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Easy Frugal Cooking | Homemade Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joe sandwich on a black plate, with carrots and tomatoes on the side.

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.

A skillet on a stove, with oil heating in it.

Add chopped onion and saute until softened.

Onions being sauteed in a steel skillet.

Time for garlic. I love my Kuhn Rikon garlic press both because it’s durable and because it is super easy to clean!

Kuhn Rikon garlic press.
(My garlic press is unavailable in plastic at the moment, but the stainless steel one is still in stock.)

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

Browned onions in a skillet.

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.

Browned ground beef in a skillet.

Stir in tomato puree, ketchup, and water and cook for 4-5 minutes.
Sloppy Joe sandwich filling.

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

Sloppy joe sandwich with veggies on the side.

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.

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Monday 6th of November 2023

This recipe is a keeper. I can now say that I have purchased tomato purée!


Thursday 7th of December 2017

I remember not liking sloppy joes the few times my mom made them, but these were absolutely delicious. Everyone enjoyed them, and the recipe is flexible. I didn't realize that I was out of chili powder, but I substituted with some homemade Emeril's Essence and no one was any wiser.


Saturday 29th of March 2014

I don't like ketchup but they're its always in these kinds of recipes. Is there any alternatives?


Saturday 29th of March 2014

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

Katy @ Purposely Frugal

Saturday 19th of May 2012

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!


Wednesday 16th of May 2012

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.

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