Homemade Sloppy Joes

Think outside the can of Manwich and make these Homemade Sloppy Joes. Not only more delicious but almost as easy too!

Sloppy Joe Sandwich with Pickle and Chips

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine who manages a Facebook group that is very food-centric shared an article about Sloppy Joes. Now, this group is more inclined to discuss the history of foie gras, discuss the notion of farm to table or share recipes for a dessert that would take hours to prepare so being reminded of something I loved as a kid inspired me to make my own Homemade Sloppy Joes.

It hit me…how on earth that name? Seems it’s a simple answer. A guy named Joe who was a cook at a cafe in Sioux City, Iowa added some tomato sauce to a loose meat sandwich (like a burger but the ground beef is loose, not formed into a patty).  The folks there loved it and it took off and now it’s an American classic. Maybe I should share some of the combinations I come up with to use leftovers?

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Despite Joe’s method, I don’t think I had ever had or made Sloppy Joes that didn’t include using a can of Manwich. Manwich is the name brand of a sauce that is added to sautéed ground beef resulting in what is a familiar taste for many Americans…tomato based, sort of thick and with a slight sweet edge to it. Even a slogan most of us know, ‘A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal!’

Homemade Sloppy Joes on White Plate with Chips, Slaw, and Pickles

I love being reminded of something I remember favorably from my childhood or young adulthood and I am always inspired to try making the dish using fresh ingredients instead of the ones that were common in households like mine. My mom was relishing the newfound freedom of ‘prepared products’ so a product like Manwich was a miracle for her!

The mention of Sloppy Joes rose to the occasion of converting something new back to something old again and luckily I had some ground beef on hand and I was on it! I wasn’t the first person to go the homemade route and I had the benefit of looking at several other recipes but I also checked out the Manwich can; after all this is what I was re-creating wasn’t it?

To be honest, if someone had shown me these ingredients, I would never have thought to make this sauce at all…would you?

There was tomato puree (water, tomato paste), high fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, corn syrup, less than 2% of: salt, sugar, carrot fiber, dried green and red bell peppers, chili pepper, guar gum, spices, xanthan gum, dried garlic, natural flavors, and citric acid.

The mere fact that two of the first four ingredients were sugar, well, no wonder I had friends who remembered one thing…it was too sweet! But guar gum, xantham gum? Gee mom, I don’t remember those two in our pantry! And I love the designation of ‘spices’ and ‘natural flavors’…what the heck are those?

Open Face Sloppy Joe with Slaw and Chips

Those ingredients were of no help at all. Who makes a tomato based sauce to be combined with ground beef and totally ignores onion and garlic? There were green bell peppers? My nemesis, clearly not enough to taste or I would have never had a Manwich sandwich twice!

So I developed my hint of sweetness with brown sugar and included way more savory, not simply the addition of sautéed onions and garlic but included a small amount of Serrano pepper as well to replace the green and red bell peppers the brand mentions. I know they are hotter but it’s their flavor I was after.

Using a small amount did not make these Homemade Sloppy Joes hot, as a matter of fact I added additional savory ingredients including chili powder, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Chipotle Tabasco Sauce (this is optional but a couple of dashes was good!). I used them all in modest amounts, I wanted flavor, not fire. The end result was as American as apple pie…not even close to a dish from Mexico. Trust me.

One thing of note…I styled this dish on a burger bun that had been toasted (optional) but I have never in my life eaten one of these sandwiches using my hands until a barbecue I recently hosted. When we were kids, they were served on the two pieces of bun that had been toasted and placed as open faced, piled high with the sloppy joe mixture and then we had to cut it with a knife and fork.

We didn’t do that at my picnic; as long as the sauce is simmered until it’s thick enough, it will hold together fine. These were great for when I had friends over. Sometimes it’s OK to have a dish already made for a ‘barbecue’ and not stand and grill when you want to sit and chat! I served them with chips, pickles, and coleslaw.

Even the coleslaw was easy, sort of an ‘almost homemade’ Sandra Lee type dish. I used pre-shredded cabbage and combined it with a dressing of mayonnaise, honey mustard dressing, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. SO easy.

Leftovers? I doubled the recipe I’ve included below when I last made them and I had leftovers so I used some of the leftover meat sauce on spaghetti and instead of Pigs in a Blanket, I made a couple of ‘Sloppy Joes in a Blanket’ using Crescent Rolls, the meat sauce, and a slice of thin cheddar cheese. Both simple and a nice alternative too.

My neighbor told me he uses Manwich for their Sloppy Joes. Yes, I was pretty happy to hear from him that these were indeed better…and he was happy to hear they were really easy. Win-win right?

Take a trip down memory lane…and try them yourself!

More Updated Recipes From Years Gone By!

PIN IT! ‘Homemade Sloppy Joes’

Sloppy Joe Sandwich with Pickle and Chips

Homemade Sloppy Joes on White Plate with Chips, Slaw, and Pickles

Sloppy Joe Sandwich with Pickle and Chips

Homemade Sloppy Joes

A homemade version of an All American favorite, Sloppy Joes.
5 from 50 or more votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Course Beef, Sandwiches
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 525 kcal


  • 4 hamburger buns
  • 2 Tbsp butter softened
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion minced
  • ½ Serrano pepper minced
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • cup tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • cup water
  • 2-4 Tbsp brown sugar Adjust sweetness to your taste; I used 3 Tbsp
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • ¾ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • Tabasco Sauce to taste, I prefer the Chipotle version (optional)


  • Use one tablespoon of softened butter and spread scant amount on inside of buns. Grill buns in skillet for about two minutes until toasted; remove and set aside.
  • Combine remaining butter and olive oil in skillet and heat until butter is melted. Add onion and Serrano pepper and saute for 4-5 minutes on medium heat until softened. Add garlic and saute for one minute.
  • Add ground beef and saute until no longer pink.
  • Add all remaining ingredients to skillet, mix well and simmer on low for 15-30 minutes; the longer the better.
  • Serve on toasted buns.


Nutrition Facts
Homemade Sloppy Joes
Serving Size
1 Sandwich
Amount per Serving
% Daily Value*
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Keyword homemade, sloppy joes, beef
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  1. Sloppy Joes aren’t something I make all that often for some reason, but thoroughly enjoy them when I do. Back in my youth I remember it being one of the better school lunches, although those Sloppy Joes weren’t nearly as good as homemade. Your recipe looks terrific! Thanks.

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