Easy Frugal Cooking | Homemade Sloppy Joes

When I was growing up, my mom occasionally made sloppy joe sandwiches, but for some reason, I never really got into the habit of making them myself once I left home.

I got a Cook’s Illustrated cookbook from the library this past winter, though, and decided to give their version a try.

Like most Cook’s Illustrated recipes, this one is a winner, especially if you use some lovely local ground beef. ;) Because it’s also fast and easy and uses pantry ingredients (plus you just need some buns in your freezer), it’s a good meal to pull out when you just don’t feel like bothering with much in the kitchen.

First, heat a tablespoon of oil in a 12-inch frying pan over medium high heat.

Add chopped onion and saute until softened.

Add minced garlic. I lurve my garlic press (it’s a Kuhn Rikon Easy-Squeeze Garlic Press, recommended by Cook’s, actually). Very sturdy and super easy to clean. If you need a new press, definitely consider buying this particular one!

Anyway, add the garlic and chili powder, and cook for about 30 seconds (just until you can smell the garlic and chili).

Add ground beef, salt, ground pepper, and brown sugar, and cook just until the beef is no longer pink.

(Oddly enough, the online version of this recipe says to cook it until it’s just pink, which confuses me. Isn’t raw beef kind of pink? Or maybe it’s considered to be red.)

Anyway, I’ve cooked it until it’s just turned brown (usually with bits of pink remaining) and the results have been delicious.

Stir in tomato puree, ketchup, and water and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Serve on buns, with plenty of napkins. They’re not called Sloppy Joes for nothin’.

By the way, if you like your food spicy, top your sandwich with some hot sauce…I love it that way!

The recipe says it only makes 4 sandwiches, but we always get more than that out of a recipe probably because I use a whole pound of beef instead of the 3/4 pound the original recipe called for.

Sloppy Joes
printable Sloppy Joe recipe

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 pound 85% lean ground beef
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet on medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add garlic and chili powder and saute about 30 seconds.

Add the beef, salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Cook and stir until beef has almost no pink left.

Stir in tomato puree, ketchup, and water. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened slightly. Add more salt or pepper to taste. Serve on hamburger buns.


(garlic press link is an Amazon affiliate link. I get a small commission if you purchase something after clicking on the link. Regardless of how you buy one, though, I think you should own that garlic press if you’re in the market!)


  1. says

    When I don’t have buns in the freezer or its too hot to bake I will boil up some whole wheat pasta and throw that in – GOULASH! :)

  2. melissa says

    another super easy variation on sloppy jo’s is sloppy Jose’. Brown ground beef ( I usually use ground turkey breast) and add one jar of salsa (any kind and heat), heat till hot and serve on buns or tortilla’s. You could probably use it for taco filling too. Have fun and be creative….

  3. mickdess says

    Did you not have to drain that hamburger? I always flip mine out on paper towels, even if the fat appears to have disappeared.

    • Kristen says

      I haven’t drained mine, since it’s happy local beef and I’m not concerned about us eating that fat. If it was supermarket meat, I’d probably drain it.

  4. says

    Ooohhh….I’ve been looking for a homemade sloppy joe recipe that is good. While I don’t really care for them, my six year old asks for them all the time. We usually use ground turkey though.

    That is a good idea about the hot dog buns! I also will serve it over toast if I don’t have buns.

  5. Sara says

    Another trick if you like spicy is to add some chipotle in adobo sauce. Not too much, we like things fairly spicy and I add one pepper (finely chopped) and a little bit of sauce (freeze the rest of the can in smaller portions to use as needed), a little goes a long way!

    • Kristen says

      The problem here is that I’m the only person who likes mine spicy! So I have to make do by squeezing some hot sauce just on my sandwich.

  6. says

    What amazing photos! Sloppy Joes really are very American…not something we get over in the UK – not in my experience anyway, but I’m thinking the kids may go for these. I’ll have to spice mine up separately also…

  7. katrina says

    Ah so that’s what Sloppy Joe’s are…..was wondering…..guess I make a version of these anyway……this is similar to my mixture that I put over pasta…..I do a big lot of it……leftovers get used in all different ways and this is one of them….sometimes do it in a toastie, sometimes with cheese on top, sometimes on toast, cheese on top and put under grill…..mmmmmm yummmmm

  8. says

    Hah! I found what dinner is! I had some leftover taco meat that I turned into sloppy joes–it worked quite well and I think I will keep this on my list o’food.

  9. Karen says

    i have always wondered what sloppy joes are…not big in australia!

    i think i might try them though, the kids would go nuts for them. i usually go a bit crazy with veggie-ing things up so i’m going to try this with some grated carrots and zucchinis through it and some tinned kidney beans and tinned corn as well – should make it an even cheaper option by extending that meat!

  10. mom of 5 says

    My kids love “camping sandwiches” this is what they call sloppy joes. We add a can of pork & beans, just as a filler to start, but now they love it so much that is how we make them!

  11. says

    I am a silent regular on your blog and I have to thank you for the efforts that you take to put up these beautifully photographed and incredible recipes to us….
    I have you on my side bar…
    I would like to thank you for the recipe and I have a query too…we do not eat beef so will it taste good with chicken and do you think spices like cumin , coriander will go well with this..
    I would also like to know where you got this pan its great … We do not get such pans in India…
    Thank you…

    • Kristen says

      Yes! You could definitely use ground turkey or ground chicken in place of the beef.

      I got my pan from Amazon…do they deliver to India?

  12. Lisa says

    My mom always made sloppy joes with ground beef, sliced celery, sliced onions and sliced green pepper strips. Fried all together and added a jar of spaghetti sauce. Any leftovers were mixed with macaroni to stretch it further. Yum!

  13. says

    Hi Kristen. I found your site a little while ago and have been enjoying reading your posts. We eat a lot of vegetarian meals. So for sloppy joe’s I use cooked lentils in place of the beef. I tried your recipe subbing the lentils for beef and it was super yummy! Thanks. Always looking for good and simple recipes. Also, when I don’t have buns, I make up a batch of biscuits for the filling.

  14. says

    Oh and one more thing. When I make biscuits to use as buns (for sloppy joes or burgers/sliders), I have a trick to make them split easily. I roll out my dough, then double it over before cutting the biscuits. What I end up with is a double layered biscuit. After they’re baked, the biscuit splits evenly into 2 halves, with minimal crumbling.

  15. says

    Made these (with a little variations) for my daughter’s birthday party today. Everyone seemed to like them. One lady asked for the recipe, so I told her she could find it at “The Frugal Girl.” Thanks for a great recipe, it was a good way to feed a big crowd of people!

    • Kristen says

      You could use a tomato sauce/tomato paste combo…it wouldn’t be as sweet, but would be the right consistency.

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