Recipe: Sloppy Joes

updated Jan 21, 2020
Sloppy Joes
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

A few weeks ago, I opened my great grandmother’s

church cookbook

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

This is nostalgia at its finest, at least for this Midwestern-raised girl. The savory hamburger takes center stage, as it should, though thinly sliced mushrooms and a handful of onions bulk up the mix and help to slip some veggies into the meal. The sauce has a deep tomato flavor and a slight sweetness that I love. A splash of cider vinegar is the final touch to bringing out all the flavors in each chewy bite. It’s nice to know that some things are still as good as we remember.

I’ve made a few tweaks and clarifications to the original recipe shared by one Ms. Shirley Nelson of Stillwater, Minnesota, but these are still the sloppy joes that I remember. Serve them on softest, spongiest hamburger rolls you can find and get ready with the napkins.

Tester’s Notes

I love sloppy joes without shame or apology. They are messy and meaty and include ketchup as a key ingredient. I wouldn’t change a thing.

This recipe has definitely held up to the test of time. Since first posting it back in 2008, I’ve decided that I like a little more vinegar and a little less sugar, but other than that, it has stayed the same. When you’re making it, it seems like the amount of vegetables might overwhelm the meat, but have faith — given a chance to simmer for a few minutes, the sauce comes together just as it should.

The sloppy joe sauce freezes beautifully, so I recommend making a double batch and freezing it in portions that can be quickly reheated. A little insider’s tip: this also makes a killer pasta sauce.


Emma, January 2014

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Sloppy Joes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info


  • 1 pound

    ground beef

  • 1 teaspoon

    olive oil

  • 1

    medium onion, chopped small

  • 2

    celery stalks, chopped small

  • 1

    carrot, peeled and chopped small

  • 1

    (8 to 10 ounce) package mushrooms (button or baby bella), sliced thinly

  • 2 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 1

    (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

  • 1/4 cup


  • 1 to 2 tablespoons

    cider vinegar

  • 1/2 tablespoon

    Worcestershire sauce

  • 1/2 tablespoon

    sugar (optional)

  • 1 teaspoon


  • 1/8

    black pepper

  • 8

    hamburger buns


  1. In a large skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat, brown the beef. Break it up into small bits as you cook. Once browned, transfer the beef and any juices to a clean bowl and set aside.

  2. In the same pan over medium-high heat, warm a teaspoon of olive oil. Add the onions, celery, and carrots, and cook until the onions are translucent and the carrots look softened, about five minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are soft and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about thirty seconds.

  3. Return the ground beef to the pan. Stir in the tomato sauce, ketchup, 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, sugar (if using), salt, and black pepper. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

  4. Taste the sauce, adding more vinegar, salt, or sugar if desired. If the sauce is too thin for your taste, simmer uncovered for another 5 to 10 minutes until the desired thickness is reached. (If you have time, you can continue simmering for up to an hour or more! The meat will just continue becoming more tender. Add extra liquid to the pan if the sauce starts to dry out.)

  5. Serve on hamburger buns. Don't forget a napkin.

  6. The sloppy joe sauce will keep refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to 3 months.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from Favorite Recipes from First United Methodist Church of Still Water, Minnesota.

This recipe was originally published July 2008.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)