the BEST Homemade Sloppy joes recipe

This recipe makes the best sloppy joes you’ll find! Don’t get your sloppy joe sauce from in a can (like Manwich), use this easy and simple to make homemade sloppy joes! Perfect amount of spice, sweet, and delicious sloppy joe flavor!

P.S. Don’t miss the Slow Cooker version of this recipe in the recipe notes. For those of you that love all things Slow Cooker/CrockPot.

Sloppy Joes are a family favorite in many homes across the nation, mine included. Most families reach for a canned sauce to create their sloppy joe sandwiches. But gosh darn…give this recipe a try!! You’ll find that making the sauce from scratch is really easy and the best way to customize it to your family’s preferences. Skip the canned stuff!

an easy and delicious sloppy joe sauce in a large spoon scooped from a skillet

This sloppy joe recipe hails from the original from the 1950’s. Simple ingredients like ketchup and Worcestershire sauce mixed with ground beef shouldn’t be changed. Many older recipes call for dry mustard to be added…feel free to add some and see if you approve of the change!

Are you looking for great ground beef recipes? Try my One-Pot Ground Beef Stroganoff or Ground Beef Wellingtons…so good!

Sloppy Joe Sauce Ingredients:

This sauce is completely gluten-free (be sure to use gluten-free hamburger buns!), dairy-free AND you can certainly make any additional dietary changes you needed.

  • Lean Ground beef, turkey, or chicken.
    I use any of the above, depending on what is on sale or what I’m feeling like. For the ground turkey or chicken, add a bit of oil into the pan when sauteing it to compensate for the lack of fat.
  • Ketchup.
    Some recipes call for tomato paste and you could totally go that route if you wanted to. I find that ketchup comes with a good amount of salt and is an easy way to add additional flavor. And, let’s face it, I always have ketchup on hand.
  • Onions and Green peppers.
    But there are no green peppers in mine, at all. My family does not like green peppers and I leave them out. However, most recipes will have finely diced green peppers. If you are about green bell peppers, add them in. Onions are another must. Keep the onions diced up fairly small so they don’t overpower the meat. If you don’t have fresh onion go ahead and use onion powder.
  • Sugar.
    Brown or white, but you’ll need a little brown sugar to give perfect balance to the sauce. It also helps if, like mine, your recipe has a bit of kick to it. That little bit of sweet is a nice contrast.
  • Siracha.
    Just a bit makes all of the difference in the world. Or a lot, if your family likes heat.
sloppy joe sauce in a bun ready to nosh on!

What is sloppy joe sauce?

Legend has it that a cafe owner named Joe from Iowa added tomato sauce to his “loose meat” sandwich (oi, that’s a whole additional topic!) and the name was born…Sloppy Joe.

What is the difference between Not So Sloppy Joes and Sloppy Joes?

Nothing. Not So Sloppy Joes is simply a brand name in the same way Manwich is. Neither tastes as good as this homemade version!

an easy and delicious sloppy joe sauce in a large spoon scooped from a skillet

How do I make sloppy joe sauce?

  • In a large skillet, on medium high heat, saute meat and chopped onion until meat is in small bits and onion is transparent about 6 minutes. Note: if you are using it, add green bell pepper with the onion.
  • Add garlic to the meat mixture and continue to saute until garlic is fragrant, a minute or two.
  • Pour in the first half of the water, scrape the browned bits from the pan, and add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 3 min on med-high heat.
  • Add the additional water, turn heat down to medium heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until thickened. Stir often.
  • Stir in the sriracha and vinegar.  Let stand a couple of minutes. Serve on a toasted bun, side salad and potato chips for a yummy meal!

How do I make this Sloppy Joe Sauce in the Slow Cooker?

Head down to the recipe below and, in the notes section, you’ll find the slow cooker recipe version…just as tasty and perfect for starting early in the day to let hang out and get the flavors squished together while you go about your day.

How do I thicken up Sloppy Joe Sauce?

If you find that your sauce turned out thinner than you would like mix a bit of cornstarch into water to create a paste. Stir it into your hot sauce (about 1 tablespoon at a time), wait for it to cook for a minute or so, add additional, as needed. Be aware that you NEED to let that cornstarch mixture cook for a bit so don’t keep adding more without giving it a bit of time in between additions.

Can you freeze the Sloppy Joe mixture?

Absolutely! The key is to let it cool down before placing it in a ziplock bag and freezing it. It’s best to lay the freezer bag flat in the freezer and freeze so that you won’t have large clumps of frozen meat. This makes thawing easier and safer. Simply thaw in the fridge, reheat, and serve!

Can I make this without Worcestershire sauce?

Sure, although I think it isn’t as great! You can also make your own version of Worcestershire sauce with 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon sugar and a dash of hot sauce for every tablespoon Worcestershire the recipe calls for.

What can I use instead of ketchup in this recipe?

Try using tomato paste or tomato sauce. Be ready to use the cornstarch method mentioned above to thicken it, if needed. Also you may find that you need to add a bit more salt.

Tater tot casserole with sloppy joe sauce and cheese...soooo good!

What can I use this Homemade Sloppy Joe Sauce Recipe for?

Oh girl, the possibilities are endless and certainly not for just a sad hamburger bun!

  • stuffed peppers
  • tater tot casserole
  • baked potatoes
  • burritos
  • nachos
  • mac & cheese
  • on pasta
  • stuffed in bread and smothered in cheese

Try my Sloppy Joe Tater Tot hotdish…a fantastic and easy recipe that uses homemade sloppy joe sauce (make a double batch next time to have extras for this!) and kids love it!! Cheese, sloppy joe sauce, tater tots, and mixed veggies…a mixture that always wins!

Skip opening a can, use this homemade sloppy joe sauce made in a skillet! Saucy, full of yummy meat, and great tomato flavor!

Homemade Sloppy Joe Sauce is magical stuff and helps you make yummy comfort foods your family loves and YOU love because it’s so. dang. easy.

Tip: toast your bun and put a bit of butter on it. This will help keep your bun from getting soggy with the sauce!

Homemade Sloppy Joe Sauce

| 4
Prep Time | 5 minutes
Cook Time | 25 minutes
Total Time | 30 minutes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
Make sloppy joe sauce from scratch with this yummy, easy, and flavorful recipe. Never reach for the can again!


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 3/4 cup water divided in 1/2
  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 2 dashes worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha
Check out our Kitchen Reference Guide for help with unfamiliar terms.


  • In skillet, on med-high heat, saute meat and onions until meat is in small bits and onion is transparent about 6 minutes.
  • Add garlic and continue to saute until garlic is fragrant, a minute or two.
  • Pour in the first half of the water, scrape the pan, and add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 3 min on med-high heat.
  • Add the additional water, turn heat down to medium and simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until thickened. Stir often.
  • Stir in the sriracha and vinegar.  Let stand a couple of minutes. Serve.



Slow Cooker Version:

Adjusted Ingredients for Slow Cooker

  • 1/2 cup water (reduced from 3/4 cup to account for less evaporation in a slow cooker)

Slow Cooker Instructions

  1. Brown the Meat and Onions:
    • In a skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the ground beef and onions until the beef is well browned and the onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. 
    • Drain any excess fat from the beef and onion mixture to avoid greasiness in your recipe.
  2. Transfer to Slow Cooker:
    • Move the browned meat and onions to your slow cooker.
  3. Add Most Ingredients:
    • Add the garlic, 1/2 cup of water, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and black pepper to the slow cooker. Stir well to combine the ingredients thoroughly.
  4. Cook:
    • Cover the slow cooker and set it to cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. This long cooking process allows the flavors to get all squished together and get delicious!
  5. Final Seasoning:
    • About 30 minutes before the cooking time is complete, stir in the cider vinegar and sriracha. Adding these ingredients towards the end preserves their bright and spicy flavors and they don’t lose their tang.
  6. Thicken if Necessary:
    • If the sauce is too thin for your liking at the end of the cooking time, you can thicken it by mixing a tablespoon of cornstarch with a little cold water and stirring it into the slow cooker. Increase the heat to high and let it cook for an additional 30 minutes to thicken that cornstarch addition.
  7. Serve:
    • Once the dish is ready, give it a final stir, adjust seasoning if needed, and serve hot. 


Calories: 236kcalCarbohydrates: 10gProtein: 13gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 53mgSodium: 700mgPotassium: 307mgSugar: 8gVitamin A: 135IUVitamin C: 2.9mgCalcium: 23mgIron: 1.6mg

Recipe Tester Lisa says…

Nice, simple recipe. I wasn’t sure my family would like it as they are not big on sloppy joes. Everyone liked it! (Ages 17, 15, and 10). I served it on hamburger buns and I prefer to add shredded cheese to the top. Timing estimates were perfect.

27 thoughts on “the BEST Homemade Sloppy joes recipe”

  1. 5 stars
    Fantastic! I did add more sriracha than called for but that’s because we like spicy. My husband Sid, “this is the best sloppy Joe’s you’ve ever made!” So thank you for this recipe! No more canned stuff for us.

  2. I made it keto by adding sugar free catsup and brown Swerve as a sweetener. It’s really good on low carb bread.

  3. 5 stars
    Delicious! Added extra spoon of brown sugar and cider vinegar. Served open faced on toasted English muffins.

  4. Yes. Just be sure to cool it completely before you freeze it and then thaw it in the fridge. Should be good for about 4-5 months.

  5. valerie guadarrama

    5 stars
    I’m starting to meal prep for post baby. Do you think this would freeze and reheat okay?

    It is a great recipe! My picky eaters even had seconds!

  6. 5 stars
    Great easy recipe! I we added shredded cheddar cheese to the finished product just because we had too! And will never use canned again!

  7. Melissa Shultz

    5 stars
    Exactly what I was looking for. A simple Sloppy Jo recipe with a hint of heat. It’s simmering right now and smells absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to have my first bite.

  8. I am sooo glad to hear that! Always great to find a recipe that everyone is on board with. Thanks for coming back to leave a nice comment, so appreciated!

  9. I tried this recipe for dinner last night, I didn’t use apple cider vinegar and put a little bit more lemon juice. A lot of sriracha sauce as everyone like it very spicy.

    We had it with soft taco wrap, added diced cucumber and tomatoes. Booyaa everyone liked it. Now they want sloppy joes for at least the next three days.

    I just finished cooked another sloppy joe for breakfast while writing this comment. Thank you so much!!

  10. Thank you so. much for coming back and leaving a comment, I appreciate it! And yay for recipes that 6 year old’s love. High praise indeed!

  11. 5 stars
    We did ground turkey added oil to the pan and followed recipe exactly it came out so good my 6 yr old and pickiest eater had seconds. This recipe is a keeper! Thanks

  12. Diann Severino

    Made the sloppy joes twice now. They are delicious. I would never go back to can. I love your recipes. Can’t wait to try some more.

  13. I don’t generally because I use lean. If you like to use a fattier beef you probably will want to drain it first. Glad you did that! The apple cider vinegar adds a really great acid to help balance all the sweet and helps this from feeling to greasy in your mouth.

  14. Do you drain the meat? I’m guessing bc you used lean beef you didn’t find it necessary, but I ended up with a lot of grease and drained it before adding the sauce. Also, what does the apple cider vinegar do?

4.15 from 116 votes (102 ratings without comment)

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