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The Best Homemade Sloppy Joes

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I have tweaked my sloppy joe recipe until it’s perfect! These delicious brown sugar bacon Sloppy Joes are simmered in a rich, thick, full-bodied, sweet and sticky tomato sauce loaded with caramelized onion, red pepper, and bacon! They are even a teensy bit less sloppy than others since you simmer the sauce down until rich and thick.

I love sloppy joe burgers, they are a quick, flavorful and easy meal to make on a busy weeknight, in fact this recipe is ready in 30 minutes or less! WIN! No mix or can’s for this recipe; simple, everyday, wholesome ingredients; plus how to make them vegan and gluten free!

If you like quick, healthy, easy weeknight meals that are favorites for teens and tweens, try these other family favorites; Shawarma Chicken Bowls, Copycat Chipotle Chicken, and Easy Beef & Broccoli.

Sharing on Weekend Potluck, check out all the great recipes!

Sloppy Joe sandwich on top of white parchment paper on a wooden charger with bright carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes in background

What is Sloppy Joe sauce made of?

  • Onions, peppers, and garlic | lends amazing flavor, texture and well hello, veggies! Got picky eaters? Easily disguise by grating the onions and mincing the peppers super fine.
  • Tomato sauce & tomato paste | no ketchup here baby! Rich, delicious tomato sauce.
  • Smoked paprika | this is the best stuff, I use it all the time!
  • Brown sugar | light or dark, your choice, I used light!
Image of a sloppy joe burger on white parchment paper, with some of the sloppy joe mixture fallen out. All on a wooden charger
  • Worcestershire sauce | adds a punch of savory and amazing flavor!
  • Bacon | totally optional, thick or thin, I’ve made it with both, personally I like the crispy thin bacon!
  • Ground Beef | You can also use ground turkey, chicken, bison or plant protein; I use 80/20 ground beef from a local rancher, it’s so delicious!
  • Brioche buns or hamburger buns | lightly grilled is best!
Sloppy Joe Ingredients laid out on a chopping block. Left to right. White bowl with chopped onions, red peppers and garlic. Can of organic tomato sauce, small bowl with tomato paste, measuring cup with brown sugar, slab of bacon, 1 ½ lbs of ground beef, small white bowl with worcestershire sauce, small wooden bowl with smoked paprika

Is Sloppy Joe and Manwich the Same Thing?

Remember those? Manwiches! A sloppy joe sauce that came in a can that you simply added to browned ground beef, ew! LOL!

So while they might be the same thing, this recipe uses a homemade from scratch sloppy joe sauce and tastes amazing!

Are there other names for Sloppy Joes?

Who knew!?? Manwich, slush burger, dynamite, spoonburgers, tavern sandwich; barbecues, dynamites, gulash, sloppy janes, steamers, wimpies, and yum yums are all variations on the Sloppy Joe Sandwich. (Source) I’m leaning towards yum yums! 🙂

Sloppy Joe Burger ona white plate with brioche buns in background along with a pan with sloppy joe mixture and wooden spoon

Why Are They Called Sloppy Joes?

According to legend, a cook named Joe at Floyd Angell’s café in Sioux City, Iowa, added tomato sauce to his “loose meat” sandwiches and the “sloppy joe” sandwich was born. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Sloppy Joe sandwich on top of white parchment paper on a wooden charger with bright carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes in background

How Do you Make Sloppy Joes from Scratch?

While a packet of sloppy joe mix or canned mix seems easy, there are so many ingredients in those you cannot pronounce and are just flat out not good for you!

I’ll show you how to make homemade sloppy joe sauce from scratch and dinner will on the table in under 30 minutes!

Process shots for Sloppy Joes. 1. crisping bacon, 2. browning onions, veggies. 3. browning ground beef. 4. adding beef and veggies together.
  1. If using bacon (thin, thick or turkey bacon), in a large skillet cook the bacon on medium-high for 2-3 minutes until crisp. Remove from pan to paper-towel lined plate.
  2. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease — if you used turkey bacon or precooked bacon, simply add 2 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil.
  3. Heat skillet to medium-high heat and cook onions and peppers; about 5 minutes until soft and slightly caramelized. Add minced garlic the last minute and stir until fragrant. Scoot veggies to the side, adding ground meat to skillet.
  4. Break meat apart into chunks to brown, don’t break into tiny pieces, keep some larger, that will help keep the sandwich together better. Brown until almost all pink is gone. About 5-6 minutes.
process shots for sloppy joes, 5. adding paprika. 6. adding tomatoe paste. 7. adding brown sugar. 8. adding tomato sauce.
  1. Add smoked paprika, tomato sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine and reduce heat to low, bringing to a simmer. Stir occasionally over low heat for about 5-6 minutes until the mixture thickens and reduces slightly.
Process shots Sloppy Joes 9. adding worcestershire sauce. 10. returning bacon to skillet. 11. browning buns. 12 finished sloppy Joes ready for eating!
  1. Return bacon to skillet with sloppy joe mixture and mix in.
  2. If desired, toast buns on griddle or pan with a little bit of butter until golden. Spoon mixture on top of buns, enjoy!
Cast Iron Skillet with Sloppy Joe mixture with wooden spoon full of mixture. White plate in foreground with toasted brioche bun on top

CAN I SUBSTITUTE TURKEY OR CHICKEN FOR BEEF?

Yes! In fact, you can substitute any ground meat, including bison, elk or venison in this dish! Or if you are vegetarian, try a plant based protein as well.

Increase leaner meats to 2 pounds, also increasing Worcestershire sauce to 2 tablespoons; it’s a bit more bland, especially if not making with bacon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cast Iron Skillet with Sloppy Joe mixture with wooden spoon full of mixture. White plate in foreground with toasted brioche bun on top

CAN I SUBSTITUTE KETCHUP FOR TOMATO PASTE?

Substitute two tablespoons of ketchup for every one tablespoon of tomato paste. Reducing brown sugar by a few teaspoons as well. OR…

Substitute 1 tablespoon tomato paste with 2 to 3 tablespoons tomato puree or tomato sauce (reduce liquid in recipe by 2 to 3 tablespoons); or boil tomato puree or sauce until reduced to 1 tablespoon.

I created this simple free substitutions chart!
Print and tape to the inside of a cupboard, I refer to mine often!

White plate with sloppy joe burger on it stuffed with sloppy joe filling with skillet in background with wooden spoon resting inside

Can I Make Sloppy Joe’s Vegetarian or Vegan?

Well, yes, yes you can! And here’s how:

  • Omit the bacon (obvi)
  • Swap a plant based protein for ground beef
  • Use soy sauce instead of Worcestershire sauce, increasing Soy sauce to 2 tablespoons and adding a little extra salt and pepper — let me know if you try it!

Gluten Free Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes, minus the buns are naturally gluten free, swap out gluten-full buns with a quality Gluten Free bun and it’s a delicious, healthy, gluten free dinner!

I hope you enjoy this sloppy joe burger or whatever you want to call it! Just don’t call them late for dinner!!

PIN this recipe to a Easy Weeknight Meals Board!

Pinterest Long Pin Brown Sugar Bacon Sloppy Joes with image of sloppy joe mixture in pan with brioche buns on top and bottom picture of sloppy joe burger with carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes

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Yield: 4-6 servings

The Best Homemade Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joe sandwich on top of white parchment paper on a wooden charger with bright carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes in background

Delicious brown sugar bacon sloppy joes are simmered in a rich, thick, full-bodied, sweet and sticky tomato sauce loaded with caramelized onion, red pepper, and bacon!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 17 minutes
Total Time 27 minutes

Ingredients

  • ¼- 1/2 pound bacon, diced (use thick, pre-cooked, thin or turkey bacon)
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced (or grated if you have kids who spy onions!)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped finely (or use yellow, orange or even green)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ - 2 pounds ground beef (try ground chicken, turkey, bison, elk, or plant based protein)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika (regular is fine too)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste (see notes for substitutions)
  • 1 15 oz can organic tomato sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (gluten free if needed)
  • ¼ cup brown sugar (light or dark, packed)
  • 4-6 Brioche buns or hamburger buns

Instructions

If using bacon (thin, thick or turkey bacon), in a large skillet cook the bacon on medium-high for 2-3 minutes until crisp. Remove from pan to paper-towel lined plate.

Reserve about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease -- if you used turkey bacon or precooked bacon, or chose not to use bacon, simply add 2 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil. Heat skillet to medium-high heat and cook onions and peppers; about 5 minutes until soft and slightly caramelized.

Add minced garlic the last minute and stir until fragrant. Scoot veggies to the side, adding ground meat to skillet.

Break meat apart into chunks to brown, don't break into tiny pieces, keep some larger, that will help keep the sandwich together better. Brown until almost all pink is gone. About 5-6 minutes.

Add smoked paprika, tomato sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine and bring to simmer reducing heat to low. Stir occasionally uncovered, over low heat for about 5-6 minutes until the mixture thickens and reduces slightly. Return bacon to skillet with sloppy joe mixture and mix in.

If desired, toast buns on griddle or pan with a little bit of butter until golden. Spoon mixture on top of buns, enjoy!

Notes

Increase leaner meats like turkey or chicken to 2 pounds, also increasing Worcestershire sauce to 2 tablespoons; it's a bit more bland, especially if not using bacon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Substitute two tablespoons of ketchup for every one tablespoon of tomato paste. Reducing brown sugar by a few teaspoons as well. OR...

Substitute 1 tablespoon tomato paste with 2 to 3 tablespoons tomato puree or tomato sauce (reduce liquid in recipe by 2 to 3 tablespoons); or boil tomato puree or sauce until reduced to 1 tablespoon.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 694Total Fat: 36gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 196mgSodium: 1101mgCarbohydrates: 47gFiber: 3gSugar: 20gProtein: 45g

The nutritional information is estimated and may not be entirely accurate, at times it pulls information for suggestions and options which may increase calories, etc. Nutritional information will change based on used ingredients, quantities used, etc.

Did you make this recipe?

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MICHAELA KENKEL

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

These were magnificent! Even my sloppy Joe hating husband liked them!

Kathleen

Thursday 27th of August 2020

LOVE hearing this! Thanks for sharing!

Jennifer Stewart

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

My momma never made Sloppy Joe's with bacon and now I am rethinking my entire childhood! After making these, even Connor wanted seconds and thirds:)

Kathleen

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

Haha, well give your momma a break!! Mine didn't either, maybe I didn't make that clear! Glad you loved it!

Tasia ~ two sugar bugs

Sunday 23rd of August 2020

Your timing is perfect Kathleen! I was just thinking that I need to find a good sloppy joe's recipe as I"ve never made them for my girls. Pinned!!

Kathleen

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

I hope they love them Tasia! My boys do, anything that they can do sloppy is in their wheelhouse!

Debi

Sunday 23rd of August 2020

My family loves sloppy joes, and these did not disappoint. Great recipe.

Kathleen

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

Love hearing that Debi, thank you so much!!

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