Easy homemade sloppy joes are the perfect weeknight dinner recipe. Saucy, spiced ground beef tops a hearty hamburger bun for a finger-lickin’ delicious meal. With just a few simple ingredients, you can have this ultra-comforting sandwich on the dinner table in no time.

From the front, a metal tray lined with parchment paper with a sloppy joe sandwich on top.

My grandma and her sister (my great aunt) lived on opposite sides of a duplex house; when we were kids and would spend time at my grandma’s, we also would spend a good bit of time over on my aunt’s side of the house as well. My great aunt was famous for a few of her specialty items – poor man’s cookies, broccoli casserole, and, my favorite, sloppy joes. There was nothing terribly fancy about it – a can of Manwich and some ground meat, but there was something about eating such a messy sandwich I just loved. It must be a kid thing!

A while ago, sloppy joes popped into my head out of nowhere; I hadn’t had them in at least 10 years, but I suddenly was on a quest to make a version from scratch. I remembered there sometimes being onion and green pepper in my aunt’s recipe and then went from there. Here’s to favorite kid flavors and homemade replications!

What is a Sloppy Joe?

Sloppy Joes are a “loose meat sandwich” made with ground beef and a hearty tomato sauce mixed with onion and peppers and seasoned with simple spices. Typically served on hamburger buns, the meaty middle can hardly be contained and often spills over the side of the sandwich, making them a truly sloppy meal.

There are a few versions about how the sloppy joe came about. They could have been invented in:

  • Havana at a bar called “Sloppy Joes”
  • Key West, FL by someone who went to “Sloppy Joes” in Havana and then created their own restaurant with this loose meat sandwich.
  • Sioux City, Iowa where a cook named Joe made these loose meat sandwiches.

No matter how they were invented, one thing is certain, these sloppy sandwiches are sure to fill you up and leave you with a sloppy, saucy grin.

Homemade sloppy joe meat in a skillet with a wooden spoon.

How to Make Homemade Sloppy Joes

I’m always totally enamored with a nostalgic taste that can be replicated from scratch. These homemade sloppy joes come together with a handful of ingredients and will be ready for dinner in 45 minutes.

Ingredients

  • Aromatics: Onion, green pepper, and garlic give a depth of flavor to the sauce that keeps you coming back for more.
  • Ground Beef: Literally the meat of this sandwich.
  • Tomato Puree + Ketchup: Tomato puree keeps the sauce thick while the ketchup adds in sweet tomato flavor.
  • Sugar + Spice: Brown sugar, chili powder, salt, and pepper give this iconic sandwich some much-needed flavor.

Directions for Easy Sloppy Joes

  • Cook the aromatics: Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onion and pepper to the pan. Sauté until soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the pan to a bowl and set aside.
  • Cook the meat: Add the ground beef to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high heat. Cook the beef, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks, until the beef is completely browned. Drain excess fat and grease from the pan.
  • Make the sauce: Add the vegetables back to the pan. Stir in tomato puree, ketchup, brown sugar, and chili powder. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer the sloppy joe mixture until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve on hamburger buns.

Step by step photos of the sloppy joe meat being made in a skillet with a wooden spoon.

Serving Suggestions for Homemade Sloppy Joes

The beauty of these homemade Sloppy Joes is that there really is no wrong way to go about serving and eating them. You can keep it simple with a hamburger bun and nothing else or dress it up to your heart’s content. Here are a few different ways you can try out these easy sloppy joes.

Serve them on:

  • Sandwich between buttery pieces of Texas toast.
  • Loft the sloppy joe filling on a fresh baked potato.
  • Serve on Hawaiian rolls for mini sloppy joe sliders.

Serve them with:

Top your Sloppy Joes with:

  • Shredded cheese
  • Pickles
  • Diced white onion
  • Pickled jalapeños

Two metal trays lined with parchment paper with homemade sloppy joes on top of the parchment paper with a small skillet of sloppy joe meat to the left.

Recipe Notes and Tips

Can you use other meat in this recipe?

I use 2 pounds of ground beef to make these easy Sloppy Joes. You can easily swap out the ground beef for ground turkey, ground chicken, or even a beyond the meat substitute depending on your dietary needs.

How do you safely drain the fat from the pan?

To easily drain the grease from the pan, push the ground beef to one side of your cooking dish. Then:

  • Use a spoon to scoop out the grease into a foil-lined bowl.
  • Squeeze the grease out of the pan using a turkey baster and transfer to a foil-lined bowl.
  • Or wipe the grease out of the pan by absorbing it into 3-4 paper towels.

How do you make sloppy joe sauce from scratch?

Making sloppy joe sauce, like Manwich, from scratch involves a blend of tomato sauce, ketchup, onion, green pepper, and spices. In place of tomato sauce, I use tomato puree to make it a thick sauce that really clings to the meat.

Storing, Freezing, Make-Ahead

  • Storing: Keep leftover sloppy joe meat in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Freezing: Cool the sloppy joe meat completely before freezing. Place in a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Reheating: Move the sloppy joe meat from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you plan on eating the sloppy joes. Heat the meat in a saucepan or skillet until warmed through.
  • Make-ahead: You can brown the meat in advance and simply add it to the skillet when you are cooking it with the sauce before serving.
  • Double: To make a double batch of the sloppy joe meat sauce, double the recipe ingredients. I would suggest cooking the sloppy joes in a large pot like a 7-qt dutch oven to contain all of the meaty goodness.

Sensational Sandwiches To Make Next:

Homemade sloppy joes with the bun top pulled back and a spoon of sloppy joe meat to the right.

Homemade Sloppy Joes

Easy, meaty, and filling, these homemade sloppy joes are everything you love about a sloppy joe sandwich with no canned ingredients. Perfect for your busy weeknights and your childhood classic cravings!

If you make this recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️

A square photo from the front of a sloppy joe sandwich with the top of the bun slid back to show the sloppy joe meat.

Homemade Sloppy Joes

This easy, homemade sloppy joe recipe comes together quickly for a classic sandwich that is sure to make you feel like a kid again.
4.5 (10 ratings)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds (907.18 g) ground beef
  • 2 cups (524 g) tomato puree
  • 1 cup (240 g) ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Hamburger buns, to serve

Instructions 

  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and pepper and sauté until soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds longer. Remove from the pan to a bowl.
  • Add the ground beef to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the beef is completely browned, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. If the beef has released a lot of fat, drain off most of it.
  • Add the vegetables back to the pan and stir in the tomato puree, ketchup, brown sugar and chili powder. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve on hamburger buns. Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Notes

  • Ground Beef: You can substitute ground turkey, ground chicken, or even a "beyond the meat" product.
  • Storing: Keep leftover sloppy joe meat in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Freezing: Cool the sloppy joe meat completely before freezing. Place in a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Reheating: Move the sloppy joe meat from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you plan on eating the sloppy joes. Heat the meat in a saucepan or skillet until warmed through.
  • Make-ahead: You can brown the meat in advance and simply add it to the skillet when you are cooking it with the sauce before serving.
  • Double: To make a double batch of the sloppy joe meat sauce, double the recipe ingredients. I would suggest cooking the sloppy joes in a large pot like a 7-qt dutch oven to contain all of the ingredients.
Nutritional values are based on one serving
Calories: 262kcal, Carbohydrates: 18g, Protein: 26g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 70mg, Sodium: 371mg, Potassium: 833mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 12g, Vitamin A: 618IU, Vitamin C: 22mg, Calcium: 36mg, Iron: 4mg

Did you make this recipe?

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Photography by Lauren Grant.