Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Sloppy joes are an American classic. The food of our childhood. An easy weeknight dinner or weekend lunch you can serve to always appreciating mouths. So simple, so comforting, so nostalgic. Even as adults with no children, my husband and I still love eating sloppy joes on occasion for a simple, no-fuss dinner. It's a great way to use up ground beef and hamburger buns without having to make hamburgers and it transports us back to our childhoods. It's also a great dish to keep on hand when you have guests staying with you (especially kids!) and you don't want to slave over a stove at every meal.
Now, I'm not totally knocking the tried and true canned sloppy joes sauce that comes in a can at the grocery store. It has its benefits (eh hem.... convenience!) and honestly, it's tasty. Who am I to judge? But a few years ago I had to go on an elimination diet for a few weeks and I came across a homemade sloppy joes recipe that let me enjoy this delightful comfort food while also staying committed to the very strict restrictions of the diet. Years later, I developed my own version of homemade sloppy joes (I'm dubbing them Sloppy Slos... get it?) which doesn't exactly abide by the elimination diet protocol (at all), but it does make for a low-preservative, lower sodium, fresher alternative to the canned sloppy joe sauce.
To make these only takes slightly longer than the good ole canned stuff, but the flavor is huge and you can really taste the difference. When I was developing this recipe I kept tasting it and saying, "It's missing something," but I couldn't figure out what. Then I added some liquid smoke and the recipe arrived. The liquid smoke is totally optional, but it really does add a depth of flavor that is impossible to find anywhere else (save for actually smoking the sauce). I try to not use really odd or overly unique ingredients in my recipes because I want to keep the approachable and avoid you having to buy super specialized ingredients for every recipe. But liquid smoke is worth it. A little goes a long way and in my opinion, really is what sets this recipe apart from other homemade sloppy joes recipes.
I hope you'll give this one a try and see that a little effort for homemade really makes a difference. My husband absolutely loves these so if his discerning pallet of a 10 year old in a 30-something's body loves it, I know you and your family will too!
Sloppy Slos (Homemade Sloppy Joes) Makes ~ 4-6 sandwiches or 6-8 sliders Prep/Cook time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes
Click the file below to download and print the recipe
I recommend reading the recipe all the way through, including the recipe notes at the bottom, before you start cooking.
1lb. ground beef (or ground turkey or chicken)
1 15oz. can tomato sauce
1 TB tomato paste
1 TB dijon mustard
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1 tsp. jarred minced garlic)
1/4 C. finely chopped onion
1 diced jalapeño (or 1/2 of a poblano or green pepper for less heat)
1.5 tsp. chili powder
1.25 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
5 TB honey
5-10 drops of liquid smoke (optional and to taste)*
Add the meat to a large skillet along with a good pinch each of salt and pepper. Brown the meat until it is completely cooked through. If cooking beef, drain the excess fat then set the meat aside.
To the same skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil (or oil of choice) over medium heat then add onions and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes until the onions are beginning to soften. Add the jalapeño (or whatever pepper you're using) and cooking for another 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Add the beef back to the pan along with the rest of the ingredients accept the liquid smoke. Stir everything together so it's all evenly incorporated then simmer on low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it's bubbling too much or sticking to the pan, turn the heat down.
After 10 minutes, check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed then add 5-10 drops of the liquid smoke (if using), stir, then continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed.
Serve on hamburger buns, slider buns, or over a baked potato. Add pickles and cheese if desired. Can be made up to several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Just reheat when needed. Freezes well too.**
*Recipe notes + Variations*
*Liquid smoke is completely optional, but as I was developing this recipe I kept thinking "something is missing." Finally I thought to add liquid smoke because I had some in my pantry and it really put this over the top. I realize it's a specialty ingredient that not everyone has on hand, so feel free to leave it out if you don't have it.
**This is one of those recipes, like chili, that only gets better with time. This is a great meal to serve to a crowd so it's even better than you can make it in advance and keep it in the fridge or freezer and reheat as needed. It's also a great option for meal prep before the week starts to have a quick dinner almost ready to go for those busy nights.
Generally, all of the spices and other ingredients can be "to taste" on this one. You may find you want more zing from the vinegar or dijon. Or sweeter notes so add more honey. It really is up to you and you can make it to fit your palette.