Meaty Sloppy Joes Recipe

If you're looking for a meal that the kids will love, is rich in protein, and even works in a serving of veggies, why not look to the classics? And it doesn't get much more classic in American cuisine than the sloppy joe. There is some confusion as to why this burger-adjacent sandwich is called a sloppy joe. According to Quaint Cooking, they may be named for a cook named Joe, who worked at a Sioux City, Iowa, restaurant that popularized the loose meat sandwich in the early 1930s. Other stories point to Key West and Havana, Cuba. Despite these disputed origins, there is no doubt that these undeniably messy sandwiches have been satisfying diners of all ages for generations.

And they'll satisfy the home chef of today because, when following this meaty sloppy joe recipe from recipe developer Michelle McGlinn, the sandwiches take all of 20 minutes to make, with prep and cooking included in that time. McGlinn says: "I love a classic recipe like sloppy joes! Hits the spot, especially when homemade like this one. [It's] way better than the canned stuff and just as easy to prepare. It's almost even better as an adult when you haven't had it in ages, just the perfect mixture of delicious nostalgia."

So fire up the frying pan, gather your ingredients, and let's make a mess of dinner in the best possible way.

Gather your ingredients for meaty sloppy joes

To make these classic sloppy sandwiches, first and foremost, you'll need a hefty amount of lean ground beef. You'll also need oil for cooking, a yellow onion, green and red bell peppers, garlic, tomato sauce, ketchup, yellow mustard, and brown sugar, along with some salt and pepper. Hamburger buns are essential, of course, though you can also use kaiser rolls if you prefer.

Of the ingredients, McGlinn says, "Originally, I thought it was unique to add bell peppers, but it looks like all homemade recipes out there include them! I don't remember my sloppy joes ever having peppers, so now I really enjoy the addition. They're crunchy and offer just a little bit of hidden vegetable nutrition to the mix, which is helpful in a recipe that is often served to kids."

"Brown sugar is also very common to add, especially when using ketchup, but [it] is an unusual ingredient you wouldn't think to add on your own," McGlinn notes. "Much like Italian pasta sauces, tomato needs sugar to balance out the acidity, and brown sugar works really well for that here. You can add just a pinch or a couple of spoonfuls depending on how sweet you prefer your sauce."

Cook the beef, onions, and peppers

Warm up the oil in a large skillet placed over a burner at medium heat. Once it's hot, add the ground beef. Crumble the meat into little bits with a wooden spoon or spatula and keep moving it around until the beef has browned through evenly. Then slide the cooked meat over to one side and add the chopped onions and bell peppers into the pan, letting them cook in the oil and beef grease.

Stir the cooking veggies occasionally, letting them cook until softened, which takes about 5 minutes. Then carefully pour off any residual greasy, oily liquid. 

Add the garlic, then the sauces and spices

Once the onion and peppers are soft, and the excess grease is drained, toss the minced garlic into the pan with the veggies and meat and mix everything together. Let the combined ingredients cook for about a minute, or until the garlic becomes softer and fragrant. Then add tomato sauce, ketchup,  mustard, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. 

Stir well to mix the sauces and spices in with the veggies and meat. Let the mixture come to a simmer, then cut the heat and remove the pan from the stovetop.

Assemble the sloppy joes, then enjoy

Now that the cooking is done, it's time for assembly and eating! You can make the sloppy joes by scooping the saucy meat blend right out of the cooking pan or transfer it to a bowl first. Either way, dole out equal portions of the mixture right onto your buns, close them up, then enjoy.

And as for the best things to enjoy with a sloppy joe, McGlinn says: "I really like it with crispy crinkle cut fries or any sort of potato side that can scoop up the famously messy leftover filling. That can be potato chips, potato wedges, or even mashed potatoes. Then, of course, serving with any sort of fresh garden salad or roasted vegetable is ideal as well. I also like this with cold salads like potato salad and macaroni salad, like at a summer barbecue!"

Meaty Sloppy Joes Recipe
5 from 35 ratings
A quick and easy weeknight meal awaits with this sloppy joe recipe. Ready in 20 minutes, the classic American sandwich is a guaranteed family favorite.
Prep Time
Cook Time
a sloppy joe on a plate
Total time: 20 minutes
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onion
  • ½ cup diced green bell pepper
  • ½ cup diced red bell pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • ½ tablespoon pepper
  • 4 hamburger buns
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the ground beef and crumble thoroughly, cooking until browned.
  2. Move the ground beef to one side of the skillet and cook the onions and bell peppers in the residual grease until softened, about 5 minutes. Drain any remaining grease if needed.
  3. Add in the garlic and mix the vegetables and beef together until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add in the tomato sauce, ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, and salt and pepper, and stir well to combine. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.
  5. Serve by piling beef mixture on hamburger buns.
Calories per Serving 522
Total Fat 31.6 g
Saturated Fat 9.5 g
Trans Fat 1.4 g
Cholesterol 80.5 mg
Total Carbohydrates 34.1 g
Dietary Fiber 3.1 g
Total Sugars 10.8 g
Sodium 679.6 mg
Protein 25.3 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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