How To Make Sloppy Joes in the Slow Cooker

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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

All hail the slow cooker! We’ve seen this appliance prove its worth time and time again, but with sloppy joes it makes the easy meal even easier.

It takes those messy sandwiches that made our childhoods so delicious, and makes them even tastier. This is all thanks to a hot mix of hearty meat combined with a homemade sauce bursting with deep, rich, tomatoey flavor.

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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

A True Set-It-and-Forget-It Meal

While stovetop sloppy joes aren’t particularly tough to make and don’t require a long cook time, sometimes we need an easier way out. Whether it’s work or life or kids, sometimes finding those 30 minutes to get in front of the stove just doesn’t feel feasible. Enter the slow cooker! When I’m faced with those obstacles, the slow cooker feels like my greatest ally.

BLACK+DECKER 7-Quart Digital Slow Cooker
Amazon
BLACK+DECKER 7-Quart Digital Slow Cooker

The prep work is simple and limited to chopping the onion and bell pepper, measuring the ingredients for the sauce, and then stirring everything together. From there, the slow cooker does all the heavy lifting. All you need to do is be ready to eat when the timer buzzes.

Make a Better Sauce with Pantry Staples and the Slow Cooker

Unlike the sloppy joes of your childhood, there’s no canned sauce or powdered packets here. But just because we’re ditching the packet doesn’t mean we’re going to make this complicated. The ingredients for this sauce can be found in most pantries. As it turns out, everyday ingredients — like tomato sauce, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce, along with garlic powder and ground mustard — prove to be quite the combination when the slow cooker is involved.

Hours of low, slow cooking give these ingredients ample time to meld together, making for a sauce that’s deeper, richer, and far more flavorful than anything you could ever achieve with 20 minutes on the stovetop.

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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

The Meat

Just as with the classic version, these sloppy joes are made with a base of ground beef. While ground beef with a higher fat content is ideal for burgers, it can make for a greasy sauce. Instead, stick with an 85 percent lean/15 percent fat blend, or another combination that’s even more lean. Since the meat is cooked right along with the sauce, there is no worry about it drying out.

There’s also no need to stick with beef only; there’s plenty of space to experiment and get creative. Go ahead and swap the beef for ground turkey, or try a blend of lean ground beef and pork.

Tester’s Notes

Sloppy Joes are as nostalgic to me as just about any food, reminding me of easy dinners with dad, complete with folding TV dinner tables and M*A*S*H on the screen. While it doesn’t get simpler than sweet and tangy tomato sauce mixed with ground beef, using the slow cooker certainly makes it more versatile, and results in a more flavorful sandwich.

We’ve added a stovetop browning step to the beginning of the recipe. Not only does this guarantee the sandwiches have a chunky, homestyle texture, it also adds a richer and deeper flavor to the sauce. Once browned, stir the beef and the rest of the ingredients together right in the slow cooker and cook on high for just a couple of hours, or leave it on low to simmer for 4 to 8 hours. Expect a darker, sweeter sauce with more caramel-like flavor if you cook the sloppy joes on the longer end of the spectrum.

Patty, June 2018

290 Ratings

How To Make Sloppy Joes in the Slow Cooker

Serves6

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon

    vegetable oil

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    lean ground beef

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion, finely chopped

  • 1

    medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced

  • 1 (15-ounce) can

    tomato sauce

  • 1/2 cup

    ketchup

  • 2 tablespoons

    packed brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon

    Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 teaspoon

    dry ground mustard

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    garlic powder (no salt added)

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 6

    hamburger buns, toasted if desired

Equipment

  • Large frying pan

  • Stiff spatula or wooden spoon

  • Cutting board

  • Chef's knife

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • 4-quart or larger slow cooker

Instructions

  1. Brown the meat on the stovetop. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the ground beef and use a stiff spatula or wooden spoon to break the meat into small pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes.

  2. Add the ingredients to the slow cooker. Transfer the browned ground beef to a 4-quart or larger slow cooker. Add the onions, bell pepper, tomato sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire, mustard, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Stir until well-combined, making sure to break up the beef.

  3. Slow cook the sloppy joes. Cover and cook on the LOW setting low for 4 to 8 hours, or on HIGH setting for 2 to 3 hours.

  4. Assemble the sloppy joes. Stir the mixture again, then divide the mixture between the hamburger buns and serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

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