Sloppy Joes were one of the meals I always looked forward to as a kid. I thought they were the absolute bomb taste wise (I was young, and anything from a can was a-ok with me back then). Plus, they were called Sloppy Joes. I got to eat them with my hands and make whatever kind of disaster on my face that I wanted to.
Ok, being honest, that actually didn’t last too long. Pretty soon I was given Sloppy Joes as a pile of meat on the bottom half of a bun with a knife and fork. Well played parents, well played.
Sloppy Joes Then
Discerning palate that I had, if I saw those brown cans of Sloppy Joe sauce out on the counter, I was bouncing around the kitchen in anticipation all afternoon. I’m pretty sure when I saw them at the grocery store a couple of years ago, I did the exact same thing. I’d completely forgotten about this as a meal and squealed out loud, like, not just in my head. I’m incredibly embarrassing to shop anywhere with, especially somewhere with food.
I loaded up the cart with a bunch of cans, grabbed some ground beef, and thought “DONE!”. I went home, browned my meat, stirred in the sauce, and smiled. Then I revelled in the fact my kids were about to raise me up to God status and it took me all of ten minutes to make happen.
Then I tasted it, I swore, and I ordered a pizza.
Vs Sloppy Joes Now
Ok, so I didn’t order a pizza RIGHT away… I mean, what kind of a lesson is that to the kids. I fed them the super bland, boring, and honestly kinda gross Sloppy Joes with a smile on my face. “Aren’t these awesome?!?!”. Blank stares. I’m pretty sure at least two of the three picked at it for a bit, then had a bowl of cereal. I was bummed more than anyone though, because I REALLY wanted it to be great.
So, the next day, I started figuring out how to make them better. I went through dozens of different recipes, I tried a ton of different options. I made every part of it from scratch, and then I remembered this awesome meal was supposed to be a time saver. Now it was taking over an hour to prep and cook everything. That’s not what I wanted this to be, so I figured out where I could cut corners, without cutting flavour, and I stumbled onto perfection.
30 minutes start to finish
The key is finding a store bought chili style sauce you like, and keeping that sucker in your pantry or fridge (once it’s opened). This IS NOT a spicy chili sauce, or sweet chili sauce. Again, it IS NOT an Asian style chili sauce. Those are amazing, and I use them in a ton of things, but they are not for Sloppy Joes. This is a mix of tomatoes, garlic, and sweet peppers. Heinz makes one, but I’m partial to Willie’s Chili Style Sauce (in Canada) and always have it in the house. It’s tangy, and a little on the sweet side, but we counter it with some other ingredients. You’ll find it in the condiment aisle, usually by the BBQ sauces.
I know, you’re thinking “So you traded one can for another, wowwwww“. I promise that’s not it though. We’re still working mostly from scratch, and jacking up that flavour with fresh ingredients. You’ve got some onion and garlic to dice up, and if you wanted to, you can always add some more freshly diced bell peppers, celery, or mushrooms. This is my “OMG I’m running out of time, what am I going to make meal” though, so the simpler the better, as long as we aren’t sacrificing flavour.
More 30 Minute Meals
My Korean style meatballs are inspired by the flavours of my favourite dinner ever: Korean style BBQ short ribs. Baked in the oven, then coated in a sweet (and as spicy as you want it) glaze, they’re start to finish in just 30 minutes. I make these at least once a month!
My Moo Shu Pork Tacos are bursting with fresh flavours. Ready in just 30 minutes, they’re a quick and easy meal for any night of the week too! These are one of Anna’s favourite meals, and if she sees me working on this post, I’m going to be in trouble because I haven’t made them for her in a hot minute.
Sloppy Joe Recipe
Alright, here’s my super simple recipe for Sloppy Joes. You are start to finish in 30 minutes, including the time it takes you to prep everything. Think of this as a starting block too – don’t be afraid to add in things that you love, this is just how my gang likes it. Make sure to let me know what you change up in the comments – you give me, and all the other readers, new ideas and inspiration. Enjoy!
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 medium sweet onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- 1 bottle (12oz) tomato-based chili style sauce (I use Willie's in Canada, but Heinz makes it as well)
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp yellow mustard
- 1 tsp hot sauce (I use Frank's hot sauce)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Hamburger buns (to serve)
- Onion slices (optional, to serve)
- Lettuce (optional, to serve)
- Pickle slices (optional, to serve)
- Add the beef to a large skillet or a medium Dutch oven set over medium heat. Cook, stirring and crumbling until it's evenly browned and cooked through. Drain off the fat and return to the heat.
- Add the onion to the pan (see notes), and cook, stirring often, until it's softened and translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and adjust the taste accordingly. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, to let the flavours blend, and the sauce just slightly thicken up.
- Serve right away, on burger buns, with whatever other toppings you would like.
Feel free to dice up other vegetables to add along with the onion if you like them. Extra bell peppers (there are some in the chili style sauce bottles), some celery, or some mushrooms are all great additions if they're your thing.