Classic Sloppy Joes in 20 minutes with a homemade tomato gravy and bell peppers on hamburger buns that have won 3 sloppy joe competitions!
Ultimate Sloppy Joes are a quick meal made without the canned sauce or the packets of Sloppy Joe seasoning you may have grown up with. With just a few pantry ingredients you’ll have a whole new appreciation for classic American dinner favorite Sloppy Joe.
These are called Ultimate Sloppy Joes (also known as a Loose Meat Sandwich is some parts), but you may also want to refer to them as Award Winning Sloppy Joes because this recipe has been victorious in three separate sandwich contests including one competition where it beat out over 50 other Sloppy Joe recipes!
Plus, it wins the most important contest of all, the kid contest. Kids LOVE this recipe because it is the perfect combination of sweet and savory flavors. You will not see a single kid refuse these Sloppy Joes during any weeknight dinners.
These are the best Sloppy Joes. They’re so good that the base of this recipe made led us to create 25 more Sloppy Joe recipes! There are so many delicious meals, from Philly Cheese Steak, Bacon Cheeseburger, to Pizza too, so if you love these Classic Sloppy Joes you should definitely try out more (another favorite is the Bacon, Beer and Cheese Sloppy Joes)!
How to Make Ultimate Sloppy Joes
Homemade Sloppy Joes are made with ground beef, onion and green bell peppers that are simmered in a brown sugar and ketchup gravy until thickened and served on a bun.
- Step One: Cook the beef until it begins to get a yummy brown crust on the edges. To get a good sear on the meat use high heat instead of medium heat or even medium-high heat, this will create a nice crust giving it a texture more like hamburgers.
- Step Two: After excess oil is drained, add in the butter and chopped onion and green peppers.
- Step Three: After a couple of minutes of browning, drop the heat to medium, add the rest of the sauce ingredients to the meat mixture, and cook until ready to eat!
- Step Four: Spoon beef mixture onto toasted buns. Make sure to toast your bun before adding the filling. If you don’t your bun it may get too soggy, too quickly (psst, you could also butter it to make it even more delicious).
Frequently Asked Questions
Make sure not to cook down the sauce too much, sometimes the Sloppy Joes can get dry. You’re looking for a consistency where you can see the individual bits of meat, but not dry enough where they don’t cling to each other in sauce.
Sloppy Joes can be served again the next day if you add a bit of liquid to help create a bit more Sloppy Joe sauce. To avoid more sugar being added, start with some tomato sauce and water in ¼ cup increments as you gently reheat and taste.
If you look at the back of the store bought sauce, many of the ingredients are similar, though this recipe is not exactly like a homemade version of the canned Sloppy Joes. This is also not the same as if you grew up eating Sloppy Joes made with tomato sauce, but the ketchup in the recipe acts in a similar way.
Create a free account to Save Recipes
Key Ingredients in Ultimate Sloppy Joes
- Beef: Lean ground beef is the best for this recipe. High fat ground beef will cook down too much so compensate if need be. This recipe calls for one pound ground beef, but you can double everything to make more!
- Ketchup: Your favorite kind will do.
- Mustard: Classic American yellow mustard will do the trick.
- Bell Peppers: This recipe calls for green peepers, but you can use the less bitter red, orange, or even yellow bell peppers (also called capsicum). You can also leave it out, but remember you are removing probably a half cup or more of ingredients, so it will be saucier.
- Brown Sugar: Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added. You can even raw granulated sugar if preferred.
- Garlic: You can mince one or two cloves garlic, or use pre-minced garlic cloves.
- Onion: We’re using a medium onion in this recipe.
Variations on Ultimate Sloppy Joes
- Meat: Make the Sloppy Joe recipe a little healthier by swapping ground beef for ground turkey.
- Spicy Joes: You can add a tablespoon of red pepper flakes, or hot sauce to give this yummy recipe a good kick!
- Smokey Joes: Add a half cup of your favorite BBQ sauce to make this sandwich sizzle with an incredible depth of flavor!
- Cheese: It’s delicious to add in some American, mozzarella cheese, or cheddar cheese to the filling when it is done. Some people like to top the sandwich with cheese. Either way cheese makes it just a little more awesome.
- More Flavor: If you want a bit more savory flavor you can also add a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce to the Sloppy Joe meat. A teaspoon onion powder and a dash of chili powder will take it up a notch too!
- Tomato Sauce: If you would like to swap the ketchup for tomato sauce or tomato paste, just play with the rest of the ingredients to increase the sweetness more as the ketchup adds a definite sweet flavor.
- Leftovers: If you would like to use leftovers you may have in another recipe, just use the method found in Ground Philly Cheesesteak Grilled Cheese and you’ll be in heaven!
Alternative Cooking Methods for Ultimate Sloppy Joes
- Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes: Add the ingredients (minus the buns) to the crock pot and cook on low for 4 hours. Stir before serving and scoop onto your toasted hamburger bun.
- Instant Pot Sloppy Joes: Brown the ground beef in the instant pot on the sauté setting per the instructions, then add in the rest of the ingredients (except the buns). Add the lid and set the pressure to high for ten minutes. Release the pressure naturally for five minutes, open the top and scooped onto toasted hamburger buns.
How to Serve Sloppy Joes
Homemade Sloppy Joes are all about comfort food flavors so you’ll love serving them with Onion Rings, Potato Wedges, Sweet Potato Fries or Roasted Potatoes along with some healthier Roasted Vegetables.
How to Store Ultimate Sloppy Joes
- Serve: These sandwiches are best served fresh once they are assembled. You can keep the filling warm in a slow cooker for up to 4 hours or at room temperature for 2 hours.
- Store: Store the Ultimate Sloppy Joes filling separately in an air tight container and assemble the sandwiches right before you want to serve. The filling can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.
- Freeze: Cool the beef mixture completely and place in a sealed container. Freeze Sloppy Joes filling for up to 3 months and thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 yellow onion , chopped
- 1/2 green bell pepper , chopped
- 1 clove garlic , minced
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- Add the ground beef to a large skillet (this browns very well) on high heat and brown until a deep brown crust appears before breaking the beef apart.
- Stir the ground beef and brown until a deep crust appears on about 50 or so percent of the beef, and it is cooked through, then remove the beef, drain the excess liquid and add the butter, onions and bell pepper to the pan.
- Let brown for 1-2 minutes before stirring, then let brown for another 1-2 minutes before stirring again and add the beef back into the pan.
- Add the garlic, mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, to the pan and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated (about 75% of the mixture is above liquid), 3-5 minutes.
- Serve on toasted hamburger buns.
Photos used in a previous version of this post.