Is there a childhood dinner more beloved than a sloppy Joe? Rich hamburger meat simmered in a tangy, sweet sauce with tender onions and peppers, served on a lightly toasted bun — it always got rave reviews around our family table growing up. Now, my own kids love them too.
There are lots of ways to make sloppy Joes. You can take the shortcut route and buy store-bought seasoning or sauce, or you can throw all the ingredients in the slow cooker. But there's another method — our quickest and easiest yet — that lets you use ingredients already in your pantry to make sloppy Joes anytime the craving strikes. Here's how.
Quick & Easy Sloppy Joes: Watch the Video
What Makes These Sloppy Joes So Easy?
Weeknight-friendly sloppy Joes should be a one-pan, less-than-30-minute affair. And while we're by no means opposed to starting with a jarred sauce, we also understand that when you want sloppy Joes, you likely don't want to head to the grocery store first. This recipe uses fridge and pantry staples to make a quick-simmering pan sauce in less than half an hour.
4 Key Steps for Easy Sloppy Joes
1. Brown the beef. Browning the beef in a splash of hot oil is the key to building meaty flavor into the sauce. Ultimately, we want beef that is tender from the simmered sauce, but crisping the beef first boosts the flavor and ensures that the beef browns instead of steams.
2. Sauté the veggies and spices. After the beef is browned, remove it from the pan so you can use the rendered fat to cook the pepper, onion, and garlic. Adding the chili powder and smoked paprika here activates their flavor so they don't get lost in the sauce.
3. Use a potato masher to tenderize the beef in the sauce. Once all the ingredients are in the pan, we're asking you to do one weird thing: Use a potato masher to break up the beef. This tenderizes the beef and breaks it into smaller pieces without the need to simmer it for hours.
4. Simmer the sauce to thicken it. A quick simmer — just 15 minutes — makes for sloppy Joes that are rich and saucy, but thick enough to (mostly) stay on the bun — just the way we like it.
Serving Sloppy Joes
Buttered buns are the classic serving vehicle for sloppy Joes, but they are by no means the only option. Slices of thick sourdough, pasta, or even scrambled eggs can also be the base for the tasty simmered sauce. No matter which route you take, just be sure to provide plenty of napkins.
How To Make Quick & Easy Sloppy Joes
Serves 6 to 8
Prep time: 15 minutes ; cooking time: 25 minutes
What You Need
1 1/2 pounds
lean ground beef
medium yellow onion, finely chopped
medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can
packed dark brown sugar
6 to 8
hamburger buns, split and toasted
Stiff spatula or wooden spoon
Large cast iron or regular skillet
Brown the beef. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the beef and cook, breaking it into large pieces with a stiff spatula, until browned and cooked through, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer the browned beef to a plate; set aside.
Cook the aromatics and spices. Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic, and cook until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly; add the chili powder, paprika, and salt; and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the liquids and return the beef to the pan. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, and mustard and stir to combine. Return the reserved beef to the pan.
Mash the beef with a potato masher. Use a potato masher to mash the beef into small pieces and incorporate it into the sauce.
Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until thickened, about 15 minutes.
Taste, season, and serve. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. To serve, spoon onto the toasted buns.
Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.