Looking for a low-maintenance family-friendly dinner? Look no further than these slow cooker chicken sloppy joes.
As a kid, I always felt like I had missed out on a very important right of passage: summer camp.
While I was lucky enough to have a mom that could be home with us during the summer, it meant that there was never a need for my brother and myself to be away from home.
Instead, I spent my summers watching movies and TV shows about other kids who got that full camp experience. And nearly every one of them had a scene that involved sloppy joes.
This brings us to the second cherished childhood memory that I never experienced firsthand: real sloppy joes.
By “real,” I mean ones that are made with ground beef, covered in a slightly sweet tomato sauce, piled high on a sesame seed topped hamburger bun.
Instead, I grew up thinking that barbecue pulled beef was a sloppy joe – which, in all fairness to my mom, was usually pretty messy.
Later on, I finally did try a true, “authentic” version of this childhood classic meal. But I was honestly a little disappointed.
The sauce was as tomatoey and the sandwich was as messy as I’d hoped. But I just didn’t get the ground beef. After all, why would you choose crumbly ground bits over juicy, pulled beef?
Just like Dunkaroos or Uncrustables, I guess you had to grow up with traditional sloppy joes to get them.
So, while you won’t find the ground beef version cooking in my kitchen anytime soon, you will find a big batch of these shredded chicken ones.
This slow cooker recipe is a healthier hybrid of the traditional recipe and my mom’s version.
While traditional recipes use store-bought canned sauce or a combo of ketchup and barbecue sauce, I cut back on the added salt and sugar by using tomato sauce without added salt, and tomato paste.
However, it wouldn’t be a sloppy joe without a little sweetness, so I also sprinkle in a tablespoon of brown sugar.
The main driving force of this variation from the traditional recipe is my choice of chicken instead of ground beef.
If the idea of shredded instead of ground meat sounds like blasphemy, you could always throw in some ground turkey instead. However, I strongly advocate for the chicken – the meatiness it gives to the sandwich will leave you feeling full for hours.
Let’s also talk about how budget-friendly this meal is. Besides the chicken, you likely already have most of these ingredients in your pantry right now. All you have to grab is some chicken and possibly hamburger buns. If you already have these ingredients in the freezer, after a little defrosting, you’re good to go.
Not bad, especially considering that it makes four generously-sized servings!
The best part of this recipe by far is that it’s made in the slow cooker. All you have to do is combine the ingredients, throw them into the cooker, and let it bubble away all afternoon.
The most involved part is shredding the chicken, and that only requires two forks and less than 5 minutes.Print
These slow-cooker chicken sloppy joes prove that family-friendly meals can be healthy and budget-friendly.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 small yellow onion, diced (about ½ cup)
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce without added salt
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 whole wheat hamburger buns
- Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then place in slow cooker.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine onion, tomato paste, tomato sauce, garlic, mustard, paprika, cumin, chili powder, sugar, and vinegar. Whisk well to combine.
- Pour tomato mixture over chicken breasts. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours.
- Carefully remove cooked chicken from the sauce and place on a cutting board. Using two forks, shred chicken and return to slow cooker.
- Stir into the sauce. Serve on whole wheat buns.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 4 hours
- Category: Chicken
- Method: Slow Cooker
- Cuisine: Poultry
Keywords: slow cooker, chicken, chicken breasts, sandwich, sloppy joes
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Chop Vegetables and Measure Ingredients
Chop the onion and mince the garlic, then measure the rest of the ingredients.
You can use yellow or Dijon mustard; Dijon will provide a stronger flavor.
Step 2 – Season
Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and then place the in the bottom of your slow cooker.
Step 3 – Make Sauce
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the onion, tomato paste, tomato sauce, garlic, mustard, paprika, cumin, chili powder, brown sugar, and vinegar. Whisk well to combine.
Step 4 – Cook
Pour the tomato mixture over the chicken breasts. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours.
Step 5 – Shred
Carefully remove the cooked chicken breasts from the sauce and place on a cutting board.
Using two forks, shred the meat. Return it to the slow cooker.
Step 6 – Stir and Serve
Stir the shredded chicken well, so that each piece is coated with sauce.
Scoop onto each hamburger bun bottom and drizzle with extra sauce if desired before topping and serving.
Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days in an airtight container.
Making Your Own Sandwich Meats
Why bother with deli meats when you can fill your sandwiches with juicy, home-cooked meat instead? Along with having a richer taste, cooking your own fillings also has health benefits over premade packaged deli meats.
Processed lunch meats often contain possible carcinogens, such as BHA and BHT, as well as sodium nitrate/nitrite, which has been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
Wouldn’t you rather have something delicious that you made in your own kitchen?
Up your sandwich game with these home-cooked options:
- Slow Cooker Philly Cheesesteaks
- Alabama-Style White Barbecue Chicken Sandwiches
- Portobello Burgers with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
- Greek Chicken Pitas
Do you have childhood memories of sloppy joes? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below! Be sure to give this recipe a rating after you’ve tried it as well.
Photos by Kelli McGrane, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on December 11, 2011. Last updated: May 30, 2023 at 13:16 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.
The written contents of this article have been reviewed and verified by a registered dietitian for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as personalized or professional medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
About Kelli McGrane, MS, RD
Kelli McGrane is a Denver-based registered dietitian with a lifelong love of food. She holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in nutrition science from Boston University. As a registered dietitian, she believes in the importance of food to nourish not only your body, but your soul as well. Nutrition is very personal, and you won’t find any food rules here, other than to simply enjoy what you eat.