There’s nothing more nostalgic than Sloppy Joes! These messy but oh-so-delicious sandwiches are filled with ground meat that’s sauteed with onions and peppers in a tangy sauce and are just as much fun to eat as they are to make!

Sloppy Joe sandwich held in hands.

While Sloppy Joes are often associated with school cafeterias and can therefore get a bad rap at times, I’m here to tell you that these are not your lunch lady’s Sloppy Joes! (Am I the only one who wants to belt out Adam Sandler’s “Lunch Lady Land”?)

These are the tangy, delicious, perfectly seasoned and easy homemade Sloppy Joes everyone loves!

Sloppy Joes come together quickly and are great for weeknights! Serve with a green vegetable like sauteed broccoli and plenty of napkins!

Recipe Ingredients

All ingredients for this recipe are shown in the pic below and special notes are made in this bulleted list to assist you.

Ingredients shown: water, brown sugar, chili powder, worcestershire sauce, hot red pepper flakes, cider vinegar, ketchup, ground beef, garlic, buns, onion, and green bell pepper.
  • Ground beef. Though you can use a 80/20 beef you don’t really need to since there are a lot of flavor enhancers being added. A lean ground beef (85% or 90%) works best for Sloppy Joes.
  • Vinegar. This adds the tanginess Sloppy Joes are known for. I’ve found cider vinegar works best with the flavors in this dish.
  • Sugar. Use brown sugar for a bit of sweetness.

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.

How to make it

Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.

  1. Dice one medium yellow onion and one large green bell pepper. Mince 5 cloves of garlic and set aside. Heat a large pan to medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the onion, and bell pepper, and saute for about 5 minutes, or until soft. (Photo #1)
Sloppy Joe recipe process shot collage group one showing sauteing of onions and peppers, and adding ground beef to the pan.
  1. Add 1 1/2 pounds of 85/15 or 90/10 ground beef to the pan and turn the heat to medium-high. (Photo #2)
  2. Saute for about 5-7 minutes or until the beef is cooked through, then add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. (Photo #3)
Recipe collage two showing browning of ground beef and adding garlic to the pan.
  1. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes or until the garlic is very fragrant. (Photo #4)
  2. Add 1 cup of ketchup, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 cup of water and mix until combined and keep at a low simmer. Taste test the Sloppy Joe mixture and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Once satisfied with the taste, turn the heat to low and continue to cook while you prepare the buns. (Photo #5)
Recipe collage three showing adding sauce to the beef and browning burger buns in the pan.
  1. Heat a pan or griddle top to medium heat and add a touch of olive oil. Open 4 hamburger buns and place them cut-side-down in the pan and cook until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Divide the beef mixture on to the 4 buns, serve, and enjoy!

Top tips

  • Make ahead. The Sloppy Joe mixture will taste even better the next day making this a great make-ahead meal!
  • The sauce. If you find the sauce is too dry, simply add an ounce or two of water at a time and mix to loosen it back up.
  • Buns. While Sloppy Joes are traditionally served on a hamburger bun (which makes these “sloppy”), you can also serve in a hot dog bun for a slightly less sloppy experience.

Sloppy Joe sandwich with bite taken out of it on white paper plate.

More retro recipes you’ll love

If you’re looking for simple foods that are a little retro and a lot nostalgic, give these recipes a try!

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Easy Homemade Sloppy Joes

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings: 4
These are not your lunch lady's Sloppy Joes! Loaded with delicious and tangy flavor these are as much fun to make as they are to eat!


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 1 large green bell pepper diced
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef 85 or 90% works well
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 5 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water plus more if needed
  • 4 hamburger buns


  • Heat a large pan to medium heat with the olive oil and add the onion and bell pepper. Saute until soft (about 5 minutes).
  • Add the ground beef to the pan and turn the heat up to medium-high. Saute the beef until cooked through (about 5-7 minutes) then mix in the salt, chili powder, and hot red pepper flakes.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic. Cook for another 2 minutes or until very fragrant.
  • Add the ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and water. Mix well and keep at a low simmer.
  • Taste test the sloppy Joes and adjust salt and pepper if required. Once satisfied, turn the heat to low and move on to browning the buns
  • Heat a pan or griddle top to medium heat and add a touch of olive oil. Place the buns, cut side down, in the pan and cook until browned (about 1-2 minutes). Divide the beef on to the 4 buns and serve. Enjoy!


  • Makes 4 large or 6 moderate-sized sandwiches.
  • If the sauce is too dry, simply add 1-2 ounces of water and mix again to loosen it up.
  • Leftovers can be saved in the fridge for up to 3 days and can be reheated in the microwave.


Calories: 498kcal | Carbohydrates: 47.2g | Protein: 40.7g | Fat: 16.3g | Saturated Fat: 3.7g | Cholesterol: 101mg | Sodium: 1241mg | Potassium: 706mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 19.3g | Calcium: 81mg | Iron: 24mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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  1. Danielle says:

    5 stars
    So easy and absolutely delicious. Big hit at our house!

    1. Tara says:

      We’re so happy you enjoyed, Danielle!

  2. Becky says:

    5 stars
    Easy & delicious