Kitchn Love Letters

These Sloppy Joes Are the Weeknight Sandwich Busy Parents Need

published Sep 11, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. And we decided to start sharing some of our absolute favorites with you. Here’s a peek into what we’re cooking and eating in our own kitchens.

Sloppy Joes make for a deeply satisfying dinner. The perfect mix of savory, sweet, and piquant, these meaty sandwiches are full of flavor. What’s better, sloppy Joes are easy on your dinner budget, easy to cook, and possibly the best place to to sneak in a few vegetables without your picky eater noticing.

I grew up on sloppy Joe sandwiches. Now I’m raising my own kids on my favorite version of them — a quick and easy one-pan version I started making a year ago. I can’t wait to eat it every time it hits our meal plan.

An Ode to the Classic Sloppy Joe

I like to joke that I only got into cooking because I was tired of boxed foods. Since my mom had to raise all of us on her own, working multiple jobs and putting herself through college and graduate school, we ate a lot of shortcut dinners. You know the kind: Hamburger Helper, Shake-n-Bake Chicken, and, of course, sloppy Joes. I still have a lot of nostalgia for those meals, but now that I’m feeding my own family I avoid most of those meals — except for the sloppy Joes.

Obviously I grew up on the canned version of sloppy Joe sauce. But one reason this riff on Midwestern “loose meat sandwiches” is still a regular in my household is that it’s easy to make without the can, and it still has all the flavors and textures I loved as a child — and that my family now loves.

There are a couple of theories on how the original sloppy Joe came to be, none of which food historians agree on. But the sandwich seems to be rooted in the 1920s and ’30s when loose meat sandwich shops were on the rise in the Midwest. Manwich, the canned version of sloppy Joe sauce, didn’t hit grocery store selves until the late ’60s. It took off, and remained popular through the ’80s and ’90s, which was when I had my first taste.

Now when I get a craving for sloppy Joes, I don’t run to the store for a can of anything. And (sorry, mom) I don’t just use ground beef. Instead, I turn to this quick and easy version, and I fill it with veggies.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Quick, Easy, and Vegetable-Filled Sloppy Joes

At their basic best, sloppy Joes are just browned ground beef with a tangy tomato-based sauce. But you can — and should — throw vegetables into the mix, cooking them alongside the meat until they become tender. What I love the most about this recipe in particular is that the sauce is built on things I almost always already have in my kitchen.

Here’s a quick walk-through: Heat up a bit of oil in your largest pan, and add the beef. While it’s browning, chop or grate (ideal for quicker-cooking) peppers and onions — or a carrot, or the zucchini wilting in the drawer. Use what you have! Once the vegetables and beef are cooked, then the sloppy Joe sauce is built in the pan with a can of tomato sauce, a knob of tomato paste (from the freezer), a spoonful of brown sugar, and a small splash of vinegar.

That’s it! The whole thing will take less than 20 minutes to cook. Finally, my favorite bit: You mash the whole pan with a potato masher to give it all the most wonderful sloppy Joe texture! Mashing makes the beef finer, the sauce beefier, and then all you need is a pile of toasted and buttered buns.

One bite of these perfect sloppy Joes and the silence of my children — happily munching away on their sandwiches — always makes me wonder why I don’t make them every week.

Do you have a favorite nostalgic dinner? Has it stood the test of time?