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Erase the processed canned version of this meal from your mind! These healthier, homemade Sloppy Joes with a tangy-sweet tomato sauce are full of complex flavor and nutrition. Seriously, these are the only sloppy joes my family will eat. Freezing instructions included.
Or try Instant Pot Sloppy Joes instead.
“My family, kids included, LOVE these! And I love all the nutrition packed inside! Thanks!” – Heather ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Why These Are the Only Sloppy Joes We Eat
After polling dozens of my friends and family, I learned that Sloppy Joes are quite the divisive meal. People either love them or hate them.
I counted myself as a hater until just a few years ago. Here’s why I now love our version:
- Healthier – Homemade is so much better than the canned version–no HFCS, additives, or preservatives and less sugar. I chose to use high-quality, grass-fed beef and whole wheat hamburger buns and snuck in some extra veggies with finely grated onion, carrots and chopped red peppers. (I love any recipe that sneaks in more vegetables for my family.)
- Flavor – The tangy-sweet tomato sauce is well balanced in flavor, assuring the meat mixture turns out absolutely delicious.
- Fast – This nutritious meal comes together in a little over 30 minutes.
- Freezer-Friendly – We’ll show you how to make this ahead as a freezer meal.
Now let’s get down to brass tacks here–namely the DELICIOUS combination of ingredients you’ll need.
There’s quite a diversity of recipes on the internet for sloppy joes, but I wanted this one to include lots of fresh, complex flavor and nutrition. Stock up on these items, if you don’t already have them on hand…
- All-natural steak seasoning – A shortcut way to add a lot of flavor to the beef while it cooks. This is the one I’ve used for years; it has all recognizable ingredients and no additives.
- Onion, carrot, red pepper, garlic – Finely chop these aromatics and saute with the beef to add extra nutrition and flavor. (A great way to sneak in nutrition for picky eaters!)
- Red wine vinegar – Lends acidity to the sauce and balances out the sweetness.
- Worcestershire sauce – Enhances that bold meaty taste. I highly recommend the Lea & Perrin’s brand because it has all recognizable ingredients and is gluten-free.
How to Make Sloppy Joes
Here is a big-picture view of where we are going.
- Brown the Ground Beef – After meat is browned, sprinkle the brown sugar and steak seasoning evenly over the meat and continue to stir and break it up until it has browned completely.
- Saute the Veggies – Cook until veggies are tender, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, red wine vinegar, and Worcestershire during the last 30-60 seconds of cook time.
- Mix it all Together – Stir in the cooked meat, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and maple syrup to the veggies until combined. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook the Sloppy Joe mixture 5 minutes longer.
Can You Freeze Sloppy Joes?
You can absolutely freeze sloppy joes! Here’s how…
How to Freeze for Later: To make sloppy joes into a freezer meal, fully cook and then let the sloppy joe mixture cool. Place in a freezer bag or freezer-safe container. Try to remove as much air as possible and seal tightly before freezing. Here are our favorite freezer containers.
How to Prepare From Frozen: Thaw the meal using one of these safe methods. Warm the meat mixture over medium-low heat on the stove or on Low in the slow cooker, gently stirring until heated through. (Tip: Add chicken or beef broth if it needs more liquid.) Serve as directed in the recipe.
Sloppy Joe Sides
We serve our sloppy joe recipe on whole wheat hamburger buns. Tip: Toast the insides of the buns under the broiler for a minute, so they hold up well.
Then, serve your sloppy joes with one of these side dishes (I love all of these!):
I like to use hamburger buns, but I find that it’s best to toast the insides first so the buns don’t fall apart after adding the sloppy joes mixture. To do this, stick them on a sheet tray, insides up, under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Keep a close eye on them and pull them out when they are golden brown.
You can also try brioche buns, whole wheat buns, or even slider buns for smaller portions.
While this classic sandwich is delicious on it’s own, you might try adding toppings like sliced cheese, pickles, coleslaw, sliced jalapeños, or crispy onion strings for extra flavor and texture.
Try using a leaner meat like ground chicken or ground turkey. Add in finely diced or grated vegetables to the meat mixture, like mushrooms, bell peppers, carrot, celery, and onion. Be sure to saute them to make sure they are soft. Lastly, serve your sloppy joes on whole wheat hamburgers buns or air fryer baked potatoes.
Did you make this? Snap a photo and tag us on Instagram at @thrivinghome so we can see your creations and cheer you on!
- 3 teaspoons olive oil or avocado oil, divided
- 1 pound lean ground beef (sub: ground turkey or chicken)
- 2 teaspoons all-natural steak seasoning (I like this one)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar (sub: coconut sugar or maple syrup)
- 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped or grated
- 1 red pepper, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (this is my favorite brand)
- 2 (8-ounce) cans unsalted tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
- Salt, to taste
- 4 whole wheat hamburger buns (or 8 slider buns), toasted
- Optional: cheddar cheese slices
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Make It Now:
- Brown the Beef: Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, until shimmery. Add the ground beef to the pan and begin to break it up while it browns. Sprinkle the brown sugar and steak seasoning evenly over the meat and continue to stir and break it up until it has browned completely. Remove the meat to a paper towel-lined plate to drain the oil.
- Saute Veggies: Wipe out the skillet and place it over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan. When the oil is shimmery, add the carrot, onion, red peppers to the skillet. Cook until veggies are tender, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, red wine vinegar, and Worcestershire during the last 30-60 seconds of cook time.
- Simmer Meat Mixture: Stir in the cooked meat, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and maple syrup to the veggies until combined. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook the Sloppy Joe mixture 5 minutes longer. Taste and season with salt, if needed. (Note: This is a good time to toast the buns under the broiler. See Cooking Notes.)
- Serve: Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, pile meat mixture onto toasted bun bottoms. Add a slice of cheese, if desired, and top with bun.
Freeze For Later: Follow Steps 1-3 and let the Sloppy Joe mixture cool. Place in a freezer bag or freezer-safe container. Try to remove as much air as possible and seal tightly before freezing.
Prepare From Frozen: Thaw the meal using a safe thawing method. Warm the meat mixture over medium-low heat on the stove or on Low in the slow cooker, gently stirring until heated through. (Tip: Add chicken or beef broth if it needs more liquid.) Follow Step 4.
- You can substitute ground turkey or ground chicken for the ground beef, if desired.
- Substitute for steak seasoning: Use 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/8 teaspoon onion powder, 1/8 teaspoon paprika, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
- To toast the hamburger buns: Place them on a sheet pan with the insides facing up. Preheat the oven’s broiler to high and broil them on the top rack for about a minute or until golden brown. Watch closely so they don’t burn!
- Gluten-free version: Use gluten-free buns or serve over baked potatoes (perhaps as part of a Baked Potato Bar).
- Dairy-free version: Omit the optional cheese slice.