Sloppy Joes are more than just a meal; they’re a trip down memory lane. This homemade version retains the classic appeal of the sandwich but with a fresher, more flavorful profile. The blend of lean ground beef with diced onions, green bell peppers, and celery introduces a wonderful texture and depth of flavor, transforming the historically mushy sandwich into a hit with adults and kids alike. It’s a simple yet satisfying dish that’s sure to be a hit with the whole family.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Rich, Homemade Sauce: Savor the unique blend of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar that creates a sauce bursting with depth and flavor.
  • Common Pantry Ingredients: Utilize everyday items like onions, garlic, and ground beef, making this an accessible recipe any day.
  • A Hit with Kids and Adults: Its familiar, savory-sweet taste is a proven favorite among all age groups.
  • Ideal for Large Groups: Scale up effortlessly for parties or family gatherings.
  • Great as Leftovers: The flavors meld and intensify overnight, making for delicious next-day meals.
  • Balanced and Nutritious: Packed with protein and sneaks in several vegetables for both nutrition and added texture.

Close up view of a sloppy Joe.

Ingredient Breakdown & Substitutions

  • Lean Ground Beef: The main protein source of the dish. For a lighter version, use ground turkey or chicken. Vegetarians can opt for a plant-based ground meat alternative or lentils for a similar texture.
  • Onion and Green Bell Pepper: These vegetables add a subtle sweetness and crunch. Feel free to replace them with red or yellow bell peppers for a different flavor profile, or omit them entirely if you prefer.
  • Celery: Adds a fresh, crisp texture. If celery isn’t your thing, try chopped carrots or even a bit of chopped fennel for a similar crunch.
  • Tomato Sauce & Paste: They provide the rich, tangy tomato base. If you don’t have tomato paste, increase the sauce slightly and simmer longer for thickness.
  • Worcestershire Sauce: It adds depth and umami. Soy sauce or a dash of balsamic vinegar are great substitutes. For a gluten-free option, use tamari.
  • Garlic Cloves: Essential for flavor. Garlic powder (1/8 teaspoon per clove) or granulated garlic (1/4 teaspoon per clove) can be used as a substitute.
  • Brown Sugar: Offers a hint of sweetness to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. Maple syrup, honey, or even a small amount of molasses are good alternatives.
  • Hamburger Buns: The traditional vehicle for sloppy Joes. Toast the buns to elevate your sloppy Joes if desired. Opt for gluten-free buns if needed.
Overhead view of the raw ingredients needed to make sloppy Joes on a clean kitchen counter.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this dish vegetarian?

Yes, you can substitute the ground beef with a plant-based ground meat alternative.

How can I make sloppy Joes spicier?

Increase the amount of red pepper flakes or add a diced jalapeño for extra heat.

What if I don’t have Worcestershire sauce?

Soy sauce or a dash of balsamic vinegar can be used as a substitute.

Do I have to add all of the vegetables? Can I use different vegetables?

You can adjust the amount of vegetables to your own personal taste. However, the vegetables add extra flavor and amazing texture to this historically mushy sandwich of our childhood, and we do recommend sticking to the recipe as closely as possible. Feel free to add other vegetables like carrots or zucchini.

Can I freeze the sloppy Joe mixture?

Yes, it freezes well. Store in an airtight container for up to three months.

What kind of ground beef should I use?

A lean ground beef (93/7) mixture is a great option for sloppy Joes. There’s hardly any fat which means you probably won’t even need to drain the grease off of your meat. If you like your sloppy Joes on the greasy side, feel free to use ground beef with a higher fat content.

Visual Guide to Making Sloppy Joes

A collage of four images showing the process of how to make sloppy Joes from start to finish.

Who Invented the Sloppy Joe?

There is much debate over who originally created the sloppy Joe. It is said that a man named Joe in Iowa possibly created the sloppy Joe in 1930. Another possibility, Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida has served sloppy Joes since they opened in 1933. Last but not least, Sloppy Joe’s Saloon in Havana is another contender for original creator.

So, who actually invented this favorite loose meat sandwich? The world may never know.


  • Filling too runny? Simmer for a few extra minutes to reduce and thicken.
  • Too spicy? Add a bit more brown sugar or tomato sauce to balance the heat.
  • Filling too thick? Stir in a splash of water or more tomato sauce.

Tips From the Chef

  • Brown the meat well to develop flavor.
  • Drain excess fat for a less greasy filling.
  • Let the mixture simmer to meld the flavors.
  • Toast the buns for added texture and taste.
Homemade sloppy Joes on a baking sheet.

Storage, Freezer & Reheating Instructions

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave. For freezing, cool the mixture completely and store in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating on the stovetop or in the microwave.

More Classic American Dinner Recipes

Watch the video below where Rachel will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.