Sloppy Joes were a mainstay weeknight dinner in our house when I was growing up in the 80s, but we always made it with a canned sauce (Manwich, or the generic equivalent). Once I started cooking for myself, I realized how easy it was to quickly whip up sauces like that from ingredients I already had in my pantry, and I never looked back. These Homemade Sloppy Joes are quick, easy, full of flavor, AND freezer friendly. 🙌 Plus, I’ve got some tips for you below to make them even more budget-friendly, since the price of ground beef isn’t getting lower anytime soon.
What is Sloppy Joe Sauce?
Sloppy Joes are a loose meat sandwich made with ground beef, peppers, and onions in a special red sauce, and the sauce is totally what makes a sloppy joe sandwich. It’s a savory, tangy, and slightly sweet tomato-based sauce. While some recipes simply use heavily seasoned ketchup for the sauce, our recipe is a bit more rich in flavor with tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire, vinegar, sugar, Dijon, and chili powder.
How to Serve Sloppy Joes
Sloppy Joes are traditionally served on a hamburger bun, sometimes with cheese, sometimes without. But you can totally get creative. Pile it into a tortilla and turn it into a sloppy joe taco, spoon it over a baked potato, eat it as a bowl meal over rice, or go for the ultimate budget option and just eat it on white bread (if you know, you know).
And don’t forget some chips or steak fries to serve on the side! …Or maybe some roasted broccoli. ;)
Ground beef is pretty expensive these days, so there are a few things you can do to make your sloppy joes a little lighter on the wallet. Here are some ideas:
- Buy your ground beef in bulk, then divide and freeze the other portions (or make a double-batch of sloppy joes and freeze half).
- Replace half of the ground beef with lentils or black beans.
- Shred and sauté any extra vegetables you have before browning the beef to help bulk up and extend the ground beef.
- Don’t forget to freeze your leftover tomato paste for the next time you make sloppy joes (or any other recipe that uses tomato paste)!
- 1 yellow onion ($0.32)
- 1 green bell pepper ($0.79)
- 2 cloves garlic ($0.16)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil ($0.16)
- 1 lb. ground beef* ($5.49)
- 1 15oz. can tomato sauce ($0.79)
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste ($0.21)
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar ($0.12)
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar ($0.08)
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard ($0.06)
- 1 tsp chili powder ($0.10)
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce ($0.02)
- 3/4 tsp salt ($0.03)
- 5 hamburger buns ($1.87)
- Finely dice the onion and bell pepper, and mince the garlic.
- Add the olive oil and beef to a skillet and cook over medium heat until the beef is cooked through. Drain off any excess fat.
- Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper to the skillet with the beef. Continue to sauté until the onions are soft and translucent.
- Finally, add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, brown sugar Dijon, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce,and salt to the skillet. Stir to combine.
- Allow the meat and sauce to simmer over medium-low for about 5 minutes.
- Serve over toasted buns.
See how we calculate recipe costs here.
How to Make Sloppy Joes – Step by Step Photos
Chop the vegetables first, so they’re ready to go. Finely dice one yellow onion and one green bell pepper, and mince 2 cloves of garlic.
Add 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 lb. ground beef to a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until the ground beef has browned. If you’re using a higher fat content ground beef, you’ll want to drain off the excess fat after it has browned.
Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic to the skillet and continue to sauté until the vegetables have softened.
Finally, add the ingredients for the sauce: one 15oz. can tomato sauce, 3 Tbsp tomato paste, 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, and ¾ tsp salt.
Stir everything to combine and heat through. Let the meat and sauce simmer over medium-low for 5-10 minutes, or until it has thickened to your liking.
Toast your buns in a skillet or in the oven, then pile the saucy meat mixture on top.
Enjoy your sloppy joes with some chips and plenty of napkins because they’re as messy as they are delicious!
Not a good recipe.
Really liked this version. I made two changes, I used a medley of veggies (celery, carrots and zucchini) in place of the bell peppers (which I didn’t have) and used less brown sugar (about 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon). Oh yeah, and I also used rice vinegar because I don’t love acv with tomato (I don’t count this as a significant change). Will make this again. Thanks.
Do the nutritional facts include the bun?
Yes, they do! ~Marion :)
I think this is delicious!! I’ve made this many times, both with ground beef and ground turkey and it is much better with ground beef.
This is probably the first Budget Bytes recipe I don’t love. Something tastes off to me, but I can’t put my finger on it. I shouldn’t admit this, but I like the canned stuff better. I’m giving it 4 stars because my picky husband LOVES it and my toddlers eat it without complaining, so that’s a huge win. I use 1 TBSP of brown sugar when I make it, we thought it was too sweet with 2 TBSP.
Same! I think it is the vinegar that changes the flavor. I’m sensitive to vinegar, so I could be biased. I’m going to try this again, but either half or omit it.
This was delicious! I used plant-based ground beef (next time I’ll try your suggestion of lentils). Served it on hot dog buns with corn on the cob, your coleslaw, chips and your peach salsa. Really yummy dinner. Your recipes never disappoint. Thank you!
Forgot to rate it. Definitely five stars.
Thank you! XOXO -Monti
Best sloppy joe recipe! I love that it is not as sweet as others.
I made it as written, except added maybe a cup and a half of shredded zucchini, squeezed dry and well browned. (This takes a while!) This not only gets rid of my giant glut of zucchini and stretches the ground beef a bit, but gets some extra veggies in for my veggie-hating hubby. Browning it well makes it invisible in the finished dish ;)