietary preferences.

It’s also delicious served on a bed of rice or quinoa.

If you like your sloppy joe mixture a little spicier, consider adding additional red pepper flakes to the mixture until it reaches the heat level you prefer.

I always add the red pepper flakes in small pinches and stir the mixture together well before tasting. That way, you won’t accidentally add too much and burn your mouth with ridiculous amounts of spicy flavor.

Sloppy joe ground beef sandwich with red sauce on a hamburger bun, on a white plate, with a bowl of more of the meat mixture and a stack of a few more plates in the background, on a brown wood surface.

Now you can relive the experience of that comforting meal that reminds you of your childhood, without feeling too much like a kid.

Well, except for the deliciously meaty mixture dripping down your chin as you dive into every bite with childlike enthusiasm… I do recommend that you dive into this sandwich like there’s no tomorrow, with plenty of napkins. Where’s the fun in sloppy joes if there’s no sloppy in there?

And you can be guaranteed that if you feed this to your children, you are giving them clean and fresh food that isn’t processed or made with hidden ingredients you don’t want to feed them.

It’s a win-win recipe that comes together in only 20 minutes. That’s right, as long as you already have homemade or all-natural condiments in the cabinet, this recipe only takes 20 minutes to prepare, and can be paired with any side you can think of.

It’s weeknight dinner done right, every single time.

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A bowl of homemade sloppy joe sandwich filling topped with chopped parsley, on a brown wood table beside a stack of white plates.

The Best Homemade Sloppy Joes

  • Author: Shanna Mallon
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x


The classic sloppy joe recipe gets an upgrade with this from-scratch version. Grass-fed beef gives added depth to the rich tomato sauce. Get the recipe now.




  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm up olive oil. Once hot, add chopped onion. Cook until softened, approximately 5 minutes.
  2. Add the beef, cooking until browned and completely cooked through. Drain excess fat from the pan.
  3. Add tomato sauce, BBQ sauce, salt, garlic, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano to a small bowl. Stir to combine. (If using the alternative suggested ingredients to replace the tomato and barbecue sauces, combine chopped tomatoes, tomato paste or ketchup, brown sugar, and rice vinegar and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Puree in a food processor or blender and combine with the seasonings before proceeding to the next step.)
  4. Add to the beef and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is warm through and evenly coated.
  5. Remove from heat. Garnish with chopped parsley if desired. Serve immediately on toasted buns.
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Sandwiches
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Comfort Food, Beef

Keywords: sloppy joe, grass fed, beef, dinner, easy

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Chop Onion and Measure Ingredients

Peel and chop the onion into small pieces. Set aside.

Small round and square bowls of red sauce, chopped white onions, spices, and a larger stainless steel bowl of raw ground beef, on a brown wood tabletop.

Measure all of the remaining ingredients for the recipe. Place out on your counter in the order they are listed so you can easily add them as you go along.

Step 2 – Cook Onion

Warm up the olive oil in a large skillet. Once the oil is hot, cook the onion over medium heat until soft and translucent.

Sauteed chopped onions in a nonstick frying pan, on a brown wood surface.

This generally takes about 5 minutes.

Step 3 – Cook Ground Beef

Add the ground beef and cook through completely, until it is well browned and no pink portions remain.

Ground beef browning in a large nonstick frying pan with chopped onions, on a brown wood surface.

Be sure to remove the excess fat from the pan. You can use a baster to remove the fast or carefully drain from the pan into a grease collector (I use an empty can, such as ones for canned beans and vegetables). Otherwise the sloppy joe mixture will be oily.

Step 4 – Add Sauce

Place the remaining ingredients to create the sauce in a bowl. Stir to combine well. Add to the pan and stir.

If you are using the alternative ingredients and making your sauce with fresh tomatoes and/or without premade barbecue sauce, place these ingredients in a saucepan instead, and simmer while stirring occasionally over medium heat, until the tomatoes begin to break down. Place in a food processor or high speed blender to puree before adding to the pan with the meat.

A large frying pan of ground beef in a red sauce, on a brown wood table.

Let cook until the sauce is warm and the mixture is thickened.

Serve immediately on toasted buns. I recommend serving this with a side of roasted vegetables, oven fries, or a side salad.

A Simple Recipe with Many Options

The fantastic thing about recipes that are this simple is discovering just how easy it is to adapt as needed.

If you don’t eat red meat or if you want to make this recipe a little healthier, you can substitute the grass-fed beef for sustainably sourced ground chicken or turkey.

A large spoonful of ground beef with a red sauce is being held up to the camera, with a large stainless steel frying pan containing more of the mixture in the background.

The sauce is so flavorful that it will easily pair with crumbled firm tofu as well, for a vegetarian version. It’s easy to make Meatless Monday sloppy joes a thing in your house! Just be sure to press and drain the tofu well to remove most of the liquid before crumbling and adding it to the frying pan.

Other options to customize the recipe include using your favorite hot sauce instead of the red pepper flakes, or a touch of cayenne. Finely minced mushrooms or bell pepper cooked with the onions also make tasty additions.

If you really enjoyed this recipe, try some of our other beef recipes, like barbacoa, beef tacos, oven-roasted brisket and slower cooker Philly cheesesteaks!

We also have a chicken version! Try our Slow Cooker Chicken Sloppy Joes for a lighter alternative.

What version will you try? Be sure to tell us in the comments below, and give the recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on March 4th, 2011. Last updated: October 11, 2020 at 22:54 pm. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Meghan Yager

Meghan Yager is a food addict turned food and travel writer with a love for creating uncomplicated, gourmet recipes and devouring anything the world serves up. As the author of the food and travel blog Cake 'n Knife, Meghan focuses on unique foodie experiences from around the world to right at home in your own kitchen.

11 thoughts on “The Best Sloppy Joes: A Traditional Beefy American Comfort Food Upgrade”

  1. These pictures look like a spring meal – I love it. It’s just hit the 40s here today with some sun. I’m so excited to go running in the sunshine and then sit outside and drink beer – because that’s how deprived people are here for sun.

  2. For Lent, I’m giving up baking (it’ll be SO hard.. try not to post too many cookie recipes) and instead trying to cook one new recipe a week. I need BBQ sauce for my first one!

  3. God I love sloppy joes; these hit the spot. Made with canned corn as a side and a salad with mystery sauce (thousand island) and was immediately transported back 30 years lol.


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