Best Ever Sloppy Joe

Just hearing the words “sloppy joe” from my mother used to send us kids into a tizzy. There was something wonderfully fun about getting to eat a burger/sandwich that was messy by design.

I first posted this recipe in 2008, after making it for my visiting young nephew. Sloppy joes really are a quintessential kid food, aren’t they?

After my nephew explained to me that he didn’t like tomatoes with his hamburger and he wanted his onions on top, and I explained to him that sloppy joes are made with the onions mixed in with the beef, and he eats spaghetti so what’s wrong with tomatoes, anyway?, he relented.

Sloppy Joe

When called to dinner he ate the whole thing (with high praise), even though he had been making and eating s’mores all day.

Different pockets of the country have very different versions of what a “Sloppy Joe” is. The one I love is the one I’m presenting here—a sweet and tangy ground beef concoction that you ladle onto a hamburger bun. It’s a mess. It must be eaten with a fork.

What makes this sloppy joe extra special is that I’m starting with a “mirepoix” or sauté of minced carrots, onions, and celery. Then I brown the ground beef and pull everything together with a highly flavored tomato sauce. It’s one of my favorite recipes on the site, I hope you like it too!

Best Ever Sloppy Joe Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

The trick to this recipe is to brown the meat well. Don't crowd the pan, work in batches, and don't stir the meat until it is well browned on one side. It helps to use a large cast iron pan, or an anodized aluminum pan, as these pans can handle the heat and are relatively stick-free.



  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced carrots (can sub chopped bell pepper)
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 cups tomato sauce (or 1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes, puréed)
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 turns of freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 hamburger buns


1 Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Add the minced carrots and sauté for 5 minutes. (If you are using bell pepper instead of carrots, add those at the same time as the onions.)

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Add the chopped onion and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent, about 5 more minutes.

Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Remove from heat. Remove vegetables from the pan to a medium sized bowl, set aside.

2 Using the same pan (or you can cook the meat at the same time as the vegetables in a separate pan to save time), crumble the ground beef into the pan. You will likely need to do this in two batches, otherwise you will crowd the pan and the beef won't easily brown.

Sprinkle with salt.

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Do not stir the ground beef, just let it cook until it is well browned on one side. Then flip the pieces over and brown the second side. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ground beef from the pan (can add to the set-aside vegetables) and repeat with the rest of the ground beef.

If you are using extra lean beef, you will likely not have any excess fat in the pan. If you are using 16% or higher, you may have excess fat. Strain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.

3 Return the cooked ground beef and vegetables to the pan. Use a wooden spoon to break up any chunks of ground beef into smaller bits.

Add the ketchup, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and brown sugar to the pan. Stir to mix well. Add ground cloves, thyme, and cayenne pepper.

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Lower the heat to medium low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with toasted hamburger buns.

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Sloppy Joe

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Showing 4 of 101 Comments

  • Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    When I lived in northern New Jersey during my high school years, a Sloppy Joe was something entirely different: a layered deli sandwich (like a club sandwich, but on rye bread), with layers of corned beef, turkey slathered with Russian dressing, and coleslaw. The loaf of rye was sliced horizontally, so the whole Sloppy Joe was the dimension of a loaf of bread, cut into wedges. When you bit into it, the Russian dressing and cole slaw would dribble down your chin. It was the best thing ever.

    Oh, that one sounds soooo good. ~Elise

  • Alanna @ Kitchen Parade

    What would you think about the idea that a sloppy joe just isn’t a sloppy joe unless potato chips and dill pickles are tucked inside the buns, too? That was my favorite school lunch, still the only way to eat sloppy joes. No judging for taste, of course.

    I recall using the potato chips to scoop up overspill on the sloppy joe like a dip. Yum! ~Elise

  • bevson

    I grew up eating sloppy joes, then I moved east. Imagine my horror to discover that sloppy joes here are cold deli sandwiches with meat, swiss cheese, cole slaw and russian dressing. I have never learned to like them. I much prefer the hot chopped meat, tomatoes version. Thanks for reminding me!

  • Lynn

    We love Sloppy Joes. I like to make a big batch and then freeze the sauce part. It freezes really well. I let it cool and than place it in a ziplock bag and freeze. I like to freeze it because it gives me an easy meal for a busy night.

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