Sloppy Joes

$10.20 recipe / $2.04 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.60 from 15 votes
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We ate a LOT of sloppy joes when I was growing up in the 80s because they were fast, satisfying, and loved by everyone. But we always made them with a cheap canned sauce, like Manwich, back in the day. Now that I’m cooking for myself I know how easy it is to quickly whip up homemade sloppy joe sauce from ingredients I already have in my pantry. Like, seriously easy, and I get to control the ingredients. This Homemade Sloppy Joes recipe is quick, easy, full of flavor, AND freezer-friendly, so it’s a guaranteed win. 🙌 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.

Side view of a sloppy joe on a plate with potato chips.

What is a Sloppy Joe?

Sloppy Joes are loose meat sandwiches made with ground beef, peppers, and onions in a special tangy sauce. And thet special sauce is totally what makes them a sloppy Joe sandwich. Sloppy joe sauce is savory, tangy, and slightly sweet, similar to BBQ sauce, but less sweet and with a stronger tomato base. While some recipes simply use heavily seasoned ketchup for the sauce, our recipe has a more complex flavor and is made with tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire, vinegar, sugar, Dijon, and chili powder.

Ingredients for Sloppy Joes

The best part about making homemade sloppy joes is that you don’t need any fancy ingredients. Even when making the sloppy joe sauce from scratch, you only need pantry staples. Here is what you’ll need to make our recipe for sloppy joes:

  • Onion, Bell Pepper, and Garlic: A few fresh aromatic vegetables add color, texture, and flavor to the loose meat mixture.
  • Olive Oil: We used olive oil to sauté our vegetables, but you can use whichever cooking oil you prefer.
  • Ground Beef: Ground beef is the base of sloppy joes and makes them extra filling and delicious! But you definitely have options for reducing the beef or making a vegetarian version, if you prefer. See the budgeting section below for ideas.
  • Tomato Sauce & Tomato Paste: Sloppy joe sauce is a tomato based sauce and we use a combination of canned tomato sauce and tomato paste to get just the right texture for the sauce and the correct level of rich tomato flavor.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar & Brown Sugar: Similar to BBQ sauce, sloppy joe sauce uses a combination of vinegar and sugar to create that sweet-tangy flavor. The sweetness of the sugar balances the acidity of the vinegar to prevent it from being too tart.
  • Seasoning: The sloppy joe sauce is seasoned with Dijon mustard, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, and salt. These ingredients come together to give just the right complexity and depth to the sauce so it will have you coming back for more!
  • Hamburger Buns: Sloppy Joes are traditionally served on hamburger buns, but you can always do what we did when we were growing up and money was tight and serve the sloppy joes on a slice of bread! #IYKYK

How to Serve Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are traditionally served on a hamburger bun, sometimes with cheese, sometimes without. You can also top your sloppy joes with other fun ingredients like French fried crispy onions, coleslaw, or pickles.

You can also get creative with the sloppy joe mixture and eat it in different ways. Here are some ideas for serving your sloppy joes:

  • Pile the meat into a tortilla and turn it into a sloppy joe taco
  • Spoon the meat over a baked potato
  • Top a plate of tortillas with the loose meat mixture and add other fun toppings like pickles and cheese for sloppy joe nachos
  • Serve it over a bowl of rice with cheese for a bowl meal
  • Or go for the ultimate budget option and just eat the sloppy joes on white bread

And don’t forget to make some chips, steak fries, or potato salad to serve on the side! …Or maybe some roasted broccoli to balance out the meal. ;)

Budget Options

Ground beef is pretty expensive these days, so here are a few things you can do to make your sloppy joes a little more budget-friendly:

  • 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)!
Sloppy joe meat in a skillet.
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Sloppy Joes

4.60 from 15 votes
This sloppy joes recipe is a weeknight dinner classic with juicy ground beef and a tangy homemade sauce. They're kid approved!
A sloppy joe on a plate with potato chips.
Servings 5 ¾ cup meat sauce each
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 20 minutes
Total 30 minutes



  • 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.


*You can use any fat percentage ground beef. If using a higher fat content beef, like 80/20, you’ll want to drain the excess fat after browning. 


Serving: 1sandwichCalories: 440kcalCarbohydrates: 36gProtein: 22gFat: 23gSodium: 1138mgFiber: 3g
Read our full nutrition disclaimer here.
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An open-faced sloppy joe on a plate with potato chips.

How to Make Sloppy Joes – Step by Step Photos

Chopped vegetables on a cutting board.

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.

Browned ground beef in a skillet.

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.

Vegetables added to ground beef in the skillet.

Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic to the skillet and continue to sauté until the vegetables have softened.

Sauce ingredients added to the ground beef.

Finally, add the ingredients for the sloppy joe 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.

Finished sloppy joes mix in the skillet.

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.

Sloppy joe meat being spooned onto a toasted bun.

Toast your buns in a skillet or in the oven, then pile the saucy sloppy joe meat mixture on top.

Open-faced sloppy joe on a plate with potato chips.

Enjoy your sloppy joes with some chips and plenty of napkins because they’re as messy as they are delicious!

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  1. I grew up using ketchup and wanted to try a recipe that used tomato sauce instead to reduce sugar. Love the balance of flavors of this one!

  2. We loved this one! We used added out favorite hot sauce and an additional tbsp of brown sugar. Had a nice sweet heat!

  3. Yum! I’m vegetarian, so I subbed plant-based grounds for the beef. I also didn’t have any apple cider vinegar or Worcestershire sauce, so I subbed red wine vinegar and soy sauce, respectively. Despite the substitutions, it turned out great! Very nostalgic.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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 ;)